Hello. As you may already be aware, there will not be any college football games played until the end of August. That means an entire summer with no football. However, do not fear, as the World Cup is being played this summer! Since the World Cup is a "soccer" and not football tournament, you may not be overly familiar with it. You're in luck! As I have previously watched soccer and football, I feel I am somewhat qualified to acclimatize you to international soccer. I'll do my best to present everything to you in college football terms so you can show off at parties with your astounding, intricate knowledge of "The Beautiful Game". Today, we'll talk about the basics as well as introduce you to the first group of countries.
1. What is the World Cup?
A. Great question. It is a giant tournament held every four years where the 32 best countries in the world come together and play soccer against each other to figure out which country is the best in the entire world. Note that these aren't really the best countries in the world (they let Switzerland come with their filthy neutrality and cuckoo clocks, after all) and, actually, they aren't even the best countries at playing soccer. Much like the NCAA tournament1, they want to make sure they've got even representation from all over the world. As every conference sends at least their champion to the NCAA tournament, every region gets allocated a certain number of slots at the World Cup. So, Asia gets four slots and a team like Iran gets to show up and get their ass whomped by Argentina.
2. But isn't that unfair to the better teams that don't make it?
A. Since no one outside of the best six or seven teams really has a shot to win the tournament anyway, it's just making up the numbers so they can have more TV rights to sell. And while it certainly is disappointing that you won't see the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic's Sweden team or Gareth Bale and the Wales team, the potential for the equivalent of conference realignment exists, such as when Australia left the "Oceania" Federation (think Big East) to join the Asian one (think ACC...they're still a crappy Big East team). Sweden and Wales will just have to look into moving to Africa or North America if they'd like to make more World Cups.
3. Seems reasonable. So did either of the teams I've heard of, Barcelona and Manchester United, make the tournament?
A. No, because those are not countries. Every country gets to pick the best players from its citizens to form a "National Team". In an interesting twist, players can sometimes choose whom they want to represent, at least from up to a couple of different countries. Essentially, if you were born there, you have parents/grandparents from there, or if you've lived there long enough, you can pick a country. For example, just like Virginia Tech recruits players out of Florida, the US coach has been essentially recruiting players from Germany who have an American parent because, on the whole, Germany is better at soccer than the US.
4. So America won't be represented by AMERICANS?!
A. Easy, easy. They are pseudo-Americans and you should be proud that they chose to represent the USA instead of wherever else they could have2. In fact, the US could conceivably field an entire team that had the potential to represent other countries, such as Mexico, Norway, Haiti, Iceland, Germany and even Hungary.
You aren't proud to claim Terrence Boyd, a man who got an eyeball tattooed on his forearm so he can celebrate goals like this FOR AMERICA?!
5. Who the hell is from Hungary?
A. Goalkeeper Tim Howard's mother is Hungarian. Her goulash is a hit when its her turn to make the team dinner.
Anyway, each team can bring 23 players to the tournament and great debate will ensue in each country with much wailing and gnashing of teeth over the players that got left out and the players that got included. It's great fun and pointless debate, much like analyzing Shane Beamer's running back rotation.
6. So is it a knockout tournament like any good American tournament?
A. Nope. Every country gets put into a group of four and plays everyone else in their group. They try to diversify each group as much as possible from around the globe, but there are frequently several European teams in a group because essentially every country in Europe gets to go3.
Teams get three points for a win, one for a draw and none for a loss. The top two teams in each group move on to the knockout stage. This ensures that nobody flies all the way to the tournament, gets their ass handed to them in the first game and then goes home. They have the opportunity to get completely, soul crushingly destroyed three times! And, again, more games for FIFA to sell in their television packages.
From there, it will be a knockout tournament of 16 teams.
7. Where is this tournament being played?
A. In Brazil, what many call the spiritual home of soccer. Everyone in Brazil was super excited about this until they realized that their politicians were essentially using it to line their pockets with bribes and won't actually build anything that would be useful to the general public. So, during the Confederations Cup last year, which is basically a warm up the year before the World Cup, protests exploded across Brazil around the matches. The police cracked down hard and fans attending some of the matches reported they could smell the tear gas inside the stadium. The protests, which have already started again this month, are expected to be far worse at the World Cup. So, if the soccer isn't interesting, the potential for violence outside the stadium is higher than at a West Virginia football game.
