The World Cup

I keep hearing people talk about The World Cup. What is it all about?
Quite simply, the World Cup is a tournament to crown the world champion in what Australians call soccer. Everyone else calls it football, just so you don’t get confused. And to the winner, the spoils – the FIFA World Cup Trophy.

Isn’t the trophy called the Jules Rimet trophy?
Close but no cigar. From 1930 up until 1974 it was named after Jules Rimet, the longest serving president of world soccer but after Brazil won it in that year for the third time, they were allowed to keep it because they were just so good. A new trophy was made in time for the 1978 tournament and that is the one they still use.

Where is the World Cup being held?
South Africa. It’s the first World Cup to be hosted by an African country.

Why South Africa?
Africa has never hosted the tournament before and South Africa is the most developed African country. It has had the experience of hosting other sporting events and has a rich mix of people with a proud history. Plus the beer is super cheap which may have been a decisive factor.

The World Cup starts very soon, doesn’t it?
Yes indeed. First game is on 11 June with the final on 11 July 2010.

How many teams will there be and how did they qualify?
There will be 32 countries represented at the World Cup. Way back in 2007, 204 nations entered the competition for the 2010 World Cup. It’s played every four years, and believe it or not, it takes almost three years to whittle the field down from 199 (five teams withdrew without playing a match) to the group of 32 that earned a spot in the finals down in South Africa.

FIFA, the world organisation that runs the World Cup and soccer in general, has divided the world into groups or zones for World Cup qualifying. They are CONCAF (North American, Central America and the Caribbean), CONMEBOL (South America), CAF(Africa), AFC (Asia which Australia is in even though geographically we are not in Asia), Oceania (New Zealand and other island Pacific nations) and UEFA (Europe).

Not all of these groups, or confederations as they are more commonly known, are considered equal in terms of qualifying. UEFA got 13 spots for the World Cup, followed by CAF (6, including an automatic bid for the host nation), CONMEBOL (5), AFC (4), CONCACAF (3) and Oceania (1).

This is because some zones have better teams than others, hence they get more spots. It’s just that simple.

Any chance of a brief history of the World Cup?
Sure. The first World Cup was held in 1930 and is held every four years. It wasn’t held in 1942 and 1946 because of World War II. Only seven nations have ever won the World Cup. They are Brazil (5), Italy (4, including the last one in 2006), Germany (3), Argentina (2), Uruguay (2), France (1) and England (1). Brazilian Ronaldo holds the individual record for most World Cup goals with 15. Here are some other interesting facts to impress your friends:

First Goal
The first World Cup was held in Uruguay in 1930. Many believed American Bart McGee scored the first goal in the World Cup, against Belgium in the 40th minute. But a dispute erupted and FIFA, soccer’s governing body, determined the first goal was scored by Frenchman Lucien Laurent in the 19th minute against Mexico on July 13, 1930.

First Red Card
The red and yellow card system was not introduced until the 1970 World Cup. The first player to receive a red card was Chile’s Carlos Caszely in 1974 in a match against West Germany in the 67th minute.

Youngest Player
The youngest player to play in a World Cup match was Northern Ireland’s Norman Whiteside against Yugoslavia in 1982. He was 17 years, 41 days old.

Largest Attendance
The highest attendance for one match was in the 1950 final. The official attendance was 199,854 for the match between Brazil and Uruguay in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Top Scoring Team
Hungary scored 27 goals in the 1954 World Cup. Hungary made the finals that year but lost to West Germany 3-2.

Most Consecutive First-Round Eliminations
Scotland holds the record with eight: 1954, 1958, 1974, 1978, 1982, 1986, 1990 and 1998.

How many World Cup games are played each day?
For the Group Stage of the tournament, 3.

Group Stage, what’s that?
The 32 teams are divided into eight groups of four. Each group plays round robin with three points for a win, one point for a draw and zero for a loss. The top two teams from each group advance to the knockout round. From there it’s single elimination.

Wait… single elimination? Isn’t soccer full of draws?
Not in the knockout rounds. From the Second Round of the World Cup onwards, the teams play 90 minutes. If the score is level, they play 30 minutes of “extra time”. If scores are still level, it’s penalty kicks to decide the winner. The victor moves forward, the loser goes home.

Who is favourite to win the World Cup?
Bookmakers have Spain and Brazil at the shortest odds.

Will David Beckham be playing in the World Cup?
No. He’s injured.

How about Pele?
No. He’s retired.

No. He’s retired too, but he is now the manager of Argentina.

Hey isn’t he the ‘Hand of God’ bloke? What is the story behind that?
If someone mentions “The Hand of God,” they’re talking about Diego Maradona’s handball that led to a goal in the 1986 World Cup that helped Argentina beat England. The referee didn’t see it at the time and allowed the goal to stand. When asked by media afterwards if he handled the ball, Maradona said it must have been “The Hand of God”. Later in the same game, he scored what most people call the best World Cup goal ever scored when he dribbled the ball through five English defenders before slamming the ball into the net.

