As all the world’s sports fans are consumed the next month in World Cup hysteria and you’re left scratching your head wondering what the hell is going on, I want you to know one thing – you’re not alone.
It’s not your fault. It’s a defect we were born with, engrained in our heritage just as our linguistic repertoire has separated us from the rest of the world with the irrevocable stain that is ‘soccer.’
But once every four years, we desperately try, like a newborn babe mouthing for a nip, to assimilate with the rest of the human race in World Cup fandom.
Therefore, after extensive research and questioning my foreign friends, I thought I’d take this opportunity to school the avid ‘once a fourth-year’ aficionado like myself on the structure of the World Cup so that you can, if not authentically at least seemingly authentic, keep a believable façade of having a some sort of idea as to what’s happening.
Getting to the World Cup
There are six continental zones: Asia, Africa, North and Central America, South America, Oceana and Europe.
Zone holds their own tournaments to qualify the teams that will receive the allotted spots for each zone that will then go on to go to the World Cup finals.
The zone-centrist tournaments can begin as early three years before the cup.
The number of allotted spots per zone is decided by FIFA, with a total of 32 spots (teams) to enter the World Cup finals.
The host country is automatically allotted a spot.
The 32 teams are ranked by FIFA based on their standings and are randomly broken up in to eight groups (A, B, C, D, E, F, G and H) by draw.
Each group is also given one team from the highest ranking.
Each team plays the other teams in their group once and are scored based on the following point system: Three points for a win, one for a draw and zero for a loss.
The two teams yielding the highest points after all three games within their group advance to the next stage, the two other teams go home.
If two teams have the same amount of points, the higher-ranking team is determined by goal averages.
Each group winner plays a runner-up of another group in a sequential match up with the Group A winner playing the runner-up of Group B, Group C winner playing the runner-up of Group D, and so on. This, like the rest of the games from this point on, is a elimination round, meaning only one game is played between the two assigned teams with the winner advancing and loser going home.
This process continues with match winners playing other match winners for the quarterfinals and semifinals until there are only two teams left for the grand final.
So there you have it Americans. And if you still don’t understand – pick a random team you know nothing about and root for them like your life depended on it.