What exactly is the World Cup?
Since 1930, soccer’s ruling body, FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association), has held a tournament for the men’s national teams of all of the member nations. This occurs every four years (1942 and 1946 were canceled because of World War II) and takes place over a month in the summer.
Wait, didn’t we just have one of those?
That was 2010. Time flies. For Americans, there is an easy way to remember when the World Cup rolls around: If it is an even year and we aren’t electing a president (or observing leap year, or watching summer Olympics) then it’s a World Cup year.
Where is it this year?
This year’s host nation is soccer crazy Brazil. The 64 matches will be played at 12 different stadiums around the country. The final will be played in Rio de Janeiro. And when we say that Brazil is soccer crazy, we mean it.
How big a deal is this World Cup?
The Super Bowl draws around 110 million viewers. FIFA estimates that somewhere around 3.2 billion people will watch at least some part of the Cup, while the final will have somewhere around 1.3 billion viewers. The total prize money dished out to the competitors is $576 million. Brazil is expecting to bring in $11 billion in revenue for hosting the cup. Global advertising is estimated to grow 6.5 percent for the month of June.
When does the World Cup start and end?
The first match is on Thursday June 12, with host Brazil playing Croatia. There will then be three matches on June 13, followed by at least two matches a day until July 1. The quarterfinals are on July 4 and 5, the semifinals on July 8 and 9and the championship game will be on July 13. The two losing semifinalists will play for third place on July 12.
How does this wacky tournament work?
The first section is called “The Group Stage.” The 32 teams are broken up into groups of 4. Each team in the group plays the other three once, with three points awarded for a win, one point for a draw (yes, there are ties) and no points for a loss. The two teams with the best result from each group proceed to the round of 16. From there, it’s pretty much like March Madness, with single-elimination games determining the ultimate winner.
Wait, only 32 teams, I thought it was the World Cup?
Unlike baseball’s World Series, this tournament is actually open to teams from most of the world. In the two years leading up to the Cup, all of the FIFA member nations (which is most nations) play qualifying matches to determine who makes it to the big dance. Mexico, for instance, came very close to not making it, and only did so at the expense of New Zealand.
Wasn’t this whole thing a giant scandal?
There have been lots and lots and lots of questions about Brazil’s spending in preparation for the tournament and whether or not the country will be ready to host the big event (South Africa in 2010 was plagued by the same fears and that Cup went off largely without a hitch). But you may be thinking of the bribery allegations surrounding the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
How much does this all cost?
World Cup 2014 is expected to cost $14 billion. By comparison, the 2010 World Cup in South Africa cost only $4 billion, and the German-hosted World Cup in 2006 cost $6 billion.
Which team should I root for this year?
The U.S., obviously, but don’t get your hopes up. We’ve been placed in a group with the German juggernaut, a Portuguese team that includes one of the two best players in the world, and Ghana, which has been a thorn in our side for the past few World Cups. Chances are, the U.S. will not make the round of 16.
If you’re looking for another bandwagon to jump on, here’s a full rundown of all 32 teams.
Ok, who’s gonna win?
If this tournament were being held in the Northern Hemisphere, the Germans would be the favorite, but questions remain about their ability to perform in the equatorial heat. Host nation Brazil is always among the favorites and home field advantage makes the team even more formidable. Argentina is also a strong contender (and don’t be surprised if all hell literally breaks lose if Argentina were to win in Brazil…. The two countries might go to war…. I’m not joking). The current title-holder, Spain, has lost a bit of its luster, but could still at least make the semis. And if you’re looking for a dark horse or underdog to cheer for, Belgium is the team to pick.
Who are the big names I should know?
Argentina’s tiny wizard, Lionel Messi, is currently almost unanimously considered the best player in the world and will be hoping to add the biggest prize to his trophy collection. Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo is injured and racing to be fit in time for the cup, but when healthy he’s the only player to rival Messi in the best player sweepstakes. He’s personally a bit hard to take, but on his best days, he’s unplayable. England’s Wayne Rooney is the kind of player who runs hot and cold. He was underwhelming in World Cup 2010, and has had a somewhat lackluster season, but the English hope that he’s saving his best for the Cup. American Captain Clint Dempsey is about the closest we have to a star.
Where can I watch this thing?
All the matches will be broadcast live in the U.S. across ABC and ESPN’s various channels as well as on Spanish-language Univision. For added entertainment value, whether you speak Spanish or not, try to catch some of the goal calls on Univision. The game broadcasts will also be streamed on ESPN3.com and at Univision’s website and will be available for mobile and tablet users through those providers’ apps. Also, chances are there’s a bar or five in your area that will be showing the games.
Look, I really don’t care or have time to watch these games. How can I fake my way through a conversation?
Here are some key phrases to get you through a conversation: “The Germans seem unstoppable, but can they play in the heat?”; “This tournament seems like it’s do or die for Lionel Messi”; “You know a European team has never won the cup in South America?”; “Can you believe how bad the U.S. got screwed by that draw?”; “Wow, the English are really paranoid about penalties.”
And for those looking to keep up with more advanced soccer fans: “Brazil’s use of the offside trap is risky, but damn is it effective.”; “Deploying Messi as a ‘false 9’ is a brilliant tactic, but I don’t know that it would work with anyone else.”; “Zonal marking is a terribly flawed system and only math nerds think it’s a good idea” (or alternately, “zonal marking just makes sense, only a Neanderthal still defends man-to-man”).
I’m actually going to Brazil to see the cup, anything I need to know?
First, I hate you with the white hot heat of a thousand suns. Second, Americans do need to apply for a visa from the Brazilian consulate in order to visit. Also, you probably should see your doctor…
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