(This post is a happy post in a time of sadness, yes. I have about a dozen drafts of angrysad, but I wanted to put up at least something that isn’t awful? Rage against the dying of the light? Anyway.)
AWWWW YEAH, SOCCER. OR FOOTBALL. OR KICKY BALL. I’m sticking with kicky ball. It’s like “shooty hoops” but my friend Steve came up with it and I’m so pleased. But, anyway, would you like to watch some soccer? Would you like to be a citizen of the world? Would you like to wake up at 7 AM on weekends? COME JOIN ME.
This is a great time to jump in – no games today, and the knockout round starts tomorrow!
I’m obviously a bit late for this post, so forgive me for writing this now, but boyyyyy howdy do I love me some World Cup soccer. So if you have nothing personally invested in the winner but like to watch people with incredible thighs run around and hit things with their heads, here is your introduction. I am not fact-checking. Deal with it. (okay I am but most of this is my feelings so FACT CHECK YOUR FACE)
We started out with 32 teams divided into 8 groups of 4, and the top two from each of those groups (stay with me) moves on to the round of 16, which is now. Therefore, if you want to tune in, now is a good time! Every game is a knockout game, and NO TIES ARE ALLOWED. THEY PLAY TO THE DEATH AND/OR THE BEST OF 5 PENALTY KICKS, UNLESS THEY BOTH MAKE THE SAME NUMBER, AND THEN IT’S A LITTLE MORE COMPLICA- you know what? They play to the death. That’s it. Till they’re deadsies. That’s the rule.
LET’S DIVE IN
KICKY BALL. I LOVE KICKY BALL. It has a very basic premise, which is “put ball in goal for points,” but there are of course many interesting ways this can be accomplished. You can change up the formation of your players on the field.* You can work to force corner kicks. You can blatantly take dives inside the box so you get to just kick the dang ball at the net without all those annoying other dudes trying to stop you. Kidding. Sort of. 11 peeps on the field, one is a goalkeeper, they get to use hands no one else does, don’t be dicks. That’s basically it. 90 minutes, two 45-minute halves, switch sides at half, clocks count up and never stop. Nope, never. No, really, even if someone breaks their leg. The March of Time is Inexorable. That extra time of people rolling around clutching various body parts is added to the end of the half – if there’s a lot of rolling, it’ll be 5 minutes. It is called stoppage time and yes, it’s weird if you’re used to American sports. Embrace the weird.
*(If you’re asking, yes, I’m partial to 4-4-2 because I like things divided evenly and because I’m a Basic Bitch when it comes to soccer. Also no sweeper-keepers. I am as old as time in my opinions. Get off my lawn.)
Fouls get called a lot, and if there is a foul, the game play stops and the ref brings out his shaving cream and marks up the field (no really they get to draw lines). Sometimes there are cards. Yellow is “whoa there slow down partner you are doing far too much with your body against the other bodies” and red is “what the fuck, are you kidding? You can’t do that. Go sit down and think about what you’ve done.” Two yellows is a red. Red cards get you sent off the field and your team can’t replace you. Earlier in this tournament a dude got booked in the first three minutes which means his team was DOWN A WHOLE DUDE for the rest of the game!!!
You will hear about “diving” and “taking dives,” and that is when some very fit people try to win a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Someone will give them a very stern look and they will collapse to the ground and roll around making Tobey-Maguire-as-Spiderman distress faces and then magically pop up a few minutes later. I’m… perhaps a bad person, because I kind of appreciate the art involved in making it seem like the slight breeze of a butterfly wing is equivalent to, like, the hit on Fredo, and there’s an admiration I have for people who can just lie like that and force everyone to take time out of their ball game to pay attention to their non-injury. I would like, tear my ACL and continue to play with my leg all floppy until someone forces me off the field not because I am tough or immune but because oh GOD if I have to get medical attention I have to get ATTENTION and people will be LOOKING AT ME and oh GOD OH GOD OH GOD I MADE YOU STOP YOUR GAME I’M SORRY.
Where were we before I got way too inside my own head OH YEAH SOCCER
The scores are low, which means people frequently find the games boring. People are frequently wrong though and that’s unfortunate. Many of the goals get scored from direct/penalty kicks, and as a former goalkeeper with anxiety I *strenuously* object to this. The player gets to put the ball wayyyy too dang close and then fire one off like the net is the White House and this is 1813, and the shots usually go in. This is also the method for tie breakers. My husband thinks they should just play until someone scores and if they are tired too bad take a nap on the field.
