The World Cup begins on Friday. Here is a guide to familiarize you with the sport, the culture, the players, and some frivolous side notes surrounding the quadrennial pinnacle of the Beautiful Game.
In the summer of 2006 I fell in love with soccer through the World Cup. I found two feral cats on my back porch and named them Henry and Rooney after two particularly striking players. What began as a month of soccer (I watched all but two matches) turned into my very favorite pastime. I grew up loving baseball for it’s purely American feel, and equally I love soccer for its global scope.
On June 11 I get to experience the crème de la crème of soccer once more, and it is all that I can think about. Comparing sports to war tends to sound ridiculous to me, but the analogy here would also seem petty and overwrought. The World Cup seems to be more about looking at a paint swatch of humanity around the world, without pretense, and allowing anyone, anywhere to just dig in. Here is a guide to familiarize you with the sport, the culture, the players, and some frivolous side notes surrounding the quadrennial pinnacle of the Beautiful Game.
5 soccer basics to know about the World Cup
1. The game will be played for 90 minutes, in two 45-minute halves. The clock is ongoing, starting at the kickoff and ending at half-time (00:00 – 45:00), and then starting after halftime and going until the end of the game (45:00 – 90:00). One of the great things about soccer is that you can watch a whole match with only commercials being played during halftime. At the end of the first half and at the end of the game, “stoppage time” will be played, with the referee deciding on how many extra minutes should be played to make up for minutes lost due to fouls, injuries, etc. It can be as low as 60 seconds (rarely is there no stoppage time at all) and as much as six or seven minutes (such as a match where several players had been seriously injured.)
2. Each squad is allowed only three substitutions per match. If you use all three in the 67th minute and Joe Striker blows his knee out, you’re losing to New Zealand.
3. “Off-sides” is not tricky. Here is the simplest explanation: there has to be an opponent aside from the goalie in between your mate and the goal line at the time the ball leaves your foot when you send him a pass.
4. There are two parts of the tournament. The first is called “Group Play” or “Group Stage.” This is where the 32 teams are divided into eight groups of four, each team playing the other teams in their group once. For example, The United States is in Group C with England, Slovenia, and Algeria, so we will have to play each of them and come out in the top two to advance to the next stage. This is quite straightforward, except that each game does not have to have a victor. Ties are frequent and in the case that after three games two or more teams are tied, the disparity in goals scored is used to determine who advances. “Knockout stage” is then played by the advancing sixteen teams. Picture your “Sweet Sixteen” college basketball bracket.
5. These players know each other. Men from most competing nations have played against each other for years at the club level in Europe, Asia, and North and South America.
5 places in Richmond to watch a match
1. Penny Lane has probably got to be the best place. They’ll be rooting for England if they’re playing.
2. FW Sullivan’s on Main Street in the Fan will be showing matches as well. I’ve never really dug this place but the World Cup is a good time for redemption. Let’s see what you got!
3. Hometeam Grill is a great place to watch not only US games but Mexico games as well.
4. If you’re on the Southside, I am told that Zero’s Subs will be showing all the matches. It pays to know which bars are owned by footie fans.
5. Piccolas at Harrison and Main has been an enjoyable place to watch Italian matches in the past.
5 underdogs to root for in the tournament
1. New Zealand
The Kiwis are ranked just 78th in the FIFA World Rankings. They are a likable side from a beautiful country (read: Mount Doom), but unfortunately being in a group with Paraguay, Slovakia, and reigning champions Italy is going to be a steep task for them.
2. South Africa
Never in World Cup history has the host nation failed to advance from beyond group stage, but unfortunately little RSA may be the first. They would have to be better or as good as Mexico and France. Let’s hope for an upset for the Bafana Bafana!
Why not root for a country as fucked as Nigeria? A beautiful land, beautiful people, beautiful resources, and the government controls it all. I’d love to see these boys take the beautiful game and stick it to Greece and South Korea to advance to Knock-Out.
