The FIFA World Cup, soccer's premiere international tournament, begins today at 4 p.m., and you, non sports fan, are confused.
There have been 19 such tournaments since 1930, but this the first one you've noticed. Perhaps your Twitter feed has been clogged by mentions of "the Azzurri" and "friendlies" and "groups" and "Sepp Blatter." Or your friends have been meeting at your local brew pub to argue with mock aggression about a man named Landon Donovan or the dirty dealings of an organization named FIFA.
The truth is, you need not know what any of these things are to enjoy the meeting of the world's best athletes, but it sure would be nice, right? After all, it is called the World Cup, and you live here—in this world. Fear not. We have you covered.
Most importantly, do I have to call soccer "football"?
No. Please don't.
Wow, that is a relief. What time does the Super Bowl start?
That is an irrelevant question. Kickoff for the first game of the World Cup is Thursday, June 12 at 4 p.m. E.T. in a match between Brazil and Croatia at Arena Corinthians in São Paulo, Brazil. The final is on Sunday, July 13 at 3 p.m. Here's how to watch:
Can you explain what this thing is, but really, really simply?
The World Cup is a tournament of 32 national soccer teams. In order to qualify to play, national teams compete in tournaments according to their FIFA confederations, of which there are six. Confederations are basically just continents of soccer (North America has one, Europe has one, etc.). These are called "qualifying matches" and they occur the three years in between the last World Cup. This year, 207 teams competed for a chance to play in Brazil.
Hold on a second, did you say "match"? That's not right.
Yes, shit. Sorry. Basically, when we say the World Cup, what is really meant is The World Minus the US Cup, since Americans have historically never given a shit about football that wasn't nationalistically prefixed. We've been too busy jo'ing to helmeted heads pummeling into other helmeted heads while mainlining chicken wings to notice that the rest of the world has a different sports vocabulary. Here's a primer:
- kit = uniform
- "Hello, Luis Suárez of the Uruguayan national team, you look great in your home kit. It reveals your defined musculature."
- squad = team
"The Italian national squad is full of giant pussies."
- pitch = field
"I smoked 40 cigarettes for breakfast and now it's very hard for me to run the full length of the pitch."
- match = game
"This match sure has a lot of crying players. Oh right, the Italians are playing."
- boots = cleats
"If you say one more bad thing about megalomaniac drug addict cheating footballer Diego Maradona, you might get an Argentine boot to the head."
- footballer = soccer player
"There is absolutely no reason why footballers can't just be called football players, except for Italian footballers, who should be called acting prima donna pussies."
Those are probably all the terms you need to know, if only not to sound like a twerp. But like I said, you can still say "soccer" unless you are watching the matches abroad. (Abroad = not in America.)
Is the US even in the World Cup? I heard we suck.
Yes, we are in the World Cup, and no, we don't suck. Landon Donovan, who may ring some bells to you as the guy who helped the U.S. Men's National team advance to the knockout stage in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa (or maybe he just sounds familiar because I said his name up in the intro), will not be playing. This doesn't mean we suck.
In fact, our squad is full of talented players and is being coached by a kind of sparky German guy whose outspoken perspective on American soccer has triggered some feedback—Is he too American? Is he not American enough? Or perhaps neither?—and he's at least got some gears turning. His name is Jürgen Klinsmann and a publication called SoccerAmerica.com claims he did not, in fact, install Buddha statues on Bayern's training grounds when he was a coach there. Believe what you want. It's also important to remember that Klinsmann was a killer player himself, leading his home team of Germany to the 1990 World Cup title, scoring three goals along the way.
And he is cool with our lads having sex.
Do I need to know any of the players?
If you're feeling the need to impress, sure. Here are a few good ones to know with a mnemonic device to aid you in remembering:
- Clint Dempsey (captain, forward) - C.D. - Cool Dude - likes to rap
- Jozy Altidore (forward) - Altidore? Don't you Alt-adore how Jozy scored the most ever goals as an American in a European club season?
- Michael Bradley (midfielder) - Won't see any Dad-ley issues on the pitch this year because this dude's dad is no longer the USMNT's coach.
- Tim Howard (goalkeeper) - 2, 4, 6, 8 Tim Howard loves the Harlem Globetrotters 2, 4, 6, 8 what the hell? What?
