The 30-Second Guide to The World Cup

In English they call it “The Beautiful Game,” in Portuguese “La Joga Bonito” and, for the rest of the world, it is simply known as “Football.” This week in Brazil, the quadrennial global madness known as The World Cup, begins again. It is a sporting event so large that it is estimated that half the world’s populations will watch it. Here is what you and your 21st century kid need to know about this truly worldwide event.

US Men's Soccer Team

10 Seconds of History and Facts

The World Cup lasts for four weeks, is held every four years with 32 nations playing in 64 games.

The competition has been held 19 times but only Brazil, Italy, West Germany, Uruguay, Argentina, England, France and Spain have been victors. The United States has qualified 10 times, including this year, but has not progressed beyond the quarterfinals since 1930. In 1994, the US hosted the tournament.

More than 3.2 billion people watched some part of the 2010 World Cup on television (with over a billion viewing the final), and ESPN plans on airing 290 hours of programming around this year’s tournament. If it seems like The World Cup is always on, it is.

The tournament is organized into a group stage where four countries play each other and two teams from each group progress to the next (knockout) round. The US has three games in its group stage, vs. Ghana (6/16), vs. Portugal (6/22) and vs. Germany (6/26).

FIFA, the football governing body, has more member nations than the UN.

20 Seconds of Q&A

Who is favored to win?

Not us. Experts favor the home team Brazil and other highly rated countries include Argentina, Germany and Spain. Looking for a long-shot? Try Belgium.

Messi, Neymar

Who are the stars of this tournament?

Soon you will hear names bandied about like Ronaldo (Portugal), Messi (Argentina) and Neymar (Brazil). These players have been hoisted onto the national stage because of their fabulous wealth (Ronaldo was said to earn $42 million last year), their prodigious talent on the field, and their fashion sense.


US players who will be in the limelight include striker Jozy Altidore, goalkeeper Tim Howard, midfielder Michael Bradley and striker/Captain Clint Dempsey.

Why does the press say that the US is in the “Group of Death”?

The US was placed in one of the most difficult of all the groupings. If we play well enough to progress beyond the group, to the next stage, expect utter pandemonium to ensue.

Why are soccer players always injured and lying on the ground?

Soccer has no replays and it all happens terribly fast. Players seem to believe that clutching an “injury” and rolling around on the floor will influence the referees. Minutes later they are up running around. You would punish your kid for this, but in professional soccer it is widely accepted.

How does fashion figure into The World Cup?

For years it didn’t. Then along came the photogenic David Beckham and his pop star/fashion designer wife Victoria, and soccer was never the same again. World famous soccer players now take part in advertising the world over. Ronaldo recently appeared sans clothing, discreetly covered by his girlfriend on the cover of Vogue. The relationship between the world of glamour and sport has become so cosy that The New York Times explained, “The fashion world treats the soccer field like a runway. “


Soccer fashion extends right down to the players’ feet. The once lowly black cleat has had a total makeover by Nike, Adidas and the like. Look for bright and bold footwear, enhanced by technology, to be the fashion side-show of the month-long tournament.

Why should I watch the World Cup with my kid?

The World Cup is a global moment. Like the Olympics, it grabs the world’s attention, unites us around a positive force and generally provides a great example to our kids, the global citizens of tomorrow.



  1. says

    I am so glad you wrote about this because I always wanted the U.S. to value this sport as much as the fans do in Europe. My family living in Spain and Argentina are wild about it, as are our friends living abroad. I can see why!

    • says

      It is so much fun. I have been abroad (visiting or living) for many World Cups and we are really missing out here!

  2. says

    Did you write this just for me? While I live in a soccer town, my girls were the only two who never played (we did horses, softball, weightlifting and cycling). So NOW I know! Thanks.

  3. says

    A fabulous primer, ladies! Thank you. Even with a daughter who played soccer (high school and college), I still did not get the World Cup craze. Much more of it now makes sense.

  4. Emily says

    This was actually very helpful and necessary for me to read because my 10-year old has recently become very interested in soccer…the reason? His 2 best friends have been living (temporarily) in Brazil the past year and he communicates with them over XBox by playing what else…? FIFA Soccer. This is actually the one time I am pleased he has played a video game because now he asked me to sign him up for soccer in the fall, a sport he quit playing a few years ago, but now says he wants to play again. Back to the sidelines for me! :)

  5. says

    I love getting swept away in the excitement and the passion of the World Cup. And I especially love hearing the word G O O O A A LLLLLL roll off the tongues of the commentators. Thanks for filling in so many cool details!!

  6. Lisa L says

    Wish you had written this before I met with my Make A Wish kid who wishes to meet Messi or Ronaldo. Natch I had no idea who he was talking about.
    I have, however, been in Europe twice during World Cup mania. Nothing beats hanging out in a bar in whatever country happens to be playing that night. It’s even better when that country wins, and sometimes dangerous when they do not!

  7. Carpool Goddess says

    I will impress my son with this new found knowledge! Thanks for cluing us in.

  8. says

    My 11 year old was just talking about how excited he was about The World Cup this morning. Of course, I had no idea it was such a big deal. Thanks for all the information!

  9. says

    We are headed to the beach with my husband’s family in a few weeks, and my brother-in-law and nephews are soccer fanatics. Now I won’t sound like an idiot as I walk by the television on my way to my beach chair – thanks!

  10. says

    This is fabulous – I now have a few interesting things to say at the party we’re attending!

  11. Helene Cohen Bludman says

    Thank you for this! I’m so ignorant about soccer, but with my future daughter-in-law being Brazilian, I’d better catch up. This is perfect.

  12. says

    You mean sports exist outside of the NBA finals? Don’t tell San Antonio! #GoSpursGo

  13. says

    Hi Lisa! This is great! I am definitely not a sports person but I’ve always appreciated the global enthusiasm of this sport. Plus I find it so much more natural that U.S. football where they wear tons of padding and helmets so they can beat the crap out of each other. Soccer seems much less violent and as you say happens fast. Now I also see that fashion (and interesting hair cuts!) have gotten on board. Thanks for this primer! ~Kathy

  14. says

    We are a three-generation soccer family–at least on the male side. World Cup is a bonding moment for the Gramps, his son and his grandson, all of whom play and watch the games from their respective homes in their respective cities. For those of us who sit and watch them and the games, thanks for the guide. BTW, not only are black shoes out, red is in, in, in. The Gramps is shocked, shocked, shocked. In his playing prime, black with a white stripe was a major fashion diversion.

  15. says

    I have never really been in soccer much but lately I find myself wanting to watch it more and more. Thanks!

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