June 12, 2014 by bdetienne
This week is a pretty exciting week for sports fans in America. The National Basketball Association Finals and the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup Finals are ongoing and champions will be crowned in the coming days. In golf, the US Open, one of four major championships in the sport, begins today. Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer are closing in on the halfway point of their respective seasons and finds several division races up for grabs. Even the National Football League is gaining attention as teams begin holding few day mini-camps in preparation for training camp next month. But to some Americans, and to people of every other country in the world, this week, and today in particular, is exciting for a different reason: the 2014 World Cup commences this afternoon in Brazil.
Soccer (or football, depending on where you hail from) is the most popular sport in the world. The passion that fans hold for their team, whether at the club or country level, is unbelievable. Some would even compare it to a religion. And the World Cup is the sport’s biggest event, so one can only imagine the intensity that comes along with the tournament played once every four years. Heroes and villains are made in the course of 90 minutes and one mistake, one letdown, one opportunity is all it takes for one team to emerge victorious. To give you an idea of the magnitude of soccer’s premier event, consider that 3 billion (with a B) people around the world are expected to watch the matches. That’s approximately half the world’s population! And you thought the SuperBowl ratings were spectacular.
For the uninitiated, here’s how the World Cup works. Leading up to the tournament, countries from around the world face off against other teams in their region (North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa) and the best teams, 32 in all, qualify for the World Cup. Before the tournament a lottery is held to place the teams in 8 four-team groups. All teams are guaranteed three games in the World Cup as they match up with the other teams from their group. The top two teams from each group then advance to the round of 16 and then play out a single-elimination bracket to determine the winner. To add to the dramatics, with these later stage games a winner must be determined. There are no ties. If the game is still tied after 90 minutes of regulation and 30 minutes of extra time, then penalty kicks will decide who wins.
I began watching the World Cup in 1994 (when the United States hosted the event and advanced to the round of 16 before losing to eventual champion Brazil) and the quadrennial tournament has captured my attention ever since. Even though the American squads have not fared as well in the tournament there is still a lot of intrigue in the high-quality soccer being played that has kept me watching each tournament as much as possible up to and including the final. This remains true for this year’s event and my hope is that you take the opportunity to do the same. Soccer is a beautiful game and with a wide-open field, it will be fun to see who comes out on top.