A viewer’s guide to the World Cup


Brazil’s Neymar controls the ball during a training session in June. (Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters)

The World Cup is trending. That’s no surprise considering the competition officially kicks off in one week. So, isn’t it time you get to know how this renowned month-long tournament works?

Let’s start at the beginning:

The World Cup is an international soccer tournament that’s held every four years. This year’s tournament is set to take place in Brazil from June 12 to July 13.

Why Brazil?

Much like the Olympics, countries bid to host the World Cup. Instead of the International Olympic Committee, however, it’s the Federation Internationale de Football Association, or FIFA, that makes the final decision. These decisions are made years before the tournament will take place to give the country time to prepare. FIFA awarded the 2014 World Cup to Brazil in 2007.

Once a country is awarded the tournament, several cities are named as hosts. Brazil chose 12 cities around the country and equipped each with a stadium large enough to hold at least thousands of spectators. The most off-the-beaten-path city to host in Brazil is Manaus, located in the Amazon.

With the World Cup less than two weeks away, Sao Paulo stadium held a final test game Sunday. Decor, Internet connections and VIP areas still need work before the matches begin. (Reuters)

 

Which countries get to go to the World Cup?

There are 32 teams in the tournament. The host country, in 2014′s case, Brazil, automatically gets a spot, but the other 31 must compete in competitive qualification rounds. For the 2014 World Cup, these qualifying rounds took place in 2011 and 2012.

They work like this: Each of the roughly 200 teams around the world is divvied out to one of six governing bodies that are categorized by region. It is within that assigned group that national teams compete to earn their World Cup spots. This ensures the tournament truly is international.

How do the games work?

The tournament is divided into two parts. First are the group rounds. The 32 nations that qualify are assigned semi-randomly to one of eight groups, each labeled with a letter A through H. The draw is not totally random because FIFA aims to make sure the highest-qualifying teams or all the teams from one region don’t end up in a single group.

Of course, luck is involved as well, which is why every World Cup features at least one “Group of Death,” which translates to the foursomes with the fiercest competition. This year, Team USA is in one of these groups of death (Group G), which features Germany, Portugal and Ghana.

“It is one of the most difficult groups of the whole draw,” Klinsmann said via Yahoo! news. “It couldn’t get any more difficult or any bigger but that is what the World Cup is all about.

The other Group of Death is Group B, which features Spain, the Netherlands, Australia and Chile (but that country isn’t scared).

In group play, each member of the group must play each other, meaning a total of 64 group-round matches will be played. (Now you know why the tournament spans a month.) The top two teams from each group will then move on to the knockout rounds.

But there is one very important rule in soccer one must realize to understand group-play scoring. Games may end in a tie, therefore the top contenders in each group aren’t simply determined by who gets the most wins. Instead, the World Cup uses a points system. A win is worth three points, a draw is worth one and a lose garners zero points. The teams who rack up the most points move on. Unless there’s a tie…

In that case, FIFA has several more criteria to decide the winner: Goal difference, number of total goals and a few other determiners that are too detailed to worth a mention in an overview.

How does knockout play work?

This is where things get a whole lot less complicated. The top 16 teams determined by group play are placed in a bracket with the top team from Group A facing off with the second-place team in Group B and vice versa and so on.

At this stage matches also are no longer allowed to end with a tie. (Rejoice!) Should the teams be tied at the end of the 90 minutes of regulation play, two overtime periods of 15 minutes each will be played. If the tie is still not broken, a shootout is initiated. Each team chooses five players who get to go one-on-one against the other team’s goalie. If this happens, it is a must-watch.

This brings us to the final match of the World Cup, which is set to take place in Rio de Janeiro on July 13. By this time, the finalists each will have played six games, including three group-round matches and three knock-out matches — the latter three would’ve all been wins. If a team can win its seventh match of the tournament, its players become the World Cup winners.

They won’t have that long to celebrate however. By 2015 they’ll already be starting qualification matches for 2018′s World Cup to be held in Russia.

There you have it. Any questions?

More on the World Cup:

The biggest single-event sports competition on Earth kicks off once again. From the reign in Spain to the United States’s fierce competition, here’s what you need to know. (Davin Coburn/The Washington Post)

 

Lights will stay on in Brazil, fingers crossed

Google Maps street view lets you see the World Cup stadiums

Jurgen Klinsmann knocks Kobe Bryant to explain why he left Landon Donovan off the team

Ronaldo is nursing thigh and knee injuries

Marissa Payne writes for The Early Lead, a fast-breaking sports blog, where she focuses on what she calls the “cultural anthropological” side of sports, aka “mostly the fun stuff.” She is also an avid WWE fan.
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Matt Bonesteel · June 5, 2014