In their first World Cup as Serbia (in the past they have played as part of Yugoslavia and more recently as the joint-effort Serbia and Montenegro), these boys got placed in a pretty difficult group. But I like this side. Their domestic football situation has been a mess for years (the biggest club, Red Star Belgrade, had hooligans so ruthless they eventually became a sort of secret police for warlord Arkan) and it would be nice to see them turn over a new leaf.
5. The United States of America
Oh, America. Where to start? You have got to be one of the only top-20 ranked teams where footie isn’t even the most popular sport (ironically, that would be football…) and the of the people who do get down on the Beautiful Game, many of them choose to support foreign sides like England or Italy, probably to save themselves the embarrassment. Things might be different if soccer were a working-class sport in the States, like everywhere else in the world, but in this country it is played by kids whose parents are rich enough to drive them to travel or ODP matches. I would love to see a surge of popularity of the sport in our country, but I’ll settle for a tie with England and moving on to knockout round to face Germany.
5 matches to watch while enjoying nation-specific beers (Why is Belgium not in this tournament?)
1. England vs. the United States of America: Fuller’s London Pride vs. Bell’s Two Hearted Ale
The tradition of the rivalry goes all the way back to the inception of our country. England is the better squad, and yet the United States stuck it to #1-ranked Spain less than a year ago, shocking the world. Fuller’s London Pride represents the pinnacle of traditional English brewing (from what’s available stateside, anyways) and Bell’s Two Hearted represents the arguable pinnacle of the American IPA.
2. Netherlands vs. Denmark: Koenigs Hoeven Triple vs. Mikkeler Stateside IPA
Many say the Netherlands have a great shot at making it all the way to the final this year, after qualifying with a perfect 8-0 record (in Europe, this is very hard to do) and outscoring their opponents 17-2. Denmark did very well for themselves in qualifying as well, yet have their work cut out for them in a group that also includes the relentless Japanese and the prolific Samuel Eto’o’s Cameroon. Koenigs Hoeven is the only Trappist brewery located outside of Belgium, in nearby Holland, and Mikkeler, a great Danish craft brewery, definitely have a penchant for the American hop obsession. This is pairing that will certainly get you wastey-faced.
3. Brazil vs. Cote D’Ivoire: Xingu vs. Tusker Lager
Brazil has years of tradition. The Ivory Coast, in goal-machine Didier Drogba, has its first ever chance of advancing past group stage. Xingu is an easy-to-drink black lager. Tusker, while from Kenya and not Cote D’Ivoire, is equally easy to drink and is one of the only African beers you can get in the Virginia market.
4. France vs. Mexico: Biere De Garde vs. Mexican-German Bock
France, the defending runners-up, has a somewhat aging side that still possesses great power in clutch situations. The Mexican side this year has speed and a helluva lot of capability to upset anyone. Enjoy whatever French Bier De Garde you can find- they’re light, a bit strong, and yet still sessionable. Mexican lagers owe most of their brewing tradition to 19th century teaching from Spanish and German brewers, which is why their lagers (“bock” is the term for strong lager) tend to be a bit stronger. Yummy!
5. Switzerland vs. Honduras: BFM Abbaye De St. Bon-Chien vs. Dogfish Head Theobroma
Who the fuck knows what’s going to happen in this match? Honestly, the beers might be the things that shine: BFM makes among the most amazing beers in the world, this one achieving a flavor akin to an earthy tannic red wine. Dogfish Head’s Theobroma (translated “food of the gods”) is an ancient recipe wrought by Honduran pottery fragments thought to be from one of the oldest alcoholic recipes in the world. For all of these beers, please check out River City Cellars, Once Upon a Vine, Beer and Wine at West Park, or Total Wine.
5 Movies to Netflix to get you pumped up for the tournament
1. Goal: The Dream Begins
The story of a boy who gets scouted in Mexico and rises to play for Newcastle United all the way over in Jolly Ol’ England. Acting isn’t great, plotline is kinda Chronicles of Riddick-ulous, but it’s also ridiculously awesome. Like watching a drunk guy buy taquitos at 7-11. He’s just pointin’ at that Jalapeno and Cream Cheese one like a dummy, but it’s pretty cute.