Oh, and offsides. This rule hurts people’s heads a lot, but the best way I’ve understood it is that if the rule were not in place, every team would keep a homie just leaning against a goal post waiting for a long ball and then just *boop* kick it in. And that is unsporting. There are dudes on the sidelines waving flags when things are offsides and I have to imagine they get their own bodyguards because ooooooh boy do people wanna murder them.
ANYWAY. People with excellent thighs run a zigzag 5k interval workout in one particular direction for 45 minutes, take a break, and then do the same thing in the other direction. Fun!
This goes down every four years, and there is a battle well in advance, Olympics-style, to host. You’ll remember South Africa 2010 because Shakira song, Brazil 2014 because Tim Howard was a brick wall in the goal, and Germany 2006 because ITALY WON ON PKS just kidding you’ll possibly remember this one as the time a French player headbutted an Italian player and got ejected.
*Mean Girls voice* one time, he headbutted me in the chest. It. Was. Awesome.
I started watching this tournament as a kid when I was playing, and then kept watching with my dad, and now we watch separately and then call each other and rag on everyone who isn’t Italy and talk about how the refs did a decent or atrocious job.
So, yes. Italy. That is who my dad, and therefore I, cheer for. And this year, they did not qualify. My dad was Very Not Okay. Our favorite player, Gianluigi Buffon, the national team’s goalkeeper for decades, cried at that game. I cried at home. My dad… probably got angry which is his crying. Buffon, or “Gigi,” did it up for Juventus, the club team my dad follows, and he is 39, and this was going to be his last World Cup and then they DIDN’T QUALIFY. NOT OKAY.
And the United States didn’t qualify! So everything is confusing and kind of hurty if you are me! There are also several teams who usually make it (the Netherlands, Chile, Cameroon) and didn’t make it, and this year there were several teams who had their first World Cup appearance! Very cool! Yeah Panama and Iceland! They are both, of course, very knocked out of the tournament already, but bless ’em, they hustled. Germany, the defending champs, are also knocked out. Brazil, who lost to Germany four years ago 7 to 1 to be knocked out, is so revengefully happy right now and it is deeeeee-lightful.
There is a battle for the privilege of hosting this bad boy, which is an interesting thing, because 1. countries lose money 2. FIFA is heeeeella corrupt. 4 years from now this ish is in Qatar. Yep, that one. Known for its totally reasonable day time temperatures of 110+ degrees. They are changing the time of year this thing is held to accommodate those temps, which means the World Cup is now in the middle of, y’know, the actual seasons of the club teams, and literally everyone is mad except the same dozen or so rich fuckers who ruin everything all the time everywhere. There’s also significant labor issues in that the stadiums are being built by non-natives who can’t leave and are dying sometimes, so yeah. Enjoy Christmas on the surface of the sun in your sweatshop. Football: Even in Sports You Should Eat the Rich.
Russia has it now, and the games are all taking place in the eastern part of the country. There are apparently a ton of bugs at several of the stadiums, and they were extra concerned about racism!
Soccer has a racism problem. Russia has a racism problem. When you combine the two, you get half of a stadium making monkey noises at black players. Europe has had race riots at games forever, and while many have improved over the past half-century (England is a prime example) there are still just horrific things that happen when black players just show up on the field. We’ve been… *whispers cautiously* okay so far in terms of outright violence or mobs, but oof, I am still nervous, especially since Russia is still in the tournament.
But yeah. This has been going on for a long time. Many club teams have like, their official fan clubs, and then another fan club that is like if you combined baseball’s Bleacher Creatures with a fucking wolverine and made that wolverine racist and drunk. There’s been surges and losses in these groups and their messes (England has done a good job of making them less awful for like half a century, for example) but yeah, throw a bunch of violent emotional vacuums into a stadium and give them beer and surprise surprise some bad things happen. I don’t know what the solution is, other than fix race issues as a whole.
FIFA is also its own issue, like, as an institution. Last Week Tonight did two very excellent videos 4 years ago about FIFA, and while there’s been a significant shakeup due to the indictments on, uh, pretty much everyone in power, it’s still shady. It has billions of dollars in reserves for a non-profit, all of the dudes in charge are at least a little corrupt, and for a very long time the flesh-colored frog in charge was called Sepp Blatter, a man who once said that viewership of women’s soccer might go up if they wore shorter shorts. The Beautiful Game is run from hell, but uh, at least we’ve… moved up.. a tier… Dante’s Inferno style? Idk. And it sucks, because the Americas (us, Mexico, Canada) will be hosting in 2026 and that’s awesome but gahhhh I don’t wanna give money to these punks.
MORE SOCCER LESS BLATTER
And this brings me, finally, to some specifics about this Cup.
