World Cup Soccer
The World Cup is an international competition that is held every four years. In the United States, the Super Bowl and the World Series are bigger events, but worldwide, the World Cup is the number one sporting competition. Roughly 200 countries compete to be the top soccer team in the world.
As you can imagine, the World Cup is a pretty big undertaking. Trying to narrow down 200 countries into one final winner takes a lot of time and involves tons of matches. The years in between each World Cup are spent qualifying for the next one. Only 32 of those original 200 countries get to go.
So who are the lucky ones? Well, first of all, the country who hosts the World Cup automatically gets in, so countries are very eager to be the hosts. FIFA moves the Cup all over the world to make it fair, but it is a huge undertaking to host such a competition and not every country is able to provide the stadiums and handle the crowds. Germany hosted in 2006, South Africa hosted in 2010, and Brazil will host in 2014.
Where Are You From?
Players have to be citizens of the country they play for, but they don't have to have been born there. On the 1998 U.S. National Team, one player became a U.S. citizen only a week before the World Cup began!
So, the host team is one team of the 32. Then the defending champions from the previous World Cup automatically get in. That's two. The rest of the teams have to earn one of the remaining 30 spots by playing qualifying matches.
FIFA divides the world into 10 divisions. Then each team in that division plays qualifying matches against the other teams in that division. When the matches are all done, the top three teams in each division qualify for the World Cup — in addition to the other 30 teams.
Then the World Cup begins. The teams are divided into eight groups with four teams each. FIFA looks at the scores and the win/loss records of all the qualifying matches and then spreads the top teams throughout the eight groups, so they aren't all playing each other in the first round.
A lot of countries aren't capable of handling the crowds or the matches of the World Cup, but they still want to host. In the 2002 World Cup, Korea and Japan solved the problem by sharing hosting duties. Each country had ten cities hosting games.
Finally it's summer, and it's time for the World Cup competition to begin. The first round of the tournament is played as a round robin. Each team plays the other three teams in the group. The two teams that come out of that little competition with the best record move on. So, do the math. How many are eliminated and how many move on? If you guess 16 for both, you're right!
WORDS to KNOW
Qualifying matches: Soccer games between countries to determine the top thirty soccer teams in the world for the World Cup.
Now it's single-elimination time. The winner of group A plays the runner-up of group B. The winner of group B plays the runner-up of group A. The winner of group C plays the runner-up of group D, and so on. The teams play one game, and the winners of that game move on. Now we're down to eight teams, and it's single elimination the rest of the way until there's one final winner.
Here are the winning countries since the World Cup began in 1930:
1942: No World Cup because of World War II
World Cup Groupings
The qualifying teams find out their group about six months before the World Cup. Then they're not allowed to play the other three teams in their group until the World Cup. They usually try to set up matches with teams that have similar styles, though.
1946: No World Cup because of World War II
1954: West Germany
1974: West Germany
World Cup Veterans
Three players have played in five World Cup tournaments: Antonio Carbajal of Mexico, Lothar Matthäus of Germany, and Kristine Lilly of the United States. An extra fun fact about Lilly is that because there have only been five Women's World Cups, she's played in every single one!
The Women's World Cup began in 1991, so it is much newer. Also, participation in women's sports is still growing around the world, so there aren't as many countries competing.
The first two years of the Women's World Cup, there were only 12 countries participating. In 1999, however, it jumped to 16 teams, and the fan base has been growing every year.
Here are the winning countries for the Women's World Cup:
1991: United States
1999: United States