A Girl's Guide to the World Cup :: Part I

The World Cup kicks off (get it!) today and is the largest soccer tournament in the world.  The month long soccer series brings together more countries than any other sporting event. To put into perspective just how popular the event is worldwide, the Super Bowl draws around 110 million viewers; FIFA estimates that approximately 3.2 billion people will watch at least some part of the World Cup and the final match will have roughly 1.3 billion viewers!

If you're a first time spectator, whether on TV, online or in person don't worry.  I have you covered! Here are terms, rules and players that you need to know, so you sound like a pro.  Read up to better understand how the next month of games will play out.  Don't plan on watching the matches? No problem.  But this guide will help give you a better understanding of the event, terms and players (so you can still talk about it at dinner/drinks/coffee with friends!) 

The Teams:

The World Cup began in 1930 and takes place every four years (with the exceptions 1942 and 1946 which were canceled as a result of WWII)  Every summer, for one month, the world comes together to watch the 32 teams play 64 matches. This year, the first match is scheduled for today, Thursday, June 12, between Brazil and Croatia. Three games will take place on June 13, and then at least two games per day through July 1.  On July 4, Quarterfinal play begins.  

The first section is called “The Group Stage,” where the 32 teams are broken up into groups of 4. Each team in the group plays the other three teams once, with three points awarded for a win, one point for a draw (yes, there are ties) and no points for a loss. The two teams with the best result from each group proceed to the round of 16. From there, it’s similar to March Madness, with single-elimination games determining the ultimate winner.

The players:

There are eleven player per side, which generally breaks down as four defenders, four midfielders and two forwards and one goalie. Three substitutions are allowed per match (rosters have 23 players in total), and players cannot reenter. If a player is ejected (more on this below), his team must proceed with 10 men.

The timing:

The game consists of two 45-minute halves, during which time the clock continues to run, regardless of a foul, goal celebration or injury. At the end of each half,  "added time" or "injury time," is added to make up for lost play time. Generally, one or two minutes are added following the first half, three or four tacked on to the second half. In the Group Stage (the first rounds- see above), there are draws when the game is tied. In the knockout rounds, if the score is tied at the end of regulation, there are two 15-minute overtime periods — it’s not sudden death. If it’s still deadlocked, they go to penalty kicks.

Colored cards:

During the course of the game, the referee may show a colored card to a players who commits a foul (essentially breaking a rule of play). A yellow card is a warning card, intended to let the player know to tone it down and watch his play.  Red cards are saved for intentional fouls, which automatically ejects the player from the match.

Key terms

  • Football :: Globally, soccer is considered football, unlike in America where football is the NFL.
  • Nutmeg or megged :: This happens when a player makes the opposing player look silly by dribbling the ball through their legs and still managing to regain possession of the ball.
  • First touch :: The first initial touch a player has on the ball with their foot, usually coming from a pass from a teammate. That touch can determine whether a team keeps or loses possession of the ball.
  • Good/great ball :: A quality pass/assist from a player.
  • Pitch :: No, it has nothing to do with a throwing motion, but is an English word for a sports field. In this case, it's referring to the soccer field.
  • Upper 90 :: A term used to describe the top left or right portion of the goal. The upper corner of a net is in the shape of a 90 degree angle. Many goal scorers aim at that portion

Previous Champions:


  • Spain (2010), Italy (2006), Brazil (2002), France (1998), Brazil (1994), and West Germany (1990).


Helpful Links:

  • Your guide to the, um, good looking football/soccer player here (via Elle Magazine) and here (via Vogue)
  • The more "official guide" to the 32 teams here (via The Fiscal Times)
  • FIFA website with FAQ's, match-ups, and the schedule here (via FIFA, the official governing body of International Soccer/Football)

Many cities have viewing parties, so check to see if there are any in your local area.  If you're in DC, here are a list of bars and restaurants that are hosting events.  Now, get out there and watch some Football!