The biggest sporting event in the world is about to begin and most in the USA are uninformed about soccer. This article will provide a brief introduction to soccer, rules of the game, structure of the World Cup, odds-on-favorites and authentic underdogs that will participate in the FIFA World Cup.
Welcome to Soccer 101. As the FIFA World Cup, the most popular and fervently followed sporting event in the world approaches, many are anticipating that the world’s largest tournament will be successful in increasing the sport’s fan base. In the past, most people in the USA have had little to no knowledge or interest in this huge event. In recent years, there has been a shift in “American” thinking, and soccer is starting to become more popular. The event that clearly defines this sport, the World Cup, is to be held in Germany starting June 9th and will reach its climax on July the 9th with the crowning of a World Championship team.
The word “soccer” is actually only used in the United States and Great Britain, where it has its origins. The rest of the world simply calls it “football”. The term ‘soccer’ is actually an abbreviation derived from “Association Football”, an organization formed in London in 1863. Originally called the Football Association, it was formed to standardize the rules for the game. One of the early compelling rule changes established by this association was that the ball could not be carried, or touched by the hand, except by the goalie. At the time, many enthusiasts and players were leaning toward morphing the sport into something similar to rugby or American football. This caused a rift in the two schools of thought and the rugby oriented clubs departed from the association soon after. The organization then coined the name Association Football to make a distinction between the two sports. In 1889, the abbreviated form “socca” started to be used. Eventually, in 1895, the spelling was changed to “soccer.” The origin of soccer, according to historians, is not nearly as clearly defined as the origin of the name.
The earliest known game similar to soccer was played in China during the Ts’in Dynasty (255 BC-206 BC). A game played with an animal skin ball and thirty-foot high posts connecting a net to form a goal, “tsu chu”, as it was known, was used to train soldiers. It is also documented that it was played as a form of celebration for events surrounding royalty. In ancient Near-East countries such as Egypt, a version of the game was played as a form of fertility rites. The American Indians and the Eskimos also had versions of a game similar to soccer. One legend documents a contest between two villages in Alaska with goals set up ten miles apart in a game called aqsaqtuk.
A Native American legend depicts the game played on the beach with goals a mile apart and players wearing disguises. Trying to distinguish between teammates and opponents was a part of the strategy in this game called pasuckuakohowog. Legends surrounding the game that describe using a conquered enemy’s skull as the soccer ball are found as early as the fifth century in England.
Now that you know a little bit of history of soccer, here is a quick look at the basic rules:
No Hands allowed – Only the goalie can use his hands in defense of the goal. This doesn’t apply to throw-ins. FIFA defines the hand as “Any part of the body from the tips of the fingers to the shoulder”. The goalie also cannot use his hands if the ball is passed directly from his teammate.
Fouls – A player cannot hold, kick, trip, charge, jump at, strike, push, or spit at or on an opponent. Fouls are called at the umpires’ discretion, making distinctions between incidental and deliberate contact. These are frequently called when the shoulders, arms or hands are used in an offensive way toward an opponent.
Direct and Indirect Free Kicks – A direct kick is one by which you can score by kicking the ball directly into the goal. An indirect kick is one by which you cannot score with directly. It may, however, be assisted toward the goal by another player. A direct kick comes from a contact foul or “hand” infraction. All other fouls result in an indirect kick.
Throw-ins – When the ball goes out of bounds on the sidelines a throw-in is taken by the closest offensive player. In this instance, use of the hands is allowed. Both feet must be on the ground and the ball is thrown in with both hands over the head.
Goal Kicks / Corner Kicks – Corner kicks or goal kicks are taken when the ball leaves the field across the end-line. If the offensive team was the last to touch the ball, it is a turnover and a goal kick is taken. If the defensive team was the last to touch the ball, a corner kick is taken.
Yellow and Red Cards – A yellow card is given as a warning, a red card is an ejection of a player. Two yellow cards equal one red card. If a player is given two successive yellow cards or a red card, they must leave the game and the team plays a man short.