8. Okay, can you bring me up to speed on how the game is played?
A. Yes. Interestingly, you aren't allowed to use your hands to touch the ball, unless you are the goalie. The purpose of the game is to put the ball into your opponents goal more times than your opponents put it into your goal, using only your feet, heads, chest, knees...essentially, every non-hand and non-arm part of your body. If you do something bad like knock someone over, you might get a yellow card. If you do it twice, two yellows equals a red card and you get ejected from the game and your team can't replace you. You can also get a straight red card if you do something real bad like kick someone in the jimmy.
That's so not cool. That's why everyone calls you Shrek, Wayne Rooney
9. So do they have an offense and defense like real football?
A. Yes, but not how you think. There are 11 players on the field, a goalie and ten field players. They do not rotate in and out like in regular football. You are allowed three substitutions per match. Anyone who doesn't get substituted plays the full 90 minutes.
10. NINETY MINUTES?! That's way longer than a football game!
A. Yes, but the games are always over in less than two hours. It is two 45 minute halves and they have a running clock, so no stopping the clock for timeouts or injuries or commercials. At the end of each half they generally have what is called "stoppage" time, where the game plays on for an extra couple of minutes to account for time wasting and injuries, etc. The best part is that this is at the referee's discretion so all sorts of conspiracy theories can come into play.
Once we get to the knockout stages, teams that are tied after 90 minutes go to "Extra Time", which is two 15 minute periods and, if it's STILL tied after that, a penalty shoot out. Note, that if someone scores in Extra Time, it doesn't stop the game; they play out the rest of the Extra Time so the other team could potentially come back and tie it again or even win.
11. You keep using weird words like "matches". Can you translate?
A. Certainly! Since soccer isn't really an "American" sport, you'll frequently hear British commentators on ESPN, such as the wonderful Ian Darke, who will helpfully explain it to us. He will use words you are unfamiliar with. Here's a brief guide:
Football: This is what English people call "Soccer" because they aren't lucky enough to have real football over there. Also, since you use your feet in the game, it kinda makes sense.
Match: This means "Game", but they chose a word you may associate with starting a fire to make it seem more interesting.
Nil: This means "Zero", as in "Iran lost to Argentina seven to nil." They chose this because there isn't actually a word for zero in the Queen's English.
Draw: This means "Tie", as in "The Greece-Japan match ended in a nil-nil draw". They call it this because drawing pictures on your stomach with a knife is more entertaining than watching Greece spend 90 minutes trying to prevent everyone, including themselves, from scoring.
Pitch: This means "Field", as in playing field. Again, to continue the excitement theme, they wanted to associate the playing surface with something the "Match" might set on fire. And it also means something in baseball, so it's a transitional word for Americans.
Club: This means "Team", as in the professional team a player plays for. The equivalent of the Atlanta Falcons, only they call them clubs because you have to pay membership dues to be allowed to play for them.
Argy Bargy: This doesn't actually mean anything. The English made it up to try to make Americans feel stupid for not knowing what it means. Bastards, THAT'S WHY WE THREW YOUR TEA OUT OF THE BOAT!
Kit: This means "Uniform", and is an acknowledgement that whenever anyone dresses up in a uniform, in their heads they are pretending to be Knight Rider and wishing they were driving Kit.
Shirt: This means "Jersey" but the English are prohibited for referring to anything Jersey related after the Battle of Trenton.
Lost the Plot: This means the coach or player has no idea what's going on or what to do. Just like when you're at your book club and you haven't read the book because, Jesus, A Million Little Pieces was like 400 pages long, ain't nobody got time to read all that.
WAGs: This means "Wives and Girlfriends", particularly of the English team, who will generally be used by the English media so they can:
- Print pictures of hot women, generally in bathing suits
- Blame the team's struggles on whatever the WAGs are doing and/or not doing
- Try to cause internal team issues by exposing players cheating on their WAG, PARTICULARLY when they are cheating with another player's wife, girlfriend, or baby mama
Brace: This means scoring twice by the same player, as in "Logan Thomas threw a brace of touchdowns against Miami last year". The British chose this word because they didn't realize braces were for teeth.
