Thirty-One Nil: On the Road With Football's Outsiders: A World Cup Odyssey
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In a tiny, decaying aluminium smelting town in southern Tajikistan, a short drive from a raging war zone, Afghanistan take on Palestine in the first Asian qualifier for 2014's World Cup in Brazil. Every player on both teams is risking something by playing: their careers, their families, even their lives. Yet, along with thousands of other footballers backed by millions of supporters, they all dream of snatching one of the precious 32 places at the finals; and so begins a three-year epic struggle – long before the usual suspects start their higher-profile qualifying campaigns under the spotlight.
Named after the greatest victory (and defeat) that the World Cup qualifiers have ever seen (Australia's 31-0 victory over American Samoa), Thirty-One Nil is the story of how footballers from all corners of the globe begin their journey chasing a place at the World Cup Finals. It celebrates the part-time priests, princes and hopeless chancers who dream of making it to Brazil, in defiance of the staggering odds stacked against them. It tells the story of teams who have struggled for their very existence through political and social turmoil, from which they will very occasionally emerge into international stardom.
From the endlessly humiliated San Marino to lowly Haiti; from war-torn Lebanon to the oppressed and fleet-footed players of Eritrea, in Thirty-One Nil James Montague gets intimately and often dangerously close to some of the world's most extraordinary teams, and tells their exceptional stories.
play deeper in midfield. It is all his legs can manage these days. Sigþórsson coolly slotted home Iceland’s second but it was the young AZ Alkmaar winger Jóhann Guðmundsson who scored with two blistering left-foot shots, one in the ninety-second minute, that secured a 4-4 draw. At just twenty-two, he had scored a fine hat-trick and salvaged what proved to be a vital point. Now it all comes down to this, a final group game against Norway. Win, and Iceland will reach the play-offs for the first
a symbol of some kind of unity at a time when Egyptians were more divided than ever. The whole campaign came down to this. A few thousand Egyptian fans had even travelled to Ghana for the match. Given the spectator ban in Egypt, it was a rare chance to see Egyptian players in the flesh. But within minutes of the start of the game the script has changed. Ghana score within four minutes and quickly go 2-0 up. Mohamed Aboutrika, the man Bradley calls his ‘blood brother’ because of the strong bond
back around his people in the country he grew up in is special. ‘It is the only one thing we have left,’ he says, ‘we have soccer.’ When James Marcelin or Jean Alexandre (also born in Haiti) or Jean Eudes Maurice (born in Paris) scored against the US Virgin Islands there was no division between the celebrating Haitian-born or French-born players. I look through my pictures from that day. One shows the team gathered in a circle in the dressing room, arms locked around each other in prayer. Another
leave the country. This is the national team’s, the Red Sea Boys, first match away from home in two years. Or it will be if they arrive. The stadium is vast, an unbroken bowl of steps raised atop sheer blue walls to prevent anyone from getting on to the pitch. The pitch is circled by a clay running track, the same colour as the dirt roads that meander through the shanties and slums found on the nearby hills. Amahoro means peace in the local Kinyarwanda language but the stadium has come to
are professional. We represent this ninety-nine per cent of the world.’ At a football complex twenty minutes’ drive north, the Tahiti team takes shooting practice. It is reminiscent of watching the US Virgin Islands train when I saw them prepare for their match against Haiti in 2011. No one hits the target. ‘This is just amazing for them,’ says Davidson Bennett, a Tahitian TV journalist who has travelled from French Polynesia for the game, as we watch balls balloon over the goal. ‘A big football