Soccer fans are a lot like vegans in that they can’t go more than a couple of hours without reminding you that they watch the world’s game.
Now that the calendar has flipped to June, just two weeks out from the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the beautiful game is ready to grip the globe, even if the United States is not involved (that’s a disastrous story that can be saved for another day).
While there will be millions of American soccer fans ready to implement an intricate system of sick days, pretend traffic jams and extended lunch breaks to ensure they don’t miss a minute of the action, there are countless more in this country who can’t tell you the first thing about the singular biggest sporting event in the world.
That’s right, NFL fans, there is something bigger than your precious Super Bowl, which is becoming more of a concert and social gathering more than an actual (American) football game.
So we at Metro decided to provide those who don’t know the difference between a soccer ball and a doorknob a beginner’s (can be read as idiot’s) guide to the World Cup.
Can someone explain this competition to me?
The FIFA World Cup is a tournament contested by 32 national teams, split into eight groups of four sides. In total, 64 matches will be played to crown a champion. Each team will play the other three nations in their group before the top two move on to the knockout stages. From there, a single-elimination format is used to find a champion. This year, the competition winds from Jun. 14-Jul. 14.
There are so many countries, how do we get to 32 teams?
Technically, the month-long tournament of 32 teams is considered the FIFA World Cup Finals. Over a two-year span prior to a World Cup year, continents set up extensive qualification periods where all 211 nations registered with FIFA have an opportunity to make the Finals. In total, 31 teams will win qualifying bids with the host country automatically making the Finals.
Who are the best teams?
There is always a core of world soccer powers that will vie for the World Cup. Brazil, coming off an embarrassing 7-1 defeat to Germany in the 2014 World Cup semifinals, has won the most titles with six. The Germans are the defending champions and have made the quarterfinals in the last nine competitions. Their lowest finish in the past 20 years has been third.
Then there is Argentina, who has the best player in the world in Lionel Messi. The 2014 runners-up will be keen on delivering their nation a first world championship in 32 years. Spain and France are also expected to make a run toward the top this year.
Are we missing any big teams?
Other than the United States, which was an embarrassment, there were some real traditional powers that did not make the tournament. The Netherlands, who finished third in 2014 and second in 2010, failed to make the Finals while Italy, four-time winners, provided the biggest shock of not making the tournament. It is the first time since 1958 that they will not be taking part in the competition.
Did any surprise teams make the tournament?
Iceland provides one of the biggest surprises at the World Cup even after a Cinderella run to the quarterfinals of the European Championships two years ago. With a population of 335,000, they are the smallest nation to ever qualify for the World Cup. Egypt also made its first World Cup Finals in 28 years on the (now injured) shoulders of Liverpool talisman Mohamed Salah.
How can I watch?