The FIFA World Cup is in full swing and the 32 teams are winnowing themselves down to the Round of 16! As a diehard football fan, it pains me a little bit to not see The Azzurri competing for a title, but I wanted to let you know there are still plenty of ways to enjoy the best football competition in the world. Andiamo!
…when your team is not playing
This edition of the World Cup has provided some very good matches from the start, such as Spain vs. Germany and Argentina vs. Messico (see what I did there?), not to mention some shocking upsets like Saudi Arabia over Argentina and Japan over Germany. No matter where your allegiances lie, these matches have been tons of fun.
And as usually happens at the World Cup, some outsider teams like Senegal and Ghana always seem to enliven the competition. Two easy ways to enjoy the World Cup even if your team is not in it? Choose an underdog team, or simply root for your favorite international player!
…when you don’t know anything about football
Not familiar with football rules? No worries, you can enjoy the game anyway! Here are some basics to keep in mind:
- At the FIFA World Cup this year, there will be 32 teams competing against each other. Each team is formed by 23 players, with 11 playing on the field at any one time (including the goalie) and the others acting as substitutes. Each match lasts for 90 minutes, plus “stoppage time” added by the referee at the end of each half to account for time lost to injuries and penalties.
- In the first round group stage, four teams play a round-robin style, and after each match, points are assigned: 3 points for a win, 1 for a draw (or tie), and 0 for a loss. Every team will play against the other three teams and in the end, the top 2 go on to the next stage, with a tie decided by “goal differential.” For instance, in Group C Mexico and Poland both finished with 4 points, but because Poland had a goal differential of zero (scoring two goals of its own, but allowing two goals), and Mexico had a goal differential of -1 (scoring two goals of its own, but allowing three goals), Poland advanced to the Round of 16.
- While the group stage is played in a round robin format, going forward all matches are single-elimination (loser goes home). If a game ends in a draw after regulation and extra time, it must be decided on penalty kicks. In fact one of the most shocking World Cup finals of all time occurred in 1994 when Italian superstar Roberto Baggio (The Divine Ponytail) missed a PK and the team fell to Brazil, 2-3.
- During the matches, players can face various cases of “misconduct” for which the referee will give a warning (yellow card) or send them off the pitch (red card). If the misconduct occurs in the goal area, the referee will award a penalty shot, a single shot of a player against the goalkeeper. Misconduct can range from pushing someone to using their hands on the ball, or hard contact between the players. After all, football is played only with the feet, apart from the goalkeeper and the throw-ins, which is when the ball goes out on the sidelines.
- And then there’s the most mysterious rule in of all sports: offside. The definition, according to Wikipedia, is: [a player is in an offside position] if any of their body parts, except the hands and arms, are in the opponent’s half of the pitch, and closer to the opponent’s goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent (the last opponent is usually, but not necessarily, the goalkeeper). Clear, right? No? Oh well, basically, it means that if a player runs in the goal area but without the ball, which will be passed over by a fellow player, but there are no defenders in front of him, well, that means he is offside and, if he scores, the goal will be invalidated. It’s so easy… Ah, hands and arms don’t count, because, anyway, you can’t use them! The trick? Pretend to know how it works and scream “Offside!” anytime the opponents are trying to score an ambiguous goal!
And those are the basics of any football game… Ready? Pick your team and make your bet!
…as a family
Apart from enjoying the matches and supporting your favorite team, the World Cup is also a great chance to teach children about fair play. It’s also a great opportunity to learn about the special traditions and cultures of the countries participating in the competition. Why is the Japanese team called Samurai Blue? Or why Brazil’s Selecão insist on wearing yellow? Who are the best players in history, and what have they meant for their countries? For sure each country can bring in fabulous stories, traditions and discoveries! And this is a great opportunity to learn all of this and respect other cultures.
No matter your country or your team, if you are watching with family or friends, the FIFA World Cup is an event that brings joy and people together. So wherever you are, cheer up and enjoy the competition!
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