2. The Football Factory
A pretty hard-hitting movie about hooliganism. It gets kinda scary in a few places but still seems a little plausible. If this sort of thing interests you, you may want to seek out the book “Among the Thugs.” And then you may want to seek out someone to read it to you.
3. Green Street Hooligans
Like Football Factory but starring Frodo Baggins.
Pop this hot nug in the VCR and laugh yourself to death while remembering the comic genius of Rodney Dangerfield.
5. Kicking & Screaming
People shit all over this movie, but it’s about American youth soccer and therefore has a very special place in my heart. It’s also a father-son movie, which tends to get me. You see my dad was never in my life, and well, anyways Mike Ditka drinks a lot of coffee in this movie. Totally stand by this movie, Ditka, American youth soccer, and hating my dad.
5 football scandals to dig on
1. John Terry vs. Wayne Bridge
John Terry cheated on his wife Toni with known WaG (a term devoted to Wives and Girlfriends of footballers) and ex-girlfriend of England teammate Wayne Bridge, a lovely young lass named Vanessa Perronel. Wayne Bridge didn’t appreciate this, and snubbed John Terry when he offered a handshake at a recent match. Lil Wayne somehow missed the England squad, and all of England shook it’s head at Terry after elementary school children had voted him Dad of the Year. I’m told he’s not running for re-election.
2. Franck Ribery vs. Statutory Laws
France’s star midfielder was recently charged with canoodling with a prostitute who also happened to be under the legal age of consent. A serious crime in France, he faces some legit jail time as a result. Image search him on Google, he is the self-proclaimed Ugliest Man in Football.
3. Ashley Cole vs. Modern Technology
The English defender is married to a lovely pop singer, but was recently caught texting nude photos of himself to a model. If any one finds these pictures, I’d like them for… archiving… purposes…
4. Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, and Kieron Dyer vs. Staying Classy
The talented English trio was left off of the squad for Euro 2000, which is like the World cup but just for European countries. They then hopped on over to Cypress where they met some chicks at a burger joint and filmed themselves fooling around with them. But they didn’t seem to be joking. SuperFrank and Rio are both on the English national squad for the world cup. Will they have the energy to play?
5. Ronaldo vs… Ronaldo?
Aged Brazilian goal-scoring legend Ronaldo dropped his girlfriend off at her house. Aged Brazilian goal-scoring legend Ronaldo picked up three prostitutes and brought them safely back to his place. Aged Brazlian goal-scoring legend Ronaldo then realized that they looked a lot like… aged Brazilian goal-scoring legend Ronaldo. The men tried to extort money from him. None of them scored that night.
5 prettiest people in the World Cup
1. Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal
As seen in: Sexy underwear ads, YouTube fan-vids set to Ricky Martin, who he kind of resembles. Honest mistake.
2. Kaka, Brazil
As seen in: Multi-Millionaires You Can Bring Home to Mom. Kaka is very dedicated to his church in Brazil, often taking off his shirt after a goal to reveal a religious message. Pretty sure that under the second or third shirt is a totally hot bod though.
3. Fernando Torres, Spain
As seen in: Torres is young and creative, with roseate cheeks and blond hair. You may remember him as Kimmy Gibler on Full House, lolz.
4. David Villa, Spain
As seen in: Villa has perfected the Eurotrash boyband look. He has a soul patch and spiked hair. He somewhat resembles a marginally masculine Bratz doll, or maybe someone from a Twilight light switch cover.
5. Clint Dempsey, USA
As seen in: American footie fans’ hopes for the future. Dempsey has done well for himself recently for English club Fulham, important to us American men because we’d love for English women to think maybe we’re all that handsome and talented.
5 things to do while your boyfriend watches soccer
1. See the Sex and the City movie. You loved the last movie. Big and Carrie got married. Miranda and Steve finally made it work in a nuclear family. Charlotte shat herself. Samantha… still blowin’ dudes. See what happens next!
2. Make him breakfast so he can get energized for the 7:30am matches. Clean up the dishes while he is watching the match. Leave a little extra time after the match before picking him up from the pub. Use it to browse match.com.
