The FIFA World Cup begins tomorrow. Before you shrug off soccer as boring and then promptly nap in front of an MLB game, consider this: by FIFA’s own humble estimation, 909.6 million television viewers watched at least part of the 2010 World Cup Final. For perspective, America’s most-watched television event in history was this year’s Super Bowl, with 111.5 million viewers. And you don’t need to follow the MLS or Premier League to get your Cup on — everything you need to know is in this short primer. If you want to know more, we linked out to further reading at the bottom, including the nitty gritty of political turmoil, a breakdown of every team and the history behind the World Cup trophy. But for now, let’s get basic.
Goal Line Technology
After England was denied a legitimate goal in a game against Germany in the 2010 World Cup, FIFA pushed for goal-line technology to objectively determine ball location. Thus, GoalControl GmbH technology has been installed in all 12 of Brazil’s stadiums. Within a second of the game ball crossing the plane of the goal line, a goal confirmation is sent to each of the match officials via their watch.
Succeeding the adidas Jabulani used in 2010 is the adidas Brazuca, the official game ball of the 2014 World Cup. The ball’s name was selected by over one million voting Brazilians, making it the first Cup ball to be named democratically; FIFA explains “the informal term ‘brazuca’ is used by Brazilians to describe national pride in the Brazilian way of life”. Adidas developed the ball over a two-year period, meaning more time went into making this ball than your first-born child.
A shaving-cream-like spray — named 9:15 after the distance defenders must give the striker on a free kick — will be used in the Cup for the first time this year. The spray vanishes minutes after use, giving officials the ability to keep defenders from inching up past the 9.15 meter mark for an unfair advantage against free kicks (very shifty, these soccer players).
What’s Been Going On
Beginning June 15th, 2011 (yea, 2011) a whopping 203 teams met to compete over the 31 open spots in the World Cup (Brazil, the host country, gets in automatically). The hopefuls played 820 qualifying matches against others in their FIFA confederations. Speaking of those “confederations”: there are six worldwide, each of them representing a geographic region, and each gets a set number of bids to the World Cup. America plays in CONCACAF, which represents North and Central America, the Caribbean and three nations in South America; of CONCACAF’s 35 teams, America came in first, but this is a relatively new phenomenon. We’ve only qualified for half of all World Cups since the first was held in 1930, and every time we do, we bypass nations that care a hell of a lot more about soccer than we do. Shit, as recently as 1986, Canada managed to make the cut over us.
Concurrent with the qualifying round, Brazil was busy building stadiums, renovating airports and generally not finishing infrastructure projects. The World Cup’s big expense is stadiums, and Brazil needed 12 world-class ones to host, meaning they had to build seven new stadiums and upgrade five more. Half of these 12 stadiums won’t host more than five World Cup games and some of them are in locations so remote that they’ll just fall into disrepair after the group stage. NBC reported that the stadiums cost “twice as much as the last two tournaments combined”, forcing taxpayers to foot a bill of nearly $3.6 billion. This has led to civil unrest in Brazil, a country that lacks in public works, education and healthcare but now boasts a $900 million stadium in Brasilia — a city that doesn’t have a major league soccer team worth noting. Coupled with the push to clear gangs from slums using military force, the lead up to the World Cup has seen soccer trump social issues, financial needs and, in some cases, common sense.
What’s About to Happen
The Group Stage is starting tomorrow, June 12, when Brazil faces off against Croatia at 4:00 pm EDT (the matches are played across two Brazilian time zones, both of them conveniently close to EDT). America’s first game is against Ghana next Monday, June 16, at 6:00 pm EDT.
The Group Stage is the first of the two stages in the World Cup. It cuts the 32 qualifying teams in half by way of a round-robin tournament. At the end of the round, the two teams in each group with the highest point totals advance to the Knockout Stage. Teams are awarded three points for a win, one for a draw and none for a loss; if the points are tied after everyone’s played, officials go to goal differentials to determine the top teams. If goal differentials are tied, well, there’s a whole tie-breaking procedure.
Since determining groups is largely randomized, there exists what is termed the “Group of Death”, in which two or more teams that are stacked to the rafters are grouped together. And yes, America is in a Group of Death. And no, we aren’t one of the teams that’s stacked to the rafters; Germany and Portugal are ranked 2nd and 4th respectively, and you might remember Ghana from the last World Cup when they crapped on our dreams in the first game of the Knockout Round. Or maybe you were watching the 2006 World Cup, in which we needed a win over Ghana to advance and they beat us down 2-1. This is all the more reason to watch our first three games, as they might be our only three.