Hat trick: This means scoring three goals. So...same thing as in American.
12. Last question. Are there any Fullers?
A. Sadly, there will not be a single Fuller taking the field at the World Cup, a crushing disappointment for everyone everywhere. With no Fullers, you're going to have to rely on your heritage, citizenship or own inherent bias and/or bigotry to pick which teams to root for or against. To assist those of you who need help in picking a team to root for (or to hate), I'll provide an overview of each team and their college football equivalent to provide some hard data to support your decision. Most of those overviews will come in separate posts to keep this one from getting (even more) out of hand, lengthwise, but to give you a bit of a taste of what's coming, let's take a look at the teams in Group D.
College Football Team They Most Resemble: Texas A&M. You know how Johnny Manziel is the most polarizing figure in college football? Say hello to Luis Suarez. While Suarez has generally done worse things than Johnny Football (he's been banned for biting people TWICE, as well as for saying racist things and then using the "But I have black relatives" excuse) you either love him (Liverpool fans and Uruguayans) or hate him (everyone else). He helped Uruguay finish fourth in the last World Cup by intentionally blocking a shot with his hand. He was thrown out of the match but Uruguay went on to win the game to qualify for the semi-finals. They are also regularly overlooked because of their proximity to Brazil and Argentina (Texas and the SEC West), although they've won the World Cup twice.
FIFA Ranking: 6. They haven't been so great since 2010, needing an intercontinental playoff victory over Jordan to get in, which...what? They barely qualified for the World Cup?!?! How the hell are they 6th??
Official Bus Slogan4: Three million dreams...let's go Uruguay.
I dunno, maybe it sounds better in Spanish or Portuguese, but it just seems like someone started strong, realized how stupid this exercise was and threw in the second half at the last minute. Could only be improved upon by changing the ending to "...uh, let's go Uruguay?"
What's the skinny? They're a decent team, winning the last Copa America, which is the South American-only version of the World Cup (your conference tournament to the NCAA tournament, if you will). Aside from Suarez, they've got a potent attack led by elder statesman Diego Forlan. Their defense and, even more so, their midfield, leave a lot to be desired.
Player You Should Pay Attention To: Aside from watching Suarez's attempts to turn the other team into a buffet, Edinson Cavani. He's got lovely flowing locks and is pretty good at soccer, too.
Seriously, the slowed down GIF really makes you appreciate the bounce in his hair
Chances of Winning the World Cup: Pretty small. They may not make it out of a strong group but, if they do, will probably survive until at least the Round of 8.
Will Most Likely: Finish second in the group, beat Colombia in the Round of 16 and lose in the quarterfinals.
College Football Team They Most Resemble: Ohio State. They play incredibly boring soccer but somehow have fans everywhere. They have tons of corruption in their national league and, after the 2006 World Cup (which they won) had one of their best teams (who featured some of their national team players) forcibly relegated because they were fixing games. So, basically like a Jim Tressel coached team.
Oh, and that guy that left the Michigan game giving the double bird to the crowd? Mario Balotelli BOUT DAT LIFE. Aside from driving a camo Bentley , he also set his bathroom on fire by shooting off fireworks inside of it, and got yanked from a game by his pissed off coach for showboating.
By the way, this was an EXHIBITION GAME so everyone needs to chill out, including you, Taylor Twellman
FIFA Ranking: 9. Mostly because they have an amazing goalie named Gigi Buffon, which...he's Italian, okay?
Official Bus Slogan: Let's paint the Fifa World Cup dream blue
They wear blue. Just like half the other teams here. Great differentiator. Plus, how do you paint a dream? That doesn't even make sense.
What's the skinny? So, they're pretty good, they've got a good goalkeeper, a couple of aging midfield generals, but a horribly suspect defense (despite the fact they will generally take a more defensive approach) and only one legitimate goal threat in Balotelli. They've also got a guy, Giuseppe Rossi, who is from New Jersey but chose to play for Italy because he hates freedom and apple pie and hamburgers.
Player(s) You Should Pay Attention To: Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi. Both are getting up there in age and both sport the most magnificent beards, which is really something to root for in my opinion. Pirlo will run the game out of the midfield for them and looks like he should be playing in a rec league at a senior center.