- Kyle Beckerman (midfielder) - Kyle "Jack Johnson" Beckerman
- For more—much more—go here.
LOL, but this is weird:
You are only a question generator in my mind, I have no idea how you embedded a YouTube clip here. But yes, that is weird.
Is the US going to win this thing? Are we going to score the big touchdown? Get a huge knockout? Home run!
"Don't you believe that we will win?" — Jon Hamm
No. It is very, very unlikely that we will win.
But why? It seems a little twisted that you'd make me read all that information about our team when we probably won't even make it to the Super Bowl.
To be real, the USMNT is going to play three games. You seem like the type who might make it through three games. If some good blessings fall on our heads, won't you be thanking me that you at least knew something?
Yeah, I guess. Why are you so sure we're going to lose?
In those three games, we're facing a pretty unrepentant Group of Death. Ghana, Portugal, Germany—
Wait, back up.
So. Ghana has been the team that eliminated the USMNT from the last two World Cups, and we're playing them in the first match of the entire round-robin group stage. Playing Ghana in our first match—on Monday, June 16 at 6pm EST—is shitty. Following that up with a spar against Portugal (surely you know this guy) and a precise battering from Germany, and well, we're done.
I'm getting tired. In twenty words or less, can you explain the group stage?
There are eight groups of four teams. Three points for a win; one for a draw; zero for a loss. Three matches for each team. Then bye.
That was immaculately clear.
I know you're just saying that, but thanks.
Who am I rooting for again?
That's kind of your choice. Brazil, probably. Argentina. Spain? Anyone on this unholy sphere of rock except for England. Or just keep rooting for the U.S. until someone tells you we lost ("Dayna... It's October. Stop."). But truth be told, they probably don't know that either. And if you're in need of a visual representation of where best to pledge your loyalties, this diagram is a pretty good place to start:
I heard FIFA is evil and there have been protests in Brazil and there is "match fixing," etc? Shouldn't I boycott the games because I am a person of deeply trenchant morals?
No. Here's why: FIFA is like the MLB. FIFA is like the NFL. FIFA is like the NBA. When you are the governing body of an entire sport, something that humans unanimously care about with unremitting fervor and an innate, animalistic pride, you can get away with a lot without many people questioning you. FIFA just happens to be the most evil of all organizations involved in bringing sport to the people because it's the biggest.
That being said, awareness/outrage/online commenting is good. Here, you seem like the reading type:
- The End of the World Cup As We Know It, Pacific Standard, June 10, 2014
- Does Soccer Need FIFA?, New York Times, June 10, 2014 (read the comments on this one)
- Deadspin's Chat with Dave Zirin, author of Brazil's Dance with the Devil: The World Cup the Olympics and the Fight for Democracy, June 9, 2014
- The Billion-Dollar Business of the World Cup, Forbes, June 5, 2014
- Cleanse FIFA of corruption by leaving it, not playing along, The Guardian, June 3, 2014
- Fixed Soccer Matches Cast Shadow Over World Cup, New York Times, May 31, 2014
- World Cup protests threaten Brazil's image and its economy, Irish Independent, May 21, 2014
- You Can't Play A World Cup In A Hospital: Brazil 2014, Argentina 1978, Deadspin, July 18, 2013
- How Soccer Explains the World by Franklin Foer (HarperCollins 2004, updated in 2010)
Just to be clear: my team is probably going to lose, I don't really get the game, and the host country is statistically favored to win? What the hell am I getting out of it then?
Soccer—nay, football—is often referred to as the beautiful game. As John Oliver told you, many consider it a religion. The rest of the world already knows this and it's just taken us Americans a while to come around, and now's a good time to embrace it. MLS, the United States' first truly successful soccer league, is genuinely taking hold in cities like Seattle, Philadelphia, and New York. If you want to get on the accelerating soccer bandwagon, now's a good time to hop on board.
The colors are fun, the players are lean and shifty on the pitch, and the fever is highly contagious. Is soccer a high-scoring game? No. Does soccer have a history so buried and cloaked in detail that you'd surely get lost if you tried to understand it? Yes.
But just remember: It's a ball and some men and a piece of rectangular netting and you never root for England. You have four more years to learn the other stuff.
What is the best place to follow all the World Cup action?
That would be Screamer, the soccer sub-site hosted on the popular GIF-sharing message board Deadspin.