What about the headbutt guy from the 2006 World Cup – is he playing?
Zinedine Zidane? No, he retired from football after the 2006 World Cup.

So… no Beckham, no Pele, no Maradona, no headbutt guy. Which players are worth watching at this World Cup then?
If they all stay fit, Leo Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Kaka, Samuel Eto’o, Didier Drogba, Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, Xavi Hernandez. Take your pick.

Who should I support at the World Cup?
If your country hasn’t qualified you need to adopt an outsider such as Honduras or Algeria, it’s just for fun.

Which World Cup games should I watch?
Everything from the Second Round onwards has the potential for heart-stopping drama. In the group stage, watch all Socceroo games, plus everyone watches the opening game: South Africa vs Mexico (June 11th), then there are the colonial revenge matches: USA vs England (June 12th) and Portugal vs Brazil (June 25th). Anything involving Argentina, because Diego Maradona is the coach and Leo Messi is the star player which means anything could happen.

Do many people watch World Cup on TV?
Just a few billion. It is the most watched sporting event in the world beating the Olympics and the Superbowl. It doesn’t matter which time zone you are in, you will be a part of a global following.

It is suggested that I watch the games with the volume turned down? Why is that?
The first star of the tournament is likely to be a raucous plastic horn. For years the metre-long vuvuzela has been blown by South African supporters with as much gusto as Louis Armstrong – but rather less melody.

The collective sound has been compared to a herd of blaring elephants or hive of angry bees. Initially many will find this a charming local custom but once the novelty wears off there may be more than a few complaints of earache both inside stadiums and from TV audiences. The researchers said the average sound exposure during the near two hours was 100.5 decibels and peaked at 144.2 decibels. National standards for occupational noise require hearing protection for workers exposed to 85 decibels and above.

Surely they must ban the vuvuzela then?
I’m afraid not, the vuvuzela will not be banned as it is an essential part of South Africa’s footballing culture. Certainly anyone who has been to the country’s most famous club game, the Soweto derby between Kaiser Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, would be hard pushed to disagree.

Are there any Colombian singers involved in all of this?
What an odd question. But yes, as it happens, Shakira is singing the official song of the World Cup.

Anything else I should look out for?
At every World Cup TV viewers should expect a riot of colourful hats, exuberant dancing and exotic clichés, such as bikini clad Brazilian women gyrating in the stands. Also, there will be heated debate on the soccer balls used as they will be deemed to have an unpredictable flight once kicked, giving goalkeepers an excuse for goals scored against them. This happens at every World Cup. There will also be the usual World Cup clichés cropping up in the media.

World Cup cliches? Can I have a few examples?
Where do I start?
·tAll South American goalkeepers will be classified as ‘crazy’.
·tThe Germans play will be quoted as playing ‘efficient football’.
·tMaradona will cost Argentina the World Cup with a bizarre substitution
·tThis is the World Cup where an African country will have the standout team
·tEnglish newspapers will declare before the start of the tournament that ‘England will win it’
·tEnglish newspapers will blame a particular player for their exit, which will be via penalties
·t‘Penalties are a cruel way to decide a game’
·tA player will start a new goal celebration craze.
·tCommentators will blame the altitude when players play poorly
·tNelson Mandela will be shown on the television at least 54 times a day and how far South Africa has come as a nation over the past 16 years will be mentioned at least every 3 minutes by every commentator

Any funny stories from previous tournaments?
There’s been a few. During the 1966 competition the World Cup trophy was stolen and England’s finest police force was on hand to track it down. The full resource was on the hunt for it but with no success. Luckily a passing dog, called Pickles, found it in a bush and was hailed a hero.

The name Ilungu Mwepu might mean nothing to you. However, if we told you that he was part of the Zaire wall defending a Brazilian free kick in 1974, and that his knowledge of the rules was so limited that when the ref blew his whistle he ran from the wall and walloped the ball far down the field, you’ll immediately know who we mean. It was a baffling, wonderful bit of World Cup magic.

Then there was the Peru goalkeeper getting booked in the opposition half in 1978. Brilliant stuff. The kind of slapstick comedy that Laurel and Hardy spent years perfecting. Ramon Quiroga was the name, El Loco (The Madman) was the nickname and he established legendary status when he rugby tackled an opposition player to earn himself a booking, 70 yards away from his own goal line!

In 1982 during the Kuwait v France group match, the Kuwaiti defence hear a whistle as the French attack. They commit the cardinal sin of stopping as Giresse slips through to score. An amazing impasse follows as the team refuse to carry on, under orders from the sheiks in the crowd who control Kuwaiti football. The sheiks then came onto the pitch to protest which was a bit like an OPEC meeting held in a public park. Sadly, common sense prevailed and the game continued.

I think I am now ready for the start of the World Cup. Thanks.
Wait a minute, I haven’t even got started on Gazza’s tears, the goal that never was, the fix, the battle of Santiago, Johann Cruyff, Ally’s Tartan Army, Escobar shot dead, Hitler or Diana Ross. Never mind, you can google it.

That’s the fun stuff. Want to know more about the actual rules of the game? Click YOURLifeChoices simple short cut.

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