The World Cup is about to begin in Russia. How to watch the biggest international tournament in the sport as a beginner? Here, take my hand…
Russia will host the 21st edition of FIFA World Cup from June 14 to July 15 this year. Some of the greatest names in world football – including Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, will be running the show this June, and probably in July.
The whole footballing fraternity is waiting for the kick-off between Russia and Saudi Arabia on June 14, which will mark the start of the World Cup. But in this corner of the world, the craze for a football world cup is relatively low.
Obviously, India has not played in a football world cup yet. But the recent plea from Sunil Chhetri asking Indian people to support the national team, complimented well by some terrific performances on the field in the inter-continental cup, has led to a sudden resurgence in football support across the country.
And this is why, many Indians are now excited for the world cup. But how to watch the biggest international football tournament as a first-timer?
Let us explain.
So we know what a FIFA World Cup is. How does it work, though?
Woah there, there. Hold on. There’s a lot more to talk about FIFA World Cup.
FIFA World Cup happens every four years..
..like cricket yeah?
..umm, yeah. Like cricket.
Football gained popularity with its inclusion in Olympics. However, even when youth footballers used to represent the countries in the Games, the sport still managed to pull numbers in the crowd.
The first time Football was played in the Olympic Games was in 1900. When FIFA realised that international football is viewed by such large audience, they decided to organise an international tournament where professionals, and not youth players, participate. Hence, in 1930, the first FIFA World Cup took place in Uruguay, which was also won by Uruguay.
Ever since, FIFA organises the world cup every four years. This year’s world cup will be the 21st edition of the tournament.
You still missed my second question. How does it work?
The first world cup had only 13 teams from 3 confederations..
..Hold on. What’s a confederation?
A confederation, in simple terms, belongs to a continent. For example, all the countries in Asia come under the Asian Football Confederation. The Europeans, come under Europe’s confederation, which is called ‘UEFA’. Likewise, there are 5 confederations for 5 continents, and a sixth one for all the countries which come under the Oceania region (New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga and Pacific Islands).
So the first world cup featured only 3 confederations. As more editions of the world cup were played, more confederations were included, and more countries were added.
Since 1998, the world cup includes 32 teams. All the teams are divided into groups of four, making 8 groups in total. The top two teams after the group stages will further qualify for the Round of 16, and quarterfinal, semifinal and final will eventually follow.
So how do the teams qualify? Is it like cricket where top teams qualify on the basis of rankings..?
No. There is a rigorous qualification process for a FIFA World Cup, which runs for almost two years. All the confederations have their own qualification rounds. Every member-nation of FIFA participates in the qualifying rounds, EXCEPT the host nation.
The hosts get automatic qualification for the world cup. The rest 210 nations battle for 31 spots.
So is there a structure for qualification? How many teams qualify from a Federation?
Good question. Slots are given to each confederation on the basis of their past performances in the world cups. One slot signifies one team. Naturally, Europe has the most slots, because they have performed the best among all the confederations in the tournament. For this world cup, Europe (UEFA) have 13 slots, Africa (CAF) have 5, Asia (AFC) and South America (CONMEBOL) with 4.5, North, Central and South America (CONCACAF) 3.5, and Oceania (OFC) with 0.5 slots. 1 slot is reserved for the hosts.
What in the holy name of Jesus is .5?
Aah, I should’ve clarified. Let’s take an example of AFC and CONCACAF. Both the federations received 4.5 and 3.5 slots respectively for this year’s world cup. So four teams from AFC and 3 teams from CONCACAF will surely qualify.
The ‘.5’ signifies a play-off. In this case, a team finishing fifth in AFC, and a team finishing fourth in CONCACAF, will meet each other in a play-off for a world cup spot. This year, Australia played Honduras in the play-off, and defeated them for a berth in the world cup.
Because the final world cup spot from the federation is not determined before the qualifiers, a .5 is added to the slot.
Interesting. Right, tell me about this year’s world cup. Which teams are playing, and which teams missed?
This time, we saw quite a few shocks. The traditional world cup participants like Italy (who are four-time winners of the trophy) and The Netherlands failed to make it to the world cup. Also, United States of America did not qualify. The current South American champions Chile, and Africa champions Cameroon also failed to make a place in the world cup this year.
But we do have many regular teams. Germany, England, France, Spain, Portugal, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, Nigeria, Iran, South Korea and Japan, amongst many other teams have all qualified for the tournament.
Cool. Who are the favourites?
In the previous edition, Germany quite literally dominated the tournament. They defeated the hosts Brazil 7-1 in the semifinal, and went on to beat Argentina to lift the world cup. They are favourites this year as well. However, Brazil have developed into a very strong unit over the last four years. Many betting sites actually pipe Brazil to lift the trophy.
Spain, France and Argentina are the favourites too, although they have some certain weaknesses which could hamper their progress.
What about England? Is it like their cricket team’s relationship with World Cup as well? Hah!
England’s team is actually quite decent this time around. But they’ve, as of now, failed to live up to the expectations in the world cups. But naah, unlike their cricket team, English football team has actually won a world cup in 1966.
Tell me some names of football players to follow.
Egypt’s Mohamed Salah..
..Hey hey hey. Egypt? I’m not buying this. YOU’RE FRAUD
No, I’m serious. Mohamed Salah has turned out to be a revelation. He broke Premier League (England’s domestic club competition) record for most goals in a single season, which was held by Cristiano Ronaldo!
Woah. Tell me more.
There are many players which you can follow. The two will obviously be Ronaldo and Messi. This would probably be the last world cup in their prime as footballers. And both are yet to win the tournament.
Antoine Griezmann (France), Harry Kane (England), Neymar (Brazil), Suarez and Cavani (Uruguay), James Rodriguez (Colombia) are some of the many big names in the world cup this summer.
Which are the teams from Asia in this world cup?
I’ve a disappointing news for you. Asian teams are yet to win a world cup. But there’s no harm in supporting them, is it? Japan, South Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Australia have all qualified from the Asian Football Confederation.
Right. I know there’s a referee and all. But does football also have a DRS or something?
Well it didn’t, until now. This will be the first time FIFA will be using VAR (Video Assistant Referee) for the world. And actually, it is quite like DRS. However, most of the times, the consequences of using it were either comical or outrageous. Many referees go into the world cup with no prior experience of VAR, so expect much more of it.
Cool. Tell me some catchphrases to use so I can join the world cup groups.
Football is coming home.
What is that?
Use it once.
I trust you. Final question – Where can I see the action unfold?
Sony has acquired the rights for the FIFA World Cup in India. So Sony Ten 2 and Sony Ten 3 will broadcast all the games for the world cup. If you’re not in front of a television, don’t worry. All the matches will also stream live on SonyLIV app.