A guide to the World Cup when you know nothing about soccer
NEW YORK (AP) So, there’s this thing called the World Cup …
The group stage of the most widely watched sporting event in the world is about to conclude, and you want to be part of the action going forward. The problem is, you know nothing about soccer or how the World Cup actually works.
Here’s a guide for soccer newbies about some of the more rudimentary aspects of play:
THE ROUND OF 16
We’re just about there, coming out of the round-robin group stage where all 32 national teams play three games for points. There are no draws in the next phase. Instead, the winner of each of the eight groups (four teams per group) plays against the runner-up from another group.
In the group stage, teams earn three points for a win and one point for a draw. The top two teams in each group advance to the round of 16. There are tiebreakers if teams have the same number of points coming out of group play, but you don’t want to go there. It’s complicated. Just enjoy the show.
Once all 16 in the round of 16 are in place, the competition pivots to single elimination, bracket style, like March Madness. If the score is tied after the regulation 90 minutes, two extra periods of 15 minutes each are played. If it’s still tied after that, there’s a penalty shootout, with five players taking turns on the opponent’s goalie.
It takes just one round to go from 16 to eight teams, then four, then two, until a winner takes home what just might be the most unsightly trophy in professional sports.
WHAT IS A SET PIECE?
In a film or theatrical production, a set piece is a dramatic or elaborate scene. At the World Cup, it’s what happens for a variety of reasons, including play begins with the ball at a standstill after a foul or out-of-bounds call. It sounds more elegant than it is, but it can be crucial in terms of scoring.
Injuries, substitutions, a well-lobbed vuvuzela that makes it onto the field – certain things can slow the game’s pace, but soccer’s running clock never stops. The 90 minutes of regulation play often includes a minute or two added per half, along with some at the end, to account for those delays. It usually amounts to no more than six minutes per game, but if all heck breaks loose and interrupts play, it can be more.
OFFSIDE, IT SEEMS SIMPLE BUT NO
There are lines on the field. The lines mean something, but things get soccer-quirky when it comes to this call.
The offside rule goes like this: If an attacker (a forward) is on the opponent’s side of the field and a teammate touches the ball, at least two players from the opposing team must be closer to the goal line than the attacker. If not, the attacker can’t be involved in the play.
When an official calls a team for being offside, the other team gets possession of the ball for an indirect free kick, taken from the spot where the offense occurred.
Still with me? It’s a tricky call since refs must have just the right sight line to see it.
WHAT’S ALL THIS VAR TALK?
It stands for video assistant referee and involves camera technology to correct and clarify the decisions made by the regular refs. After trials last year, it is being used for the first time in a World Cup. Goal line technology was used in Brazil four years ago, but this is the debut of VAR.
The video-watching refs are centralized in Moscow and have access to lots of camera angles and speeds, including ultra-slow motion, at all the stadiums.
Refs on the field are allowed to go to video to advise or clarify game-changing situations, offside situations, red card situations (those are really bad) and matters of mistaken identity (it’s rare) when a card is thrown or a player is sent off the field.
WHAT ABOUT THOSE CARDS
Yellow cards are warnings. Earn two and a player is not only outta there, but his team must play a man down the rest of the match and he earns a one-game suspension. The suspension, from the next match, can also be true if a player earns two yellows in separate matches.
But there’s this whole reset thing come semifinal time intended to prevent a player’s elimination from a final because of yellow card accumulation. Which isn’t to say a player in a semifinal facing a straight red card or two yellows couldn’t be banned from a final.
BE THE WALL
The much fussed over human walls that emerge in soccer are hard to miss. They occur on fouls outside the fouling team’s penalty box but near that team’s goal. The other team gets a free kick – a direct shot at the goal. Building a wall is defensive strategy No. 1. Players arrange themselves shoulder to shoulder to block part of the goal from the kicker’s view. It sometimes feels like forever to get it all organized but it must be done reasonably quickly. The goalie is in charge of placing his fellow humans between the dead ball and the goal, moving them left or right as he figures all the angles. The ref pipes in if he feels the wall is not the requisite distance from the ball, 10 yards. These days, refs mark out the distance, intended to reduce the baby-stepping wall participants once did to inch closer to the ball.
THE DRAMA KINGS
Flopping, diving – there are many ways players overdramatize a foul or potential foul. Generally, there’s a good deal of overdramatized agony and clutching of body parts. You reach the World Cup as a player and you’ve got this aspect of the game down to a razor-sharp skill. The theatrics are Oscar-worthy, but some purists aren’t amused. Just play the game, they argue.