The World Cup season has begun! Even if you don’t follow soccer (aka ‘football’ to the rest of the world), you have no doubt begun seeing ads, commercials, TV spots, and, of course, numerous Tweets and Facebook references to the most popular sport tournament in the world. According to FIFA (the organization that governs the World Cup), at least 1 billion people watched some of the World Cup in South Africa 2010 and more than twice that many are expected to watch Brazil 2014. That’s a lot of fans. Americans may make up one of the smallest percentages among fans, but the numbers grow with each World Cup. In the last few weeks, I’ve had some friends and colleagues ask me about some of the basics. They follow soccer only every four years and it’s hard to remember all the details. So here is, my friends, a cheat sheet for all of you who are either new to the World Cup or need a refresher course.
o 23 players per team: 11 on the pitch (field), 3 substitutes allowed
o 32 countries compete (host qualifies automatically)
o 8 groups with 4 teams each
o 32 days: June 12-July 13
o 64 games total
- Match organization
o Each team plays the other three teams in the group
o A win earns the team 3 points, a draw 1 point, a loss, of course, 0 points
o Top two teams in each group go to the knock-out phase (16 teams)
o The #1 team in a group plays the #2 team in another group (group match-ups are determined before the competition)
o After the first knock-out round, it goes to quarter-finals, semi-finals (the losers then play for the #3 place), and then the final on July 13 (a Sunday)
o Defending champions Spain (best team over the last 6 years)
o Host country Brazil (huge home advantage)
o Brazil’s archrival Argentina ‘
o Germany, always a contender
o Outside chance: Belgium, the Netherlands, Uruguay
- Who’s who?
o Neymar (Brazil) is being billed as the next big superstar – a lot of pressure for his 22-year-old shoulders
o Lionel Messi (Argentina) is considered the top player in the world (except by Ronaldo fans)
o Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal) is considered the top player in the world (except by Messi fans)
o Luis Suarez (Uruguay) is one of the top players, but he’s controversial (a biter)
- What about the USA?
o Group G is a pretty tough group for the USA (#13): Germany (#2), Portugal (#4), and Ghana (#37).
o While the USA should beat Ghana if you go by rankings, Ghana has kicked the USA out of the World Cup the last two tournaments, so rankings aren’t the be all end all.
o Biggest shock: Landon Donovan didn’t make the team.
o Biggest bummer: Manager Jürgen Klinsmann repeating that the USA cannot win the World Cup because it isn’t good enough (yet). We know that, the players know that, but still, not exactly motivating.
There’s a whole lot more I could say about the World Cup – history, trivia, gossip – but the main thing is to watch the games. I’ll save the gossip for another day!