Two-touch Rule – No player can touch the ball twice successively when putting the ball into play. This rule applies to throw-ins as well. A player cannot throw in and then kick the ball.
Penalty Kick – As a direct-kick foul, a penalty kick results from a contact infraction or hand foul by the defending team within the penalty box area. The kick is taken from the penalty box arc, which is 12 yards in front of the goal. All offensive players must be outside of the penalty box when the kick is struck. The goalie must have both feet planted at the goal line until the ball is struck.
Offside – If a player is closer to the opponents goal than to the ball or ahead of the ball with no defender between him and the goal, offside is called only if that player is involved in some type of offense activity as determined by the referee. This doesn’t apply to a goal kick, corner kick, or throw-in. It also doesn’t apply to a player on his “own half” of the field. You can’t be offside if you are standing on your half of the field. Also, the offside rule applies only when the ball is kicked, not when the player receives the ball.
To understand this better go to the FIFA Laws of the Game. Keep in mind that the FIFA International soccer competition rules are immensely complex. Even when viewed in brief, the “Laws of the Game” are not simple. They can be confusing and difficult to understand. The official FIFA rules are found in a 70-page book containing 17 sections and thousands of rules. Go to http://www.fifa.com/ for the complete laws for International tournament play.
The FIFA World Cup has held 17 tournaments. Oddly enough, there have been only seven different nations that have won the championship. Spanning the entire history of the tournament, here are the winners: Brazil 5, Italy 3, Germany 3, Argentina 2, Uruguay 2, England 1 and France 1. Amazingly, six of these wins at the World Cup were by the host country. This would indicate that the host nation has a distinct advantage. There have been some notable upsets along the way however. The underdog USA team of 1950 defeated a highly touted English team. North Korea beat Italy in 1966 and Cameroon won over Argentina, a super power in the sport, in 1990. If you are looking to lay down a bet on the World Cup, historical and tournament structural facts are important to consider.
The structure of the tournament can be one of the things to look closely at when trying to decide who is the favorite. For 2006, Brazil and Japan, who are equally matched, are in the same pool. That makes it tough to predict who will survive that grouping. Head-to-head match-ups are not the only thing to consider. Fatigue comes into play when evenly talented opponents meet in an early round. So you have to consider that even if Brazil is victorious early on, will they still have the stamina to go the distance? There is also some luck involved in the structure of the final groupings. The top 8 teams are separated as #1 seeds for groups A through H. Germany and Brazil get their free pass as top seeds because they are respectively the host nation and the previous champion. The remaining clubs are simply drawn at random from a bowl.
The pools for the World Cup have been chosen and their seeding in descending order looks like this:
Group A; Germany, Costa Rica, Poland, Ecuador
Group B; England, Paraguay, Trinidad-Tobago, Sweden
Group C; Argentina, Ivory Coast, Serbia-Montenegro, Netherlands
Group D; Mexico, Iran, Angola, Portugal
Group E; Italy, Ghana, United States, Czech Republic
Group F; Brazil, Croatia, Australia, Japan
Group G; France, Switzerland, South Korea, Togo
Group H; Spain, Ukraine, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia
Group A: Germany is a very tough opponent, and they are on their home field, which makes them scary. However, Poland has a legitimate shot at making the finals. Group B: It is important to note that Sweden has not lost to England in 37 years. Group E: The Italians are a good team but overall this group is too evenly matched to call. The United States has as much a chance as anyone in this division. Group C: The two toughest powerhouse teams in one single group are Argentina and the Netherlands. One of these two will no doubt emerge victorious.
The Underdogs: Trinidad-Tobago will pay big (~1000/1 to win), but can they make it past the first round? Portugal (~22/1), Sweden and Mexico (~40/1) and the Ukraine (~50/1) will also provide a big payoff if they win.