The remaining teams
You got 16 left, kids. For me and my fellow vellum-colored Americans, that frequently means picking the country that had the most recent immigrants for your fam. (Italy!) There are some fun remaining options for you guys.
England! England is still in this tournament, which is, um, rareplzdon’thurtmeEnglandfans, so you can follow them and enjoy watching their captain who is legitimately named Harry Kane.
Uruguay! Uruguay is bananas talented and does not have a championship yet, and they produce some v v good players. If you generally identify as Chaotic Evil, you can also pick them for Luis Suarez, who has subheadings on his Wikipedia page titled “first biting incident,” “second biting incident,” and “third biting incident.” He bites opposing players. There’s a lot there.
Argentina! Argentina has a very pleasing blue and white jersey, and also Lionel Messi, who you’ve seen on like every goshdarn commercial for this cup and who is 5’7″ and I just appreciate him and his kind-of-ginger beard. Also if you cheer for them you get to fight with people on how valuable he is as a player, every waking second, until you die! Hooray!
Belgium! They’ve had a very excellent few years, and they are tenacious, and they are called the Red Devils. They have only ever reached the quarter-finals and if you like a slight underdog that actually has a legitimate chance, this might be your team!
France! They are France. They are good. Paul Pogba, go look him up.
Spain! They are Spain. They won in 2010. They are good. They have like a bananas number of players from Barcelona and Real Madrid and those two teams fight so it is kind of sweet that they are together on the national team.
Portugal! They are Portugal. They are pretty okay. They have Cristiano Ronaldo. Spain does not. Spain has him for club. Ronaldo can play real good, and see Argentina/Messi above re: arguing with every breath.
Colombia! Oh man, Colombia. They played some very, very attractive soccer in group stages, and they have Radamel Falcao, an intense physical presence on the field, and you can wait with everyone else to see if James Rodriguez, their golden boy, is not too injured to play the next game. A long shot, very much so, but you will be enter-heckin’-tained while watching.
Brazil! They are Brazil. They are… well, they’re fucking Brazil. They have the most trophies, as that VW commercial says. They are quite good at the kicky ball. They are out for blood this year because Germany beat them 7 to 1, which is horrific, to knock them out of 2014. They are basically singing “ding dong the witch is dead” as a nation right now. Also, Neymar. He’s kind of a big deal, and his hair is fun. Also you get to say “Brazil” like Tina Belcher’s capoiera coach in that Bob’s Burgers episode.
Russia! Sweden! Switzerland! Denmark! If you like cold weather but don’t particularly like winning, these are your dudes! I wish them well, I really do, but the odds are not good on these homies.
Croatia! They are stealthy-good, a bit of an underdog, and just put up some very good numbers so far in this tournament. Their captain is Luka Modric, and he wears very fun headbands when he plays. And this is a team that has only been around since 1990, since they had to, y’know, become a country independent of Yugoslavia first. Croatia!
Japan! They are, well, almost universally last in the odds, but they are the only team from Asia left, and their goalkeeper had possibly the prettiest save in group play this week, and I am easily swayed by the guys with the gloves, and what was I saying? Sorry. Japan!
Senegal! Well, actually, no. They tied their last match with Japan, and they had the same number of points in group play, but Japan moved on and they did not because of the fair play rule. This counts the number of yellow cards, and the team with fewer moves on. It’s really weird, but people seem to prefer it to a coin toss, but yeah, it feels kind of gross. Especially when African countries have an unearned reputation of being more aggressive and fouling more often. Bleh. It’s both a weird piece of trivia and a sad end to the last remaining African team, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it. And as my other, happier piece of trivia for African teams – Nigeria’s national team is called the Super Eagles, which is the best thing.
Mexico! Very much underdog, very much fun to watch, very much in love with their goalkeeper sorry what. That one’s me, sorry, but go look at a picture of Guillermo Ochoa and try not to fall in love with him. Or at least his hair. It’s glorious. He’s glorious. He had a stunning game against Brazil in 2014, and guess who Mexico plays next YEP IT’S BRAZIL! If you like Type 3B curly hair Mexico might be your team!
Ohhhhkay I am now looking at the word count, and this is probably way more than you wanted to read, so I’m going to wrap it up here.
If you have any questions about specific game rules or trivia, I am not your lady. There is a chance I will know the answer, but it’s far from a sure thing. What I lack in raw knowledge I make up for in enthusiasm and an uncomfortable emotional bond to goalkeepers and effort, and I really just encourage you to watch this tournament. It’s very emotional, it’s usually very exciting, and you can text me about how pretty the players are and I will wholeheartedly text back.
Here’s to well-executed offside traps, non-set-play goals, and excellent quads. KICKY BALL.