3. Drive an hour to Charlottesville and visit some wineries. Meet up with some fancy types you met on match.com who would never be interested in soccer. Accept a glass of Petit Verdot from a cute dude and see where the conversation takes you.
4. Head over to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Revel in the fact that it’s not just a bunch of Faberge eggs anymore. Maybe enjoy a Panini at the café. No way is he eatin’ a Panini right now. Text Petit Verdot Guy.
5. Enjoy a lovely jaunt over at the Ramada Inn. The pool isn’t open yet, the lady at the desk tells you “the chemical guy ain’t come by yet, or sumthin.’” Get a little closer to Petit Verdot guy at the edge of the bed, then blurt to him about how you wish you were just spending the day with your boyfriend watching the greatest game on earth. Buy him a consolation bottle of Petit Verdot, which you don’t think is that great to begin with.
5 problems that may happen as a result of South Africa hosting the Cup
1. They’ve moved a lot of their poor outside of areas that visitors will be around
People don’t like it when you force them to move anywhere. Many people are now promoting the Elimination and Prevention of Re-Emergence of Slums Act.
The conditions in this settlement have grown so bad leading up to the World Cup that it’s inhabitants have threatened to burn it down before June 11.
When the Africa Cup of Nations took place this past winter, terrorists attacked Togo’s team bus, killing several. South Africa doesn’t need something like that to go down.
The work may not all be done. With the construction strike last summer and various electrician and transportation worker’s strikes going on, everyone is hoping the areas in use for the Cup will be finished in time.
The underground rail system has been finished just enough to use between match sites, but no more. They’ll have a lot of people descending on them over the next week. Better hope the trains work.
5 reasons to be interested in the World Cup even if you ain’t the sportin’ type
1. Globalization is reflected in soccer around the world
In the league corruption of Nigeria, in the Old vs. New Money of Italy, in the hooligans vs. hooligans vs. police of England, and in the apathy of America, global and domestic trends have long been exhibited in soccer. Check out the book How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization by Franklin Foer for a relatively quick but fascinating read on the subject.
2. The scope of the tournament
The 2010 World Cup as we know it is actually the 2010 World Cup Finals, as qualification began just after the last Cup ended. It contains the most competing nations to date in a tournament, matching only the 2008 Summer Olympics.
3. The President of FIFA has a name so ridiculous it sounds as if all his statements are issued by a Garbage Pail Kid
“I appeal to all the players and coaches to observe this fair play. In 2010 we want to prove that football is more than just kicking a ball but has social and cultural value…So we ask the players ‘please observe fair play’ so they will be an example to the rest of the world.”
-FIFA President Sepp Blatter
4. Trading jerseys
At the end of special matches, it is a tradition for players to trade jerseys after the final whistle. Consider the recent ESPN commercial: Jozy Altidore finishes a meeting at ESPN head offices. At the end of the meeting, Jozy approaches ESPN’s Josh Elliott and removes his jersey, presenting it as a gift to Elliott. Elliott reminds Altidore that his shirt is Italian, and Altidore assures Elliott that he is aware.
There is so much tied up in a match. One of the fundamentally poetic things about footie in the World Cup is how outmatched teams play against far superior sides and behave as if they are not underdogs. No doubt there have been many men who have been ever-dominant in their home leagues and have looked at moves by Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney, or Clint Dempsey and thought, “I’ve done that. I have made that exact move.” And no doubt they have performed similar moves, each man with his individual frozen memory of completely deceiving an opponent, excepting the disparity between frequency of occasion and skill of competition. So looking at that, the jersey exchange is a grading and equalizing machine, saying, “Here is a trophy, you earned it. Give me mine, which I earned.” God bless the jersey exchange, which allows competitors to remove the cloak of superiority or inferiority and expose the body of a footballer, sans country or club, exhausted from a battle with all its infernal implications.
5. Infrastructure issues
Not every country that has played host to the World Cup has been infrastructurally sound. But in South Africa, we have a new problem: It’s Africa. No matter how many grand steps the country makes towards filling arbitrary milestones the FIFA folks require of a hosting country, the world has an aversion to the Dark Continent. Let’s hope it goes off without a hitch and African nations can host many a cup to come!