The World Cup for Dummies
Finally, a World Cup guide so simple, even an Alabama fan can read it.
One day soon you’re going to settle into your stool at your favorite sports-watching spot (the one you’ve spent so many hours in that it’s permanently formed to your copious amount of butt.) Soccer’s on, but before you call the bartender to change the channel, you’ll notice a beautiful woman two seats down from you wearing a scarf. Your first instinct will tell you to blabber on about how soccer is un-American. But something’s not right—even the dirty hipsters hung up their scarves months ago. But there she is, with that warm, wool neckhug. There’s only one possible explanation—you’ve spotted a soccer fan in the wild. Fortunately you’ve read this guide. It’s got all you need to keep yourself from sounding like the average mouthbreathing football fan and screwing up your one chance to impress a pretty girl.
The World Cup is played by national teams.
Just like Kobe Bryant plays club ball for the Lakers but balls for the U.S. team in the Olympics, each player at the World Cup is representing their country. They might play club soccer in a different country, but they can only play for the national team where they’re a citizen. The element of national pride that’s wrapped up in the tournament is one of the reasons that even non-soccer fans will tune in to the sport once every four years.
The tournament actually lasts 3 years.
Some 200 teams enter the tournament but are whittled down to 32 that make it to the month-long “finals,” which is the only part of the tournament that most Americans actually give a crap about. Each team plays in a regional mini-tournament called the “qualification stage” for the chance to play in the big show. For the big money. And did we mention the fans?
The U.S. region is called CONCACAF.
CONCACAF is made up of 41 countries, and has been ruled by the U.S. and Mexico for years. The U.S. won the qualification stage, but Mexico had to win a playoff against New Zealand to make it in (which is a little like the Knicks beating the Rucker Park All-Stars.) Costa Rica and Honduras are the other CONCACAF teams in the tourney.
We hate Mexico.
Whether you care or not, the Mexico/U.S. soccer rivalry is bigger than Duke/UNC. It’s bigger than Yankees/Red Sox. When our team visits, their fans are known to throw bags of urine on our players (although to be fair, our players are known to pee on their field.) Their fans chanted “Osama” at a game in Mexico City. And while the overall win-loss column is pretty even between the two teams, all you really need to know is that in the most important game they’ve ever played, this happened.
The tournament kicks off on June 12 with a group phase.
There are 8 groups of 4 teams. Each team plays all 3 group opponents. Winners get 3 points. Ties (yes, we have those, but only in the group stage) get 1 point. The top 2 teams from each group advance, winning fame and undying adulation from their fans. After the group phase, the tourney switches to single-elimination winner-takes-all games.
The U.S. is in the group of death.
The U.S. got paired with Germany (number 2 in the world), Portugal (number 3 in the world), and Ghana (number 38 in the world). With the U.S. ranked 14th, no other group comes anywhere close to being as difficult. For comparison, Group H (which I will refer to as the Group of General Pleasantness) sports Belgium (12th), Russia (18th), Algeria (25th) and Korea (55th). With that in mind…
If the U.S. gets out of the group phase it will be a big win.
The U.S. has assembled its most talented group of players ever, but it still has to beat out two very good teams to advance. The good news is that if we do make it to the knockout stage, we will play against a team from the Group of General Pleasantness.
The U.S. team has a German-American flair.
The coach of the U.S. team is Jurgen Klinsmann, who won the World Cup as a West German player in 1990. He also coached Germany to a third-place World Cup finish in 2006. When he took over the U.S. in July of 2011, he started German-American players, most of whom have one American military parent (the U.S. military has a strong presence in Germany.) The final roster has 5 German-Americans out of 23 total.
There’s no Landon Donovan.
Leading up to the tournament, the biggest story surrounding the U.S. team was Klinsmann’s omission of the U.S.’s highest scorer ever. Everyone (Donovan included) expected him to at least make the roster, and most would’ve picked him as a starter. If the U.S. does poorly, expect the pundit windbags to bring up Donovan’s absence very quickly.
The U.S. team is precocious.
If any of you Alabama fans have made it this far, I’m sorry for the big word, but there’s no better way to describe the U.S. team. Despite their coach’s German practicality, the U.S. Nats play with a distinctly ‘Merican mentality. They don’t care whether they should win, they’re going to play like we fight wars—to win. While our skill level has increased dramatically over the years, this blue-collar, American-dream mentality that hard work can overcome all obstacles is still our most valuable difference-maker.