No football FOMO: A beginner's guide to enjoying the 2018 FIFA World Cup
Who to watch, what to eat & drink, and how to talk like you know what’s up.
Every 4 years since 1930, except for 1942 and 1946 because of the Second World War, the world has gotten together to watch the best soccer players from each participating country duke it out to be crowned World Champion. There are matches when the ball just won't cooperate, and others when the wind is just right and you find yourself celebrating in the streets. If you want to join the rest of the world in this most thrilling tournament, here are some teams, players, and the lingo you need to know to hang with even the biggest fanatics for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
First, the basics
The World Cup is the final tournament after 2 years worth of qualifying games, and they start mere months after the end of the European Championship, and a year after the Confederations Cup. World soccer functions in a 4 year cycle, with 4 years in between World Cups, and with the European Championship also happening every four years, alternating with the World Cups, like the summer and winter Olympics. The 32 best teams from around the world are chosen to go to the World Cup finals.
The 32 teams are put into 8 groups of 4 teams, and each group is seeded based on their FIFA World Rank so that they are as even as possible. Meaning that the top seeded teams (the highest ranked teams in the competition) all lead each of the 8 groups, and everyone else is put into a pot in descending order.
With 4 teams per group, every team gets 3 games in the first round, with the top 2 teams from every group moving on to the round of 16. A team gets 3 points for a win and 1 point for a draw, and if there's a draw between 2 or more teams after 3 games, then whoever scored the most goals and allowed the fewest is ranked higher. From the round of 16 it's a single elimination tournament right to the very end when a winner is crowned.
The teams and who to cheer for
With 32 teams competing and almost 90 years of history, there are reasons aplenty to choose a team to support, since Canada didn't qualify. Some like to follow underdogs, in which case Egypt re-appearing at the World Cup for the first time since 1990 and Iceland's surprise good showing at the Euros in 2016 are of note.
Or maybe you like a more sure bet — though the FIFA World Rank is a complex aggregation of results over years of competitions, and it doesn't totally reflect a team's chances at a World Cup. With that in mind, here are some of the World Cup favourites to know:
Germany - Current FIFA World Rank: 1st; World Cup trophies: 4
Die Mannschaft! These guys are good and ridiculously consistent. Their World Cup pedigree is unquestionable; during the last four World Cups they won 2014, were 3rd place in 2006 and 2010, and finished runners up in 2002. They've also had the same successful coach, Joachim Low, since 2006, which certainly helps with their consistency. Even if he is a bit odd.
France - Current FIFA World Rank: 7th; World Cup trophies: 1
Allez les Bleus! Called that because of the blue jerseys they wear whenever playing at home, they are often (they haven't always been consistent) an exciting team to watch. This year they are one of the extreme favourites. They have a team consisting of some of the most exciting players in the world, both young and old. France finished second during Euro 2016, and were extremely unlucky to lose the final to a Portuguese side that hobbled out of the group stage.
Brazil - Current FIFA World Rank: 2nd; World Cup trophies: 5
Os ingleses o inventaram, os brasileiros o aperfeiçoaram. (The English invented it, the Brazilians perfected it). They are the all-time leaders in World Cups with 5, making them arguably the most exciting team to watch in world football. Their best finish in a World Cup since winning in 2002 was last World Cup in 2014 when they finished fourth. Even though their immense loss to Germany became a day of national mourning in 2014, the Brazilians are on the rise.
Argentina - Current FIFA World Rank: 5th; World Cup Trophies: 2
The Albicelestes! They're always a very strong contender, and they have Lionel Messi, someone who is often overlooked now that Cristiano Ronaldo has taken 3 straight Champions League crowns, but Messi is still an absolutely incredible player who can do whatever he wants. It's important to note that Argentina is incredible going forward (on offence), but they do have holes in their defence, so they end up being a slight underdog here.
Current FIFA World Rank 19th
Just kidding. The Azzurri actually missed out on their first World Cup in 60 years! If you have any Italian friends, approach with caution for the next month. After all, the country is shaped like a boot kicking a ball.
Players and people to watch
These are some of the people to keep an eye on during the World Cup, for all the right football reasons, one wrong football reason, and assorted other dramatic reasons.
(Next to the player's name is the country they are from and the club team they play for).
Robert Lewandowski (Poland/Bayern Munich) - Scored 16 goals in qualifying, setting the record for most goals ever in European qualifying. He was also the Bundesliga scoring champion this year. He's amazing (and the French announcer in this video is the best)!
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal/Real Madrid) - It's quicker to say that the only thing the 33 year old hasn't won is the World Cup. It's important to realize as you watch this recent internet-breaking clip that people said he was past his prime.
