The 2014 FIFA World Cup: Everything You Need to Know You'll seem like a well-seasoned soccer fan with this guide

You’ve probably heard of the 2014 FIFA World Cup by now, either on TV or social media, even if you don’t have a clue what it actually is. Soccer isn’t exactly the preferred sport of the average American gentleman (for now), but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be able to enjoy all that the World Cup has to offer. Similar to how America adores football (hence the over 115.5 million viewers tuning in to the Super Bowl earlier this year) soccer unites nations on a grander scale all over the world. National Geographic deemed soccer “The World’s Game: the universality of soccer is simplethe fact that the game can be played anywhere with anything.” Every four years, billions of people from nations all over the globe come together to watch 32 teams compete for victory. The FIFA World Cup, like the Olympics, is an international unifier. The tournament brings cultures together and there is no greater satisfaction than rooting for your favorite team! Regardless of whether you particularly like soccer or not, The GentleManual is here to help you understand the basics and give you what you need to know to keep up with and get into this month-long international sporting extravaganza (which began yesterday June 12th and continues on until July 13th.)

The Rules of the Game:

Before you can fully enjoy the World Cup, here’s a little bit of basic soccer information. In a game of soccer (or “football” as it’s called by every country other than the U.S.), each team can have eleven players (ten players and one goalkeeper) on the field at one time and make substitutions at any point in the game. A game of soccer lasts for two periods (45 min. each) with a halftime period in between. The game takes place on a pitch, which is basically defined as the rectangular space/field on which the game is played. A referee mediates the game on the pitch. There are also linesmen who determine whether the ball was in or out of the boundary, and make calls like throw-ins and offsides, which are somewhat similar to calls made in basketball. They stand on either side of the pitch to help keep close watch of the progression of the game. Players cannot touch the ball with their hands and must instead strategically pass the ball to break through the opponent’s defense to score a goal. In professional soccer, like in the World Cup, it is pretty rare to see teams score more than two or three goals in any given game.

Soccer Positions:

Defense – Defensive players have the responsibility of blocking the opposing team’s offensive players from scoring. They play closer to their own goal and assist the goalkeeper by attempting to prevent the other team from getting close enough to the goal to score.

Midfield – Much as the name describes, midfield players are responsible for breaching the gap between their team’s defense and offense by supporting both sides in the middle of the field. Midfielders are often considered to be the “heart of the game” and have an integral role in determining how the game unfolds.

Attack – Attackers are a team’s offense and are usually the most well-known players in a team because they are responsible for scoring goals. However, a strong offense would not be possible without equally strong midfielders and defensive players. Attackers are broken down specifically into forwards and strikers. Forwards lead the action in the offensive side of the pitch. Strikers’ main objective is to score a goal.

Other Terms:

Fouls – Fouls occur whenever a rule in soccer is broken. One of the most common fouls occurs when a player accidentally makes physical contact with another player, which is similar to the rules of basketball. More serious fouls are punished by the issuing of a red or yellow card by the referee.

Yellow/Red Card – A yellow card is basically a warning to any particular player during a game that they run the risk of getting a red card if he or she keeps breaking rules. A red card means that the player must immediately leave the game and is not allowed to play anymore for the remainder of the game.

Penalty Kick – If a foul has occurred in the area directly in front of a defensive player’s goal, a penalty kick is awarded to the offense of the other team. This allows the other team to score a goal with no other defense in their way besides the goalkeeper alone.

Offside – An offside is basically understood as a rule determining that an offensive player cannot ever be ahead of the defense as a particular play develops, as this would be seen as an attempt to gain an unfair advantage. If an offside is called by a referee, the defense gets a free kick at the offense’s goal.

So, What is the World Cup?

The FIFA World Cup has been around since 1930 and has been occurring every four years (excluding 1942 and 1946 due to WWII) since then. The soccer tournament is hosted in a different country each time, much like how the Olympics works. This year it is being hosted in Sao Paulo, Brazil. In the years between each World Cup, national soccer teams from all over the globe compete in order to qualify for one of 32 coveted spots in the games.

The month-long World Cup tournament matches the teams against each other in a group phase and then a final knockout phase. The group phase organizes the 32 teams into eight subgroups of four each. Then each team is scheduled to play one matches against each of the three other teams within its subgroup. Teams that survive the group matches move on to the knockout phase, which ultimately determines who will earn the title of the best international soccer team in the world.

The first phase of the World Cup, the group phase, will consist of matches within these subgroups:

World Cup Group Play Draw

This means that, for Group A (as an example), there will be six group matches so that each team plays each of the other teams within Group A: Brazil vs. Croatia, Brazil vs. Mexico, Brazil vs. Cameroon, Mexico vs. Cameroon, Cameroon vs. Croatia, and Croatia vs. Mexico.

Groups and Teams to Look Out For:

Group of Death:

People are calling Group G (the group the US is in) the “Group of Death.” This is definitely the group to watch this World Cup. The US is matched up against Ghana, Portugal, and Germany this year, meaning that the US is in for one of the most difficult battles it has ever faced at the World Cup.

