The world's most beautiful game kicks off in Russia on Thursday 14 June. Die-hard fans across the globe are getting ready to wear their country’s colours with pride, wave their flags high and shout at their TV screens when they disagree with the referee.
If you want to be part of the action, but don’t know the first thing about football, we’ve got you covered! Read on to get a quick grasp of the basics so you can share in the passion, excitement and frenzy of the beautiful game.
What’s the big deal anyway?
If you really want to fit in with the fans, you’re going to need a little more info on the big event first. The World Cup has been taking place every four years since 1930. It’s the most widely followed sporting event in the world, outdoing even the Olympics! Teams from across the world compete in a qualification phase with the 32 qualifying teams earning a spot in the World Cup Final. Germany beat Argentina 1-0 to win the previous World Cup in 2014. This year, the World Cup will be hosted in Russia.
Let’s start with the basics
A soccer game consists of two teams of 11 players, a referee, a playing field and a ball. The game takes place on a field or ‘pitch’ which is made of grass or Astroturf, with a number of lines marking the halfway point, penalty area, centre spot and corners. There are two goalposts centred on either side of the pitch. The purpose of the game is to kick the ball over the goal line of the opposite team. The team that scores the most goals wins. A goal may only be scored with any part of the body apart from the hand or arm up to the shoulder. Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that but we’ll get to it a bit later.
A game lasts 90 minutes and takes place in two halves of 45 minutes each. If there are any stoppages during the game (a player is penalised, someone is injured or there are disputes), the ref will add a few minutes to the end of the game to make up for it. At the World Cup, the game may need extra time if there is a tie. An additional 30 minutes (split into two 15-minute halves) will be added. If teams are still level after extra time, it will come down to an exciting penalty shootout. Bonus: There’s a 15-minute break after the first half (45 minutes) of the game, so you can grab some snacks and argue with your mates about the off-side rule (more on that later).
The 11 players on each team have different positions and duties. The Goalkeeper (aka Goalie) is the only player allowed to use his hands to keep the opposition getting the ball across the goal line. Defenders play in front of the goalkeeper to protect the goalpost and keep the opposing team from scoring. Forwards are all about scoring goals. The main player to watch out for is the centre forward (aka the striker) who’s usually responsible for scoring the most goals. The Midfielders form the link between Defenders and Forwards, helping out on either side of the field as they’re needed. These guys have to be particularly fit, since they’re running from one end of the pitch to the other during the game.
Let’s get to the action
When it comes to soccer, there are a number of hard-and-fast rules, with a few grey areas thrown in to boot. In many instances, the ref will make a judgement call at his own discretion. When the ref judges that a player has made a foul, he blows the whistle and punishes the offending team or player. Most of the time, this just means giving the opposing team a free kick (which means they can pass or shoot the ball from a resting position). If the foul is really bad though (a player is violent or unsportsmanlike) the ref can present the guilty player with a yellow or red card. Yellow cards are a warning and red cards kick you straight off the field.
What about the dreaded Offside Rule?
This one’s a bit of a headache to understand. And it’s definitely one of the most argued-about rules in the game. At its simplest, the Offside Rule means that the attacker may not receive a ball from his teammate unless there are at least two players from the opposing team either level with him or between him and the goalpost. Of course, this is just the tip of the vuvuzela. There are so many grey areas and opportunities for argument that it’s nearly impossible to mention them all. Lucky for you, you have an entire month’s worth of World Cup soccer to listen in on the arguments and get a feel for it yourself.
If you have more than 5 minutes to spare, feel free to check out the full World Cup deets here – so you can throw out a few facts to really impress your buds at the bar.