For the duration of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, hosted by Qatar and presumably won by Not-Qatar, soccer-illiterate dudes will wander into bars and find themselves in confounding conversations. Soccer (Football) might seem hard to learn for the uninitiated, but it’s not necessary to know everything to fake a conversation about the World Cup. In fact, by just knowing a few basic things, watching and talking about soccer will suddenly be way more fun.
The following is not a completist guide to the World Cup. This is the crib notes version, a short cheat sheet for those unwilling to put in the time to go deep (which is fine, by the way). If everyone is drinking a bit or watching the game intently, this will provide you with just enough information to skate by and / or impress an enthusiastic kid under the age of five. This is basically the basics. And it’s always good to know the basics…
The Basic Basics
Soccer is called Football in almost every country except America. We’ll continue to call it soccer here for the same reason we do not use the metric system and because the NFL, despite rumors, ain’t going anywhere. The World Cup is run by a comically evil and corrupt organization named FIFA, which stands for “The Fédération Internationale de Football Association.” The whole thing is run out of Zurich, Switzerland. It’s basically Specter from the James Bond films.
The World Cup is divided into two major stages: the Group Stage and the Knockout Stage. If you win a match in the Group Stage, which pits for teams against each other in a round robin, you get 3 points. If you tie, you get 1 point. If you lose, you get nothing. The teams with the most points in this stage get to move on to the Knockout Stage. There are eight groups, lettered AH. The most talented group is called “The Group of Death.” There’s some debate about which group that is.
The Knockout Stage runs on a bracket system starting with the round of 16. It’s pretty self-explanatory. And, yes, there is a consolation match for third and fourth that very few people will watch. If you want to act like an eccentric fan, make a lot of unnecessary predictions about the round of 16. People will disagree with you, but they will not be able to prove you wrong because the World Cup is fairly unpredictable. Not March Madness unpredictable, but it always has a few surprises up its shinguards.
The Viewing Basics
Because everything is happening in Qatar, some games will be on TV absurdly early in the United States and those that aren’t going to take place during office hours. And because Qatar is one of the hottest countries on earth, this will be the first World Cup that will not happen in the summer. Dubbed the “Winter World Cup,” it will start the week before Thanksgiving and end in time for everyone to get home for Christmas. The good news for the person who knows nothing about soccer is that you can watch the games in the morning, do your research, and be ready to talk about them later that night at the office holiday party or family gathering. For example, the first match of the tournament will happen at 5am EST on Monday morning, November 21st.
Note: You do NOT have to watch all the games to know what is going on. Feel free to just Google the scores. It’s not complicated. However, if you do end up watching the games with other people, show a little enthusiasm.
The Cheering Basics
This one is easy. You can yell every single time someone tries to score a goal. The kind of yell will depend on what you want to happen. Use your instincts, but, really, yelling about attempts to score any goal, or any kind is fine. This is not like basketball where people are taking shots and making baskets constantly. Soccer is decided by only a few points, so feel free to freak out when a point could potentially be happening. Statistically speaking, players took fewer shots at the goal in the last World Cup than they did in previous tournaments. So, if you want to make some easy casual conversation, just pay attention to how often players are taking shots. If it seems like a lot, that means this year is different than four years ago. For example, in the final game of the 2014 World Cup, only 20 shots were taken. But in the same game in 1966, there were 77 shots. Also, shots from outside the penalty area are much rarer in contemporary football than they were in the 20th century. Translation: if someone is taking a shot at the goal, and they’re very, very far away from the goal, that’s worth getting really rowdy about.
The Joking Basics
Despite their greatness, Brazil was epically crushed by Germany in the last World Cup back in 2014. Brazil was the host country for the World Cup that year, too, which made the defeat all the more embarrassing. The defeat was so monumental that the phrase Gol da Alemanha has been used by people in Brazil ever since to express dismay of any kind. Yep, this is a little advanced, but you can joke around in Portuguese if you’re feeling brave. Let’s say it’s taking forever for the bartender to reappear with your beer and you’re getting frustrated and you are hanging out with some Brazil fans, feel free to say “Gol da Alemanha” sarcastically. Just be careful that Germany did not literally just score a goal.
The Bandwagon Basics
The United States will be decided underdogs in the tournament. But France is a compelling team to adopt if you want to pull for someone who has a good shot at making a deep World Cup run. They have a good shot at repeating as champions, their team is extremely diverse and compelling, and it will provide you with an easy answer should anyone ask you. People will not react to this answer one way or another. (If they ask questions, just say “Pogba” a lot.) To be clear, you do not have to pick France but pick someone. This will make it way easier for you. Instead of talking about teams you know nothing about, you’ll flex a minute amount of knowledge about one team.
The America First Basics
Dumping on soccer as boring or too European feels basic. If you’re not into it and do not have any desire to fake it, just say as much. But do not be dismissive in front of the kid. Lots of kids play soccer and it’s rude. Pretend to like soccer in front of kids. If they think it’s a fun sport, maybe America will eventually suck less at it.
The World Cup starts on November 21, 2022. The tournament will be broadcast by Fox in the United States.