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  • A hockey fan's guide to the World Cup: An Overview


    Every four years the world turns its eyes to one event, one tournament, one global phenomenon. If you are on Twitter or watching ESPN, you will not be able to avoid this spectacle (and some of us wait with bated breath for it to begin, our DVR at the ready). It is the World Cup, and it is brilliant. Now, many Americans don't get the passion or fervor for football (futbol, footy, soccer) that is displayed around the world. I understand that. I too felt like that once. However, 10 years later, I am a die-hard football fan. Once I spent time watching the games, learning the rules, strategies, players and clubs, my fandom grew to the point where I get up at 6:00 to watch games on TV, or travel to the nearest football pub to surround myself with likeminded folks, pulling pints, singing and chanting, rising to our feet with every close play, and eventually drowning our sorrows in Guinness once again.

    Buddha asked on Twitter if someone would explain soccer to him in terms he understands, and on Twitter, I received many questions and requests on such an explanation, so here we begin our month-long endeavor. I'll begin with a brief overview of the teams playing and the format of the tournament before getting into more of the tactical explanation of rules, strategies and situations. If you have a question, please ask. If you would like further explanation of something, or are watching the games and don't get something, let me know. I'm happy to help as much as I can, and if I can't, I'm sure we can find someone who will!

    The World Cup Tournament

    Qualifying stage

    The World Cup isn't a month-long tournament. This is actually called The World Cup Finals. The World Cup is a multi-year tournament, beginning with qualifying stages across the globe. Each "confederation": (think conference, if there were 6 conferences) CONCACAF - North America, UEFA - Europe, AFC - Asia, CAF - Africa, CONMEBOL - South America and Oceania - New Zealand, et al., holds their own tournament amongst all of the country teams in their confederations to get down to the teams who actually qualify for the finals. Think of this as the regular season to get from 32 teams to the top 16. Then we get to the month-long World Cup Finals, which are held starting tomorrow in South Africa. This would be the playoffs.

    Group stage

    The first round of the Finals is called the Group Stage. The Group Stage is set up so that none of the top seeded teams, according to FIFA (NHL) rankings, play each other in the stage (eight groups of four teams for a total of 32). The Group Stage is a round robin format. Each team will play each other team once. The top two teams from each four team group then advances to the ...

    Knockout Stage

    The top team from one group will play the second place team from another group in the first knockout game. Unlike the Stanley Cup playoffs, there is no best of seven. It's more akin to the NFL playoffs. As the name suggests, lose and you're out. This format continues among the 16 teams until you get to the final two who play for the title of World Champion and the right to lift the gold trophy and put a shiny golden star on their country's kit (sweater/jersey) for all eternity. No, as far as I know, nobody gets to have a day with the trophy, nor is it possible to drink from it, which kinda sucks. The player who scored the most goals is awarded The Golden Boot. This is not like the Conn Smythe. The player deemed to be the most valuable to his team is awarded the Golden Ball, this is the Conn Smythe.

    The 32 teams

    I'll give you a brief overview of most of the teams with whom you should become familiar, players to watch and the NHL team I feel they are best aligned. This doesn't always mean that they have the same chances at winning, or that they play a similar style, but they may have a historical reference instead.

    The Favorites:

    The Spoilers:

    The Sleepers:

    The dark-horses:

    Uruguay: Any team that qualifies from CONMEBOL has been through hell and back. Playing at altitude, playing in heat, playing against the best in the world, playing against teams so overmatched that they resort for thuggery. An advantage is thaty they are playing South Africa, who is terrible. They'll battle France for the second place behind Mexico, likely. They also had to play in a play-in game against Costa Rica to see whether CONMEBOL or CONCACAF would get the extra slot in the World Cup Finals, so they've already faced certain elimination and can play with pressure. However, they are young, young, young.
    Players to watch: Diego Forlan, Diego Lugano, Luis Suarez
    NHL Team: Los Angeles Kings

    I've bored with going through all the teams, so I'm stopping with the 16 who have the best chance.

    The rest:

    Pack a lunch:
    South Africa
    New Zealand
    South Korea
    North Korea

    Up next we will begin with the rules, starting with Offsides. What else would you like to know?

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