Understanding the biggest soccer event in the world

I know a lot of you are really only into soccer when the World Cup comes around, and even then, you’re not really sure what’s happening.  So I’ve put together this quick guide to teach you the basics about what’s making everyone so excited.

The FIFA World Cup is the most widely-watched sporting event in the world.  According to Wikipedia, 715.1 million people watched the 2006 final match between Italy and Argentina.  This year’s cup is being held in South Africa, and will run from June 11 to July 11, 2010.

The World Cup seems like a complicated puzzle, but is really actually quite simple.

It lasts one month, and is held in a different host country every four years.  There are 32 teams involved from 5 different regions.

Of the 32 spots, one is reserved for the host country (or two spots if two countries are sharing host duties).  The previous Cup winners no longer get an automatic spot; they must qualify in their section.

For the 2010 World Cup, spots break down as follows:

  • Europe: 13
  • Africa: 5 + host (South Africa)
  • South America: 4
  • North and Central America and the Caribbean: 3
  • Asia & Oceania: 4 + winner of AFC/OFC match (Asia and Oceania match)
  • There is also 1 spot for the winner of the CONMEBOL/CONCACAF match (4th place N&C American/Caribbean team and 5th place South American team)

Once the World Cup starts, there are two stages: the Group Stage, and the Knockout Stage.

In the group stage, teams are divided into eight groups of four teams each.  Teams then play three matches each in a round-robin tournament.  Three points are awarded for each win, one for a tie, and none for a loss.  The two teams with the most points from each group advance to the next stage.

The knockout stage is a series of one-off matches in which the winning team moves forward and the losing teram is eliminated.  There are no ties- extra time and shootouts are used to determine a winner, if necessary.  The knockout stage is made up of the Round of 16 (also known as second round), which is followed by the quarter-finals (eight teams), the quarter-finals (4 teams), the third-place match (losing quarter-final teams), and the final.

And now when you watch the games with your significant other/brother/friend/whoever, you won’t feel so lost as to what’s happening on the screen, and why those teams got that far. Not looking lost while the game is on is always a great thing!!

-Suz

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