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The Basics of Soccer’s World Cup

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Yes, America, there is a sporting event that’s bigger and more popular than the Super Bowl. It’s called the Fédération Internationale de Football Association World Cup. To the rest of the world, this FIFA event is the only true football championship — the Super Bowl of soccer.

In just about every corner of the globe except the United States, football is the word used to describe what Americans call soccer. It’s a sport so beloved that each of the last World Cup’s 64 matches was viewed on television by an average of 259.9 million people. The 2012 Super Bowl’s estimated viewership of 111.3 million pales in comparison.

[Credit: © iStockphoto.com/Laurent Davoust]
Credit: © iStockphoto.com/Laurent Davoust

The FIFA World Cup is actually a multiyear tournament. The month-long finals occur every four years and 2014 is a championship year. Brazil is the host country and 12 of its largest cities are supplying venues for the various matches, which begin June 12 and end July 13.

Since the last Cup in 2010, soccer teams from around the world have competed in the qualification phase — a series of tournaments that determine the final field of 31 teams. (Thirty-two teams actually compete, but the host country’s team is guaranteed a spot.)

Once the finalists are decided, FIFA divides the competing teams into eight groups of four each.

When the soccer teams that compose these groups converge on Brazil for the 2014 World Cup, they’ll be competing in a multilayered tournament:

  • Intra-group competition: The soccer action kicks off with a nearly two-week long series of matches to determine a winning team and a runner-up team from each group. No one is eliminated from competition until the end of this round. At this point, everyone is just jockeying for position in the next phase of the Cup. Only the top two teams in each group move on to the Round of 16.

  • Round of 16: The winning team and runner-up team from each group advance to the Round of 16. During this phase, each winning team competes against a runner-up team from a different group. From here on out, competition is said to be at the knockout stage.

  • Quarter-finals: The eight winners from Round 16 battle it out in the quarter-final round.

  • Semi-finals: The four quarter-final round winners play in the semi-finals.

  • Third-place playoff: The losers of the quarter-finals compete for third place.

  • Final match: The top two teams vie for the FIFA World Cup title.


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