It's gonna be hard to root against those beards, to be perfectly honest.
Chances of Winning the World Cup: Slim to none. Doubtful they even make it out of the group.
Will Most Likely: Finish third in their group. They've got a chance to finish runners up or hell, even win their group, but I doubt they can pull it together. Plus, if they don't, that means more entertainment for us all in the form of
College Football Team They Most Resemble: Texas. Led by an aging man that definitely won't be on the sidelines next year, Roy Hodgson IS Mack Brown. England, blessed with one of (if not THE best) professional league in the world with the most exposure due to their TV network deals, has won the World Cup ONCE and will not do so again anytime soon (sound familiar, Longhorns?) despite carrying expectations of winning it almost every time. And much like the NFL drafted exactly zero players from Texas, England's professional league is largely filled up by people from other places, meaning their pool of players is much smaller. They will constantly chirp about how they invented the game, but Jesus, it doesn't take a genius to figure out kicking a damn ball around.
FIFA Ranking: 11. That's fair. Expectations just high enough to crushingly disappoint.
Official Bus Slogan: The dream of one team, the heartbeat of millions!!
I think you got that backwards, unless only the team is dreaming of winning and they plan on fielding millions in the game? Either way, two exclamation points at the end TOTALLY makes up for it.
What's the skinny? So, you've maybe heard of some these guys, like Wayne Rooney (the nut stomper from above), Steven Gerrard, and Frank Lampard, a group of guys once touted as the "Golden Generation" that turned out to be a bunch of screw ups on the international stage. They've called in a bunch of young guys this time around, which I'm sure will be the excuse they give when they get knocked out. Really, they are more interesting to follow because of the ridiculously intense and critical media coverage they will get, as well as their WAGs.
Player You Should Pay Attention To: Daniel Sturridge. He's a striker for Liverpool and really their best scoring option. He's fast as hell and presents highest probability of providing on-field entertainment from the English team.
Not sure what he's doing, but Rupaul fish lips while celebrating is taunting of the highest order. Fuller approved.
Chances of Winning the World Cup: Hahahahaha, nope.
Will Most Likely: Squeak through to the knock outs round and lose to Germany in a penalty shoutout. That's their thing.
College Football Team They Most Resemble: Wake Forest. While not the smallest country competing in the tournament (thanks Uruguay and Bosnia for ruining my joke), they essentially are in terms of size and what they bring to the tournament, soccer-wise. They've qualified for the World Cup a few times, hell, they even advanced to the Round of 16 once, which is like Wake Forest making it to the Orange Bowl. But they are tiny and overshadowed by their regional rivals (Mexico and the US) and all of these accomplishments are overachieving.
FIFA Ranking: 34. And in a field of 32 teams...that's about right.
Official Bus Slogan: My passion is football, my strength is my people, my pride is Costa Rica
This is really more of a mission statement than a slogan, but cool. Pride, strength and passion are all good things. Easily one of the strongest slogans.
What's the skinny? The Ticos, as they are known, can be good, but they got drawn into an incredibly tough group and will be lucky to draw a match, let alone win one. But if they do manage a win, it will definitely be against England because the English like to fuck up in spectacular fashion at the World Cup.
Player You Should Pay Attention To: Bryan Ruiz. Similar to other people I've highlighted, he's a little bit unbalanced in the head, which is really a plus in an internationally televised event.
Chances of Winning the World Cup: Roughly equivalent to the changes of Wake Forest winning the ACC next year. In football. So, no.
Will Most Likely: Lose every game and just be happy to be there.
Alright, hopefully that's enough to whet your appetite. Or the fact that your only real alternative this summer is to watch baseball, so...see you next week with a look at which country's fans are most likely to feel at home in Morgantown!
1Okay, we're already off the rails on the football analogy, but this works much better, trust me.
2Or just realized they had no shot at making the German or wherever team and still wanted to play in the World Cup, so, hey, Go United Statians!
3That's not true, but they get 13 teams out of 32, whereas Africa gets five, despite being slightly (3 times) larger.
4Yes, last week they unveiled OFFICIAL BUS SLOGANS. These are meant to unite a people behind their team or start invasions, or...something, I dunno. It'd be pointless if most of them weren't so ridiculous.