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Wednesday, June 16, 2010
The World Cup Buzz
The World Cup Trophy.
The winning team will retain this 13.6 lb sold gold trophy on its malachite base until the winners of the next cup take over in 2014.
As expected, Friday's FIFA Copa Mundial opening match created quite a stir at the house. Four TVs buzzing loudly, beers moved in and out of the freezer and the guests were glued to the game. I felt like I was in a beehive or having a terrible attack of tinnitus, the BUZZ from the stadium was so overwhelming. They must hand out BUZZhorns at the gate, because the spectators embrace them with gusto.
After a fast-moving but low-scoring game, México tied the South African team 1-1. That left me wondering: How does this work? What's next? Since we will be inundated with three games a day on 6 cable channels, plus hours of announcers' analyzations, bullshit and banter every day for the next month, I decided to find out.
In the USA, interest in futbol soccer is constantly growing. Kids learn to play, and professional teams have gained popuarity. The USA made a respectable showing and tied their first game against England Saturday. Though it's not US America's most popular sport, it is the favorite of the rest of the world. World Cup TV viewing far exceeds the Olympic Games, which is no surprise to me after a disappointing smattering of the event aired here.
In 2006, according to Wikipedia, an estimated 715 million people watched the final match in Germany. All in all, the cumulative estimate of the viewing audience of all of the 2006 Copa Mundial matches exceeded 26 billion people. If the inaugural game was an international holiday, the final match must be sheer insanity.
Here's how this World Cup Tournament works. The global governing body is FIFA - La Fédération Internationale de Football Association. The name sounds like Frenglish to me. The games are played every four years. Between the World Cups are three years of tournaments to determine which teams will qualify to play in the next Cup in the elected host nation. To me it's complicated - but I imagine to a South African our American Football conferences, divisions, playoffs, wildcards, etc., would also be foreign.
The Copa Mundial finals consist of two stages - THE GROUP STAGE, where we are now, and THE KNOCKOUT STAGE, when the eliminations begin June 26th.
THE GROUP STAGE
There are 32 teams participating, broken down into 8 groups of 4 teams each. The groups are carefully set up geographically to assure that no more than two European teams are allowed per group. Once the groups are set, they play a Round Robin. Each team plays three matches in its group.
Points during the Round Robin are accumulated as follows:
Each win = 3 pts
Each draw = 1 pt
Each loss = 0 pts
In case of a tie, the tiebreakers are (get this!)
1. Goal difference
2. Total goals scored
3. Head to head results
4. Drawing of lots
After all the calculations, the top two teams from each group advance to:
THE KNOCKOUT STAGE
"Single elimination tournaments with extra time and penalty shootouts..."(Wikipedia again) In American Engish, the Knockout Stage begins with a "Round of 16" games in which the winner of each group plays the runner up of another group, probably set up in geographical symmetry. There are quarter finals, semi-finals, The 3rd Place Match, and the Grand Finale.
Deciding who will host the next Cup has often been a source of controversy. The makeup of world soccer participants is constantly evolving and increasing, and complicated changes to the system ensue. At the beginning of the Cup in the 1930's, only European countries and the Americas participated. In 2002, the first Asian Cup was held in Korea and Japan. And this is the first year an African country is hosting the event. The Copa Mundial for 2014 will be held in Brazil.
I found helpful links if you are at all interested in the progress of the games. Mexico plays France on Thursday morning, the USA plays Slovenia on Friday, and tomorrow Spain makes its debut. This yahoo link is an easy to read calendar of the games. The official FIFA site is a great resource, starting with the breakdown of the groups.
You may notice I didn't bother to learn the actual rules of the game. I didn't take American Football classes either, but I figured it out eventually as I watched more frequently. The websites above name the players and positions and I get the general idea. Get the ball past the goalie into the net without using your arms. Act like a little boy if someone touches you so the attacker gets a flag....something like that.
This information makes the games more interesting for me to watch. If I get the big picture of what the anticipated outcome is and how it is reached, it is more enjoyable. Even if you have no interest in soccer, and plan to watch zero games, I hope this was of interest. If you like sports but are not exposed to soccer, this world event is a great opportunity to expand your horizons. Check out one of the games, get that adrenaline going. Root for your home team. I'm still waiting for the first Mexican GOOAAAAALLLLLL