First things first: there seems to be this ongoing misconception that Americans don’t appreciate or understand soccer. I don’t believe this one bit. It may not be the most high-scoring sport, but the game's excitement is contagious whether you are watching the World Cup, or your son or daughter play (as I do most weekends).
My passion for soccer is in my blood – literally. I’m half Brazilian and lived in the country as a child. I also played high school soccer in Spain and grew up a life-long fan of the powerhouse Spanish club Real Madrid (think the Yankees, except with all white uniforms). But you don’t need a mental rolodex of soccer facts to join the World Cup conversation. Whether you’re new to the game, or just want to brush up on the basics so you can impress your friends, here are seven talking points that’ll make you sound like a Brazil 2014 aficionada:
Grab a drink! Get into the spirit! In honor of the host country Brazil, grab a Caipirinha. It’s like a mojito but much stronger and made with Brazilian Caichaca which can be found in most liquor stores. Here’s an easy recipe.
Expect falling. A lot of falling.
Get ready for a spectacular showing of theater (and fakery) on the field. Yes, fakery. The dark art is nearly as important as the beautiful play. Watch – and feel free to chuckle – as highly-trained athletes tumble in the most acrobatic ways after barely a whisper of a touch. And the Oscar goes to…
Know who’s in and who’s out (and who’s a favorite)
Thirty-two countries are competing for the trophy. Brazil has won the World Cup a record 5 times, but never on home soil. Italy is second with four, followed by Germany, Argentina and Uruguay. France, England and Spain have each won one. The teams are broken up into eight first round groups. The two best teams from each group move on to the second round which is single elimination (think college basketball’s Sweet 16).
Appreciate the fine, fine forms
Contrary to popular belief, this IS a contact sport. These hard-bodied athletes will do anything to get the ball. Appreciate the skill and the players’ fine form – but if you don’t, learn to love the subtle moves and the players’ athleticism. Ladies, you know what I’m talking about.
Learn the lingo!
Spit these names out at a bar and you’ll sound like a pro:
- Neymar, Brazil: Beyond the amazing footwork, he’s also known for his wacky hairdos (think punkish mullet).
- Mario Balotelli, Italy: Known for his hot temper (and for being a heartthrob).
- Javier Hernandez, Mexico: Best known as “Chicharito,” Spanish for “Little Pea.”
- Xavi, Iniesta, Ramos and Pique (aka Shakira’s partner), Spain: Members of the reigning World Cup champions. The team boasts a massive array of talent.
- Tim Cahill, Australia: Cahill is the team’s talisman, but it’s their nickname that really stands out: the Socceroos (possibly the best team nickname in the tournament).
- Rooooooooooney, England: As in, Wayne Rooney, the star striker.
- Lionel Messi, Argentina: Considered the world’s best player. The ball seems magnetically attached to his feet when he runs.
- Tim Howard, USA: Our goalkeeper. I’m fairly certain he could stop a missile if it was heading towards the goal.
- Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal: After Messi he’s number two in the world but number one for many, many women.
Get to know the Yanks
Team USA’s best showing was the first World Cup in 1930 when they finished in third place. Our next best performance was in 2002 when we made the quarterfinals. Whether you’re a realist or an optimist, we can all agree our boys are a bit of an underdog – but one with a lot of bite, so let’s hope for the best.
Enjoy the party!
Once every four years, the world comes together to celebrate a sport that is almost religion. The game lifts people out of poverty and changes lives. It also helps countries heal following wars (Croatia and Bosnia are two recent examples). Every team and every player has an amazing story of how they got there. Don’t miss out on all the action!