After the Group Stage comes the Knockout Stage, which is when the Cup transitions into NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament style of play. Sixteen teams play a single elimination tournament until a winner, a runner up, a third and a forth place team is decided (they have a losers match after the semi-finals). This is when the World Cup gets the volume turned up; there are no ties during the Knockout Stage, and matches undecided after 90 minutes go an extra 30 minutes of overtime, followed by penalty kicks if things are still tied. This is when grown men cry and TV sets around the world get a foot shoved through them.
What to Know and Watch
First and foremost, watch the Ghana v. U.S. game (Monday at 6 p.m. EDT). This is our first game and arguably our most important for getting out of the Group of Death. Ghana and the U.S. are the two weakest teams in Group G (ranked 37th and 13th respectively), so picking up this early win is practically our only hope for finishing in the top two. Beyond that the group stage games you watch are up to you — each group has at least one great matchup. For the entirety of the group stage, expect games to be played daily at noon, 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. (4 p.m. and 9 p.m. in some cases; check here to be sure).
To watch soccer over beers, nachos and the screams of other fans is the only accepted practice. To that affect, The New York Times put together an interactive map of the best places to watch in New York City (there are also guides for LA, Houston, Boston, etc). No matter where you live, you can check online for the best soccer bars near you, which typically draw fans from a specific country. Don’t disregard this. In fact, use it to your advantage; Ghana vs. Portugal might sound boring on paper, but watch it in a Ghanan bar (rooting for the correct team, of course) and you’ll very likely get caught up in the action.
For those at home, ESPN, ESPN 2 and ABC will air 43, 11 and 10 matches respectively. Online, users can stream ESPN games from the WatchESPN app, provided they have a cable subscription. And finally, when the legal options have run dry and you refuse to get cable, the CBC in Canada and the BBC in the U.K. are streaming every game for free without a subscription. All you need to do is get around their Skynet defenses by making your computer appear to have an in-country IP address. This requires using something like a proxy server. That’s as much as we’ll say. The rest is up to you to google.
World Cup Kit
|Timeline of Team Jerseys, An Interactive Guide||The Guardian put together an interactive guide to World Cup kits through history. Click on the USA team to see their ten jerseys from 1930 up to 2014…not including all the cups we missed. Click on Brazil to see their progress in each tournament, and to realize how dominant they are.||Better than our World Cup Primer||SB Nation produced one of the most comprehensive World Cup Previews we’ve found.|
|An Investigation into World Cup Match Fixing||The New York Times exhaustively investigated incidences of match fixing before the 2010 World Cup and found it’s actually surprisingly easy. Read Part 1 and Part 2.|
|“¿Como se diz, Make Love?”||Prostitution is legal in Brazil and, in preparation for the huge influx of Westerners visiting for more than just soccer, prostitutes have been taking free English classes provided by a prostitute advocacy group in Belo Horizonte, one of the cities hosting a Cup match. “This is important for the dignity of the work, the women need to be able to negotiate a fair price and defend themselves”, Cida Vieira, president of the Minas Gerais state Association of Prostitutes, told Reuters.|
|Raising the Cup||The World Cup trophy had been hidden from the Nazis, stolen from an exhibit, recovered by a dog and finally taken home by Brazil with their third Cup win in 1970. Needing a new design, FIFA looked outward for the design and settled on that of Silvio Gazzaniga. This is the story.|
|John Oliver on why FIFA is pure evil||John Oliver spends 13 minutes highlighting the corruption of FIFA, the devastation in Brazil and the death toll in Qatar. All to do with the World Cup, an event he admittedly still couldn’t be more excited about.|
|A World Cup Photo Essay||The Atlantic put together a photo essay of Brazil in the lead up to the world cup. Slate also released one, this a bit more protesty.|
|The NY Times Reports||A New Yorker’s Guide to the best places to watch the game. Also, how American soccer fans are adopting foreign soccer traditions since, well, we don’t have any.|
|The World Cup of Murders, Obesity and Nobel Laureates||Because interactive graphics spread like wildfire these days, the Wall Street Journal put out “The World Cup of Everything Else“, in which the 32 qualifying teams compete in a single elimination tournament of military spending, life expectancy and much more.|
The Most Expensive World Cup, By the Numbers
576million dollars in total prize money awarded
35million dollars awarded to winning team
12Stadiums built in 12 separate cities across the country
14Estimated cost of the cup, in billions
81% of the GDP of Bosnia and Herzegovina (playing in Group F)
13thousand kegs of beer served at 2010 World Cup
390thousand hot dogs were also served in 2010
0U.S. Cup championships in 9 Cup appearances
5Brazil Cup Championships in 19 appearances (the most)
32Teams play over 32 days in 64 games during the cup
3.7Million visitors to Brazil