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World Cup 2010

The Biggest Sports Event in the World Is Coming to a TV Screen Near You
By Steven Alexander

What’s the biggest sports event in the world? The Olympics? The World Series? The Super Bowl? Naw, none of the above. It’s the World Cup of football…and it’s coming to a TV screen near you soon.

The eyes of the world will be focused on this event when it begins June 11 in South Africa. And the eyes of Mexico will be no exception. Not only will every bar in town have the games on TV, so will most of the stores and shops. You won’t be able to avoid it. There will be a lot of cheering, yelling and screaming…maybe even a few tears when, inevitably, the Mexican team is eliminated. So here are some basic things you should know to help you appreciate all the commotion.

The first thing you should know is this: Don’t call it “soccer.” The word soccer is only used in English-speaking countries to distinguish the sport from rugby or American-style football. The rest of the world calls it football because it is, indeed, played with the feet. Well, not exactly. Football is actually played with every part of the body except the hands. Perhaps “nohandsball” would be a more appropriate name.

The rules of the game are simple enough. Each team has eleven players. The object is to score a goal by putting the ball into the other team’s net. The team with the most goals is the winner. Punching, kicking, tackling and tripping tend to be discouraged.

For the World Cup, players are assigned to their national teams. For instance, all those Brazilians playing for various European professional teams will play for Brazil in the World Cup. Likewise, all those Europeans who play for professional teams here in Mexico and throughout Latin America will be playing for their home countries. David Beckham, currently playing for Milan, would be assigned to the English national team if he were playing in the tournament. But he’s injured and won’t play. Sorry, girls.
The World Cup is played every four years. This time around, 204 countries participated in the event. The preliminary rounds were played over the previous two years. Millions of people attended the preliminary games, while billions more watched on TV. The final 32 qualifying teams will meet in the World Cup Finals. This is the first time since the inception of the World Cup in 1930 that the finals will be held in an African country.

For starters, the 32 teams will be divided into eight groups of four teams each. This is called the “group stage.” They will play a round-robin tournament, with each team playing all three of the other teams in their group. A win is worth three points, a tie is worth one and a loss is worth zero. The first and second-place teams in each group will then advance to the next round, known as the “round of 16” in World Cup jargon. At this point, it’s strictly an elimination tournament. You lose…you go home. The 16 teams are reduced to eight, then four, then two. The two surviving undefeated teams will meet for the championship on July 11 in Johannesburg.

The World Cup has been played 18 times in the past. Brazil has won the championship five times, more than any other nation. The current Brazilian team is ranked first in the world and are favored to win it all again. The other top-ranked teams include Spain, Portugal, Netherlands and Italy, the defending champions. Germany, Argentina and England round out the top eight. The American and Mexican teams, ranked 14 and 17 respectively, may survive the group stage of eliminations and advance to the round of 16, but the chances of either team going further are pretty slim. The Canadian team didn’t make it past the preliminaries and won’t participate in the finals. Sorry, Canadians.

One last thing to keep in mind is this: Root, root, root for the home team…if they don’t win it’s a shame. Every time Mexico scores a goal, wins a game or advances to the next round, this will be the happiest place on Earth, even happier than Disneyland. Conversely, when their opponents score a goal or if they lose a game or get eliminated from the tournament, Mexico will be one sad-assed place to live. And who wants to live in a sad-assed place?

Steven Alexander is a former journalist and prize-winning sports writer. He is retired and lives in Ajijic.

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