US – When the World Cup was born in 1930, the US took the tournament by storm, reaching the semifinal rounds in the 1930 World Cup, qualifying for the 1934 World Cup, and qualifying but withdrawing from the 1938 World Cup. After dying down for a few decades, the US regained its momentum in 1990, qualifying for every World Cup since. It has been said that in order to advance in the tournament, the US must beat Ghana in order to gain an edge on Germany and Portugal.

Ghana – Though Ghana is considered the weakest opponent in the Group of Death, the team has managed to overcome the US team twice in the last ten years. The US plays Ghana on June 16th.

Portugal – Portugal hasn’t yet won a World Cup, but the team incidentally boasts the world’s most formidable and most dominant player of the moment, Cristiano Ronaldo. The US plays Portugal on June 22nd.

Germany – Germany is one of the strongest teams playing in the Cup, and has one of the best rankings at the tournament. The team has won the World Cup three times, making it second only to Brazil, the home team, which has five wins. The US plays Germany on June 26th.

Other Notable Teams:

Brazil – Obviously, the home team is one to watch this year. It is the top team of all-time with five World Cup wins to its name.

Argentina – Eagerly awaiting a trophy, the Argentinian team has one of the strongest attacking forces in the world. With a powerful line of offense featuring players such as Messi, Higuain, and Aguero, it will be interesting to see how Argentina fairs against the competition this year.

Spain – Spain’s team is one of the reigning European champions in the game, having won the 2010 World Cup and the 2008 and 2012 European Championships. This makes Spain the only national team thus far to secure three consecutive large-scale wins.

Players to Know:

Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo

National Team: Portugal
Position: Forward
Why to Watch: No one has an attacking force quite as explosive as Ronaldo. Rightfully so, he is one of the most well-known players in the world at the moment.

Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi

National Team: Argentina
Position: Forward
Why to Watch: A constant record-breaker, Messi has a reputation for his quick feet on the field and his mind-blowing ability to score goals. He is the only player to win the FIFA Ballon d’Or (World Player of the Year Award) four times.

Neymar da Silva Santos Jr.

Neymar

National Team: Brazil
Position: Forward
Why to Watch: Neymar is renowned for his technical skills and his free-scoring strikes. This player is sensational to watch on the field and has long been coveted by teams throughout Europe for his abilities.

Luis Suarez

Luis Suarez

National Team: Uruguay
Position: Forward
Why to Watch: The LA Times dubbed Suarez the “best soccer player in the world,” and Bloomberg reported that this Uruguayan forward is more formidable than both Messi and Ronaldo. Here’s to hoping he gets to play, as a knee injury he sustained last week at training might prevent him from doing just that.

Soccer Legends:

Because we can’t resist telling you about some of our personal favorites, here are some players who, though now retired, have made soccer history. The talents of these players are what have raised the bar for the level of skill required of the players of today. Though they are some of our personal favorites, these men are also internationally acclaimed by many to be the best of the best.

Dennis Bergkamp

Dennis Bergkamp

National Team: Netherlands
Position: Striker
Why He’s a Legend: During his career, Bergkamp was described as having some of the finest soccer techniques of any Dutch international player. Towards the end of his professional career, Bergkamp was selected by Pelé (mentioned later) to be one of the FIFA 100 Greatest Living Players. Finally, in 2007, Bergkamp was also inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame, making him the first and only Dutch player to receive such a high level of recognition.

Franz Beckenbauer

Franz Beckenbauer

National Team: West Germany
Position: Defense (Sweeper)
Why He’s a Legend: Beckenbauer, also known as Der Kaiser (“The Emperor”) for his playing style, leadership, dominance, and agility, is generally regarded as the greatest German soccer player of all time. Beckenbauer played in three World Cups and he is one of only two men to have ever won the World Cup both as a player and a coach.

Zinedine Zidane

Zinedine Zidane

National Team: France
Position: Midfielder
Why He’s a Legend: Zidane was bestowed the title of “best European footballer of the past 50 years” by the Union of European Football Associations. Known for his finesse, technique, and elegance, Zidane was a definitive secret weapon for any team he played with. Zidane played in three World Cups during his professional career. Today, he is the assistant coach for the Spanish team Real Madrid.

Pelé

Pele

National Team: Brazil
Position: Forward/Midfielder
Why He’s a Legend: If there is any player in history that should be regarded as the best of all time, it’s Pelé. With titles under his belt like “World Player of the Century,” on of the “100 most influential people of the 20th century,” and “FIFA Ballon d’Or Prix d’Honneur,” it’s no wonder that  Pelé was a master soccer player. Statistically speaking, Pelé really is the greatest player in history. In total, he scored 1281 goals in 1363 games during his career, which landed him in the Guinness World Records.

 

People usually bash soccer for being an uneventful sport because the game isn’t as score-heavy as, say, basketball or football, but soccer is about so much more than goals. It’s about camaraderie, athleticism, and cross-cultural unity simply because of the love for the game. So when you watch the World Cup with your friends these next few weeks, have fun, get into it, and rest assured that you know enough about the tournament to really enjoy it! Who knows? You just might become a soccer fan after all.