Kylian Mbappé (France/PSG) - After a crazy breakout year with AS Monaco in 16/17, Mbappé (pronounced M-bappé) was transferred to the first lady of French football, Paris Saint-Germain, where he continued to tear through defences. Also, he's 19(!!).
Neymar (Brazil/PSG) - Last summer Neymar was traded to Paris for an absolutely absurd fee of over $500 million, and strangely, he mostly seemed worth it. This summer the kudos are his for the taking.
Mohamed Salah (Egypt/Liverpool) - Leading the Premier League with 32 goals this season was not an easy task, "Mo" has been a world level revelation. His unexpected injury during the Champions League final was scary, but he managed to recover in almost no-time for Egypt's first appearance at the World Cup in 28 years.
Lionel Messi (Argentina/Barcelona) - I talked about him a lot already in the Argentina section, but he is one of the best of all-time, so just sit back and enjoy Messi doling out some pretty embarrassing soccer lessons.
Sergio Ramos (Spain/Real Madrid) - He's on this list because he's the most hated man in world football right now, after injuring Mo Salah on purpose during the Champions League final. A very dirty, and unfortunately, very skilled defender.
Eden Hazard (Belgium/Chelsea) - He's basically a Belgian version of Messi, a small, super-fast winger who can perform miracles at will. Belgium have a strong squad who often underperform; it'll be interesting to see if Hazard can change that this year.
Assorted celebrities - There are a lot of websites devoted to keeping a ridiculously close eye on the models, presenters, heiresses, international reality stars, beauty queens and other famous faces expected at this year's World Cup. Shakira (Wife of Gerard Pique / Singer) — Often seen at the World Cup and Euro Cup supporting her husband, Spain Defender, Gerard Pique. Hips can lie, Shakira, but attendance can't!
Where and how to enjoy the matches
With the games being played in Russia, some will air as early as 3 AM on the West Coast and 7 AM on the East Coast. So make sure to scope out which games actually work best for you, which might mean choosing a team that is more available to you, timewise.
There is nothing better than getting together with a bunch of other rabid fans and cheering on your favourite team. Every major city has pubs, restaurants, and legions that will be set up for all sorts of loyal fans to come watch and cheer. Soccer in Canada has a very peaceful and friendly following, so you should be in good stead almost anywhere.
Of course, that could depend on what you're wearing. You may want to start out in your regular digs and read the room of your local watering hole, as local communities may have strong allegiances. Then you can deck yourself out in all the official FIFA World Cup gear as you fall in love with certain teams.
What to eat and drink
Should you feel like hosting a viewing party yourself, remember that this is the world's game and theming it is part of the fun! Think about which teams are playing, who you've got coming, and plan from there. Brie and Vegemite would be best suited to France vs. Australia, while bratwurst and fajitas would work best for Germany vs. Mexico.
Also, consider some kind of international brunch extravaganza. For instance on Sunday, June 17th Germany/Mexico is followed by Brazil/Switzerland, starting in the morning. This could be a great opportunity to show your creativity. Bring on the four-country culinary brunch.
Since Russia is the host county, you can master the Moscow Mule. But no matter where you watch, it's a great excuse to sample the beers of the world, according to who's playing. Same goes for wine, which makes sangria a great option for almost any game. Here are three of our many sangria recipes: Red Wine Sangria, All-Season Sangria, White Sangria with Raspberries.
Soccer talk and how to have more fun
Here's a quick list of terms that might help you understand and enjoy a World Cup soccer game:
"Going forward" = Attacking
"Finish" = Goal
"Man" = Player
"Hitman" = Striker/Forward
"Pitch" = Field
"Ball" = Pass
"VAR" = Video-assisted Replay
"6 yard box" = Penalty Area
"Getting Suarez'd" = Being bitten
"Getting Ramos'd" = A dirty play
"A Karius" = A terrible blunder leading to a goal
The truth is that soccer-watching is an extremely emotional experience, even if you're not directly connected to it through your family, friends, or partnership, it's something that is immediately riveting if you give it a chance. There really aren't any intense guidelines on what to do or not to do during a game, but play it by ear. Offer the losing supporter a pat on the shoulder or the winning supporter a few words of praise about how beautiful their team are playing. Remember to be kind, this crazy event only happens once every four years and most teams don't make it out of the opening round. It's not uncommon to see the fans of a winning team consoling the fans of the losing team, because at the end of the day, we're all crazy enough to love something this much.
Hopefully this quick guide to the basics of World Cup soccer leads you to even a fraction of the joy that the sport offers millions around the world. CBC Sports will have up to date scores, stats and ongoing analysis, like these 8 things to know right now. And when in doubt, OLÉ!