The World Cup, a hastily-written primer.
It’s called the beautiful game and the quadrennial World Cup was watched by around 715 million people in 2010 and under a billion watched the final game. This year the Cup is being played in Brazil, a place where soccer/futbol (or futebol in Portuguese) is heavily intertwined with the culture.* This is, after all, the birthplace of Pele, one of the most famous soccer players and a national hero.
Starting today 32 teams from throughout the world will play against and among each other for a month until July 13th where the remaining two teams play each other for glory, bragging rights, temporary possession of the iconic trophy, and an automatic qualifying position for the 2018 Cup.
How big is the World Cup? The (Argentine) Pope tweeted about it this morning.
Sortof kindof a little like March Madness
The 32 teams are split into 8 groups of 4. These teams play in round robin style until the top two teams advance. The final 16 has the number 1 finishers against the number 2 finishers and then it’s a standard bracket tournament. Then the 16 become 8, the 8 become 4, and the remaining two teams play off against each other on July 13th.
Teams advance through a point system, but the abbreviated story is this: Winning more games will get you to advance but the number of points you win by doesn’t matter all that much. For World Cup purposes, a win is all that matters.
Did You See That?!
Probably my favorite thing about soccer and my most hated thing about every other sport: No replay in soccer, limited time outs, and only three substitutions per game. Basically, the clock does not stop and once you’re on the field, you don’t get off and you don’t stop moving.
Yes, the game is famous—especially for Ronaldo, that annoyingly handsome sonofa—for people faking injuries to try to cause fouls or yellow/red cards on the other team. It sucks and I hate it but it’s part of the game and it’s fun to yell at players who fake injuries.
omg i hate that guy
How to Watch
The next two weeks is like the first three days of March Madness—non-stop games except with a lot more trash talk, yelling at each other on twitter, and a strange bit of nationalism that takes everyone over and you’ll hear a lot of world war references (“I haven’t seen France beaten back so fast since 1942”).
The first two weeks are intense, non-stop, and can be overwhelming. That said, I recommend watching the following games:
Today: Brazil v Croatia. It’s Brazil. They are expected to win and anything less than a solid victory will bode poorly for the home team. That said, my favorite part about soccer is this: If Croatia scores or ends up with a tie, it’ll be seen as a stunning defeat for Brazil and a miraculous win for Croatia. I like how in these games one goal can matter so damn much to everyone. It isn’t a high-scoring game like basketball or American football, so every goal matters a great deal.
Fun fact: It’s been over a decade since Brazil lost an international match when they play on their home turf.
Monday: US v Ghana. The US is very much the underdog in their group. It’s referred to as the Group of Death because it has such fantastic teams in it…and also the US. The US coach has admitted that it isn’t possible for the US to win the World Cup which is such an apparent truth that people were offended that it was said. The US lost to Ghana in 2010 and it should be a good rematch. If the US manages to at least advance out of its group, it’d be a small miracle and a huge victory. A win on Monday would be a fantastic start.
Wednesday: Spain v Chile. Spain won the 2010 World Cup but they aren’t as strong as they were four years ago. Chile is damn fast and they tend to punch above their weight. Spain’s past winning strategy may not do well against a) Brazil’s heat/humidity and b) Chile’s really pushy tactics. It should be a fun game to watch.
Real talk: FIFA is in charge of the World Cup. FIFA is incredibly corrupt, unaccountable, and generally terrible. FIFA makes developing countries like Brazil go on a huge infrastructure spending program that highlights and exacerbates socio-economic disparities. The worst part about growing up is that as a kid you can love the World Cup with unadulterated glee, but as a grown-up you tend to notice the unfortunate effects that these policies have on the country.
My newest crush, John Oliver, explains it best and both highlights the great delight we get from the Cup but also its very real terribleness.