What’s the deal?
It’s arguably the most popular sport in the world, because it’s pretty simple to pick up and you hardly need any equipment. Football (that’s soccer to you Americans) is a sport where teams of 11 compete against each other to get a ball into a net. It’s called football because players mainly use their feet to move the ball. They can use their heads too, but they can’t use their hands (except the goalie). It’s called soccer in America because Americans don’t like the obvious (well, not really. There’s a good explanation for it, along with the fact that the US has another sport called football….though ironically enough there’s not a ton of foot action in that sport).
At any rate, the point is to get the ball into the opponent’s net more often than they get the ball into yours. The games tend to be low-scoring, which gives fans plenty of time to make up rousing songs to keep the entire stadium excited. And the will they/won’t they factor provides a lot of edge-of-seat anticipation.
Men and women each have their own tournament. The men’s tourney consists of 16 teams, while the women’s is just 12. The tournament takes place in stadiums all over the country, so this Olympic experience could likely be very different than most, if you’re not playing in Olympic Stadium.
The football tournaments are set up like the World Cup, with group competition feeding into a bracket. This makes for a pretty long tournament–the competition actually starts before the Opening Ceremony and goes right up to the day before Closing Ceremonies.
But isn’t there already a lot of football going on? Why should I watch?
Yep. The European Cup and Copa América are both taking place this summer, but an Olympic medal is still pretty damn special. The Olympics are your chance to see up-and-coming male players, as there’s a 23-year-old age limit. But each team gets three slots for older players, so potentially there will be some superstars who are close to retirement.
However, the women’s tournament is pretty spectacular, as they don’t have nearly the amount of playing opportunities as the men do–nor do they have an age limit. Tune into that competition for some amazing athleticism.
Need we remind you that this is the world’s most popular sport? Jump on the bandwagon!
Potential drinking game:
Every time there’s a yellow or red card, drink. The yellow card is a warning for misconduct; the red card is an ejection.
The perfect snack:
FIFA is the international governing body of the sport, but your town or city likely has a program for all ages. Check with your local parks and recreation department or other group that promotes intermural sports.
Officials keep the game safe and fair, and provide a unique perspective on the game (also a good option if you want to run around a field but aren’t too thrilled about heading a ball). Officials on the world stage often go through their country’s officiating ranks first. Some examples are Canada Soccer, US Soccer or the Referees’ Association.