Excitement is surging as football fans, worldwide, anticipate the start of the 2014 World Cup, which will take place in Brazil in less than three-days. Passion and patriotism for participating countries and teams will reach maniacal levels, and we are sure to hear of an entire country’s labor force come to a halt on the day the their team plays.
Then there’s the U.S. Here in the States, football is football, while across the globe, football is soccer. Although an estimated 3.2 billion people, or 46.4 percent of the Earth’s population watched the 2010 World Cup, including a significant number of Americans, there are still too many in this country unfamiliar with the tournament, its history, and its global significance. But it doesn’t have to be so! Let me present to you a newbie’s guide to the planet’s greatest sporting event: the World Cup!
The World Cup is a tournament which is played over the span of four-years, making it the longest tournament in all of sports. It takes four-years to complete because almost every country on Earth participates. With this many countries involved, determining a winner in two or even three-years is nearly impossible.
The long, qualification stage of the tournament is intercontinental, rather than intra-continental. For example, in order to qualify for the World Cup, the U.S. National Team had to play home and away games versus every country in North America and the Caribbean. This includes Jamaica, Cuba, Panama, Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Canada, to name a few. Games played versus countries from other continents are known as “friendlies” or tune-up matches, games usually played to measure new players and to try-out new tactical systems and attacks. They also bring in substantial cash. Because of the duration of the qualification phase, often times coaches are fired and older players are dropped and replaced for younger blood.
Then there’s the “intercontinental phase” of the competition, which lasts three-years. This phase includes group stages, knockout stages (lose and go home), home and away games to ensure fairness, tiebreakers, if needed (see Mexico). Along the way, winning countries advance deeper into the tournament. Smaller countries like Cuba, Poland, Romania, Egypt, Scotland, and Panama often experience difficulty in qualifying for the World Cup, as they must compete against the bigger countries from their respective continents. Once this long and grueling phase of the competition is completed, the tournament is left with thirty-two national teams (countries), representing the seven continents.
The World Cup
The final phase of the tournament is known as the “World Cup.” This is what will billions across the globe will spend their time watching for the one, full month. It consists of thirty-two, still standing national teams. These teams will head to the host country to play the final games of the tournament. This year’s host country is Brazil, a country many consider the Mecca of football. Brazil is expected to win this year’s tournament, as the country’s national team boasts some of the most electric players in the world. Brazil has lifted the Cup five times, more than any other country.
These thirty-two active teams are placed into groups of four, eight groups in all. Intercontinental rules no longer apply. Country names are placed in a lottery and drawn randomly. This ensures fairness, but it also creates the potential for volatile early matches between powerhouse countries. One such match already stirring up frenzy is the one between Italy and England, scheduled for June 14. Both teams have hallowed football histories, as well as rabid fans. The group stage is also dangerous. It’s almost tradition for one of the eight groups to be randomly comprised of two or even three extraordinary national teams, team that are favorites to advance deeply in the tournament and even win it. This group is referred to as the “Group of Death.” The group that the U.S. was drawn into in this upcoming Cup is this year’s Group of Death.
In the initial group stage, right before the knockout rounds, each team will play a round-robin tournament within their respective group, three games for each country. A win is awarded three-points, a tie is awarded one-point, and loss is given nothing. Once group play is finished, points are accumulated. The two top teams from each group, the ones with the most points, move on to what is known as the “knockout stage” of the tournament. Sixteen national teams will continue. From this point on, it’s win or go home.
The Knockout Stage
This “knockout” rule is now in place for the rest of the tournament. The field will dwindle to eight teams (quarterfinals), then four teams (semi-finals), and then two teams (World Cup Final). A game to determine third and fourth place finishers takes place a day or two before the actual championship, but it’s a mere formality, equivalent to American football’s Pro Bowl Game. Nobody cares.
There it is! I hope this has given you a broader understanding for what is about to go down! This year’s favorites include Spain, Germany, Holland, France, and, of course, Brazil. My money is on an African team, maybe Cameroon or Ghana. An African team has never lifted the trophy, but with immensely talented teams, this could be the continent’s year.
Enjoy the world’s most popular sport. Enjoy the Beautiful Game!