Quickly, what is the most popular sport in the world? If you said baseball, basketball or hockey, you would be wrong, not even close. According to a survey conducted by Sporteology, the most popular sport, i. e. most watched, by a wide margin, is soccer, or, as it is commonly called – football. It is estimated that soccer has 3.5 billion fans worldwide, approximately one-half of the world’s population, and is played by 250 million players in over 200 countries. Incidentally, cricket is number 2, and basketball, baseball and (American) football, the most popular American sports, are ranked 3rd, 8th, and 9th, respectively. Why is soccer so popular? There are many theories, however, consider (1) it is easily played on virtually any surface, even a vacant lot or open field; (2) it requires few pieces of equipment, really, just a ball; and (3) it is easy to learn at a young age. For most kids, soccer is the first organized sport to which they are exposed, as early as the age of five. Kicking a ball comes naturally to young kids, and they don’t need to have the coordination, size and strength required to play other sports, such as baseball, American football or basketball.
Soccer has been played for a long time. The first international soccer match was between Scotland and England in 1872. It ended in a 0-0 tie. Soccer became part of the Olympics in 1900 as a demonstration sport. It became an official Olympic competition in 1908. The sport’s governing body the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) was founded in 1904.
At the present time, the 2014 WC is being contested in Brazil to determine the World Champion. The World Cup Championship has been held every four years since 1930 (in Uruguay), except for 1942 and 1946. There are 32 teams in the tournament, although there is discussion of expanding it to 40 teams. Each team consists of 23 players three of which must be goalies. Replacement players are permitted under certain circumstances, such as serious injury, but the procedures for replacing a player are strictly regulated.
The WC takes about one month to complete and consists of two phases. First is the group stage. The 32 teams are divided into eight groups of four each. Eight teams, the seven highest-rated and the host nation, are seeded. The teams in each group play each other round-robin style. Points are awarded for each match – three for a win, one for a draw and none for a loss. The two teams in each group with the most points advance to the knockout round. The knockout round is single elimination. One loss and you’re out. The two survivors will meet in the final on July 13.
These 32 teams have survived three years of qualifying tournaments, so, in a sense, the World Cup is virtually a continuous event. Almost as soon as one tournament ends the qualifying matches for the next one begin. The World Cup is the most widely watched and followed sporting event with a total audience approaching 30 million (the second being the Olympics). In most competing countries the entire populace gets caught up in the spirit of the tournament. Generally, soccer fans are extremely passionate. They are literally “fanatic” about their team, which becomes a tremendous source of pride and nationalistic spirit.
CONCLUSION AND PREDICTION
The US is in a group consisting of Germany, Portugal and Ghana. Each of the three is a quality team. The US has already won its first match against Ghana, which is fine, but the next two opponents figure to be tougher. My prediction is that the US will beat Portugal, lose to Germany and advance to the knockout round where it will lose in the quarter-finals.
Winning the WC would be a great accomplishment, but it is not realistic. A more realistic outcome would be for the team to capture the imagination of the country so that the sport continues to grow in popularity in the US.