Soccer 101: Everything You Need to Know

Soccer 101

Are you new to soccer? The FIFA World Cup Tournament kicks off today in Russia! If you want to immerse yourself in the action, we’ll help you get up up to speed on the rules of the sport, the event’s history, some fun facts about soccer, and how you can follow your own team!

Basic Rules

  • A soccer game consists of two teams playing two 45-minute halves, with “stoppage time” added on at the end of each half. Each team is allowed 11 players on the field at one time and a total of 3 substitutions per match. One of those players is the goalkeeper (or keeper). Because tactics and formations vary from team to team, the number of each outfield (non-goalkeeper) position also varies.
  • After a coin toss prior to the game, the winning captain decides which goal to defend, or to take the first kick off.
  • Using only their feet, head, and chest to move the ball, players attempt to score as many goals (getting the ball into the net) as possible against the other team. The only athletes who are allowed to use their hands are the goalies, and they can only do so within the 18-yard box (also known as the penalty box). A goal is awarded when the entirety of the ball crosses the goal line.
  • A “throw-in” happens when the ball crosses one of the touch lines on either side of the pitch, and leaves the field of play. Throw-ins are made by the team who did not force the ball outside the field, and are done by tossing the ball over your head with two hands.
  • A corner kick is awarded to the attacking team when the defending team knocks the ball across their own base line. Conversely, a goal kick is awarded to the defending team when the ball is kicked over the base line by the attacking team.
  • The game is controlled by a central referee and two linesmen. They award free kicks and penalties when rules are broken. Yellow cards, or bookings, are given for consistent infringement or reckless play. A player may be sent off (also known as a red card) if he accrues two yellow cards or for one dangerous play/penalty resulting in the denial of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity.
  • A penalty kick occurs when the opposing team commits a foul by contact or touches the ball with their hands within the penalty area (also known as the 18-yard box).
  • For deeper details into further rules, consult FIFA’s laws of the game here.

History and Fun Facts

  • FIFA is a worldwide organization, whose acronym stands for the Fédération Internationale de Football Association.
  • The inaugural World Cup was held in Uruguay in 1930, with only thirteen teams. Currently, the World Cup consists of a 32-team tournament, with a qualifying process that lasts two years and involves over 200 teams from around the world.
  • Scheduled in tandem with the Winter Olympics, the World Cup happens every four years, as to never conflict with the Summer Olympics.
  • The World Cup has been cancelled only twice in its history: In 1942 and 1946 for World War I and II, respectively.
  • The United States has only hosted the World Cup once thus far, in 1994.
    • Italy, France and Brazil have each hosted twice.
  • The United States has never won a World Cup championship.
    • Their best showing was in the inaugural year of 1930, when they placed 3rd. The United States’ worst World Cup showing was taking last place (32nd) in 1998.
    • There have also been years, including 2018, when the United States has not qualified for the tournament.
  • As technology increases, viewership for the World Cup continues to surge:
    • In 2014, the tournament was watched by 3.2 billion people worldwide.
    • It is estimated that over 280 million people around the globe were watching matches online or on a mobile device.
    • An estimated 1 billion viewed the final game between Germany and Argentina. Germany won by a score of 1-0.

  • The 2018 World Cup takes place in Russia, and 2022’s World Cup will be held in Qatar. That will be the very first World Cup ever hosted by the Middle East, and only the second World Cup ever to be held in Asia.
    • The current bid process for countries that would like to host the World Cup is based on not previously hosting either of the previous two tournaments. The United States did bid for 2022, but was not chosen by FIFA.
  • Players are allowed to represent the country for which they a) have naturalized citizenship b) have lived in the country for at least 5 years after the age of 18 c) have a parent or grandparent born in said country. Unlike the Olympics, once players have made an appearance for a national team in an official competition, they may no longer switch to another country’s national team.

Choosing a Team to Follow

As mentioned above, the United States is out of contention and not participating in this year’s World Cup tournament. Therefore, a lot of Americans are devoting their fandom this year to other countries, depending on several different aspects. Consult this list of the participating World Cup teams, and consider one of the below factors when choosing your 2018 team:

  • Lineage: Do you know your ancestry? If so, you could choose your team in honor of where your family tree is rooted!
  • Countries You Have Visited: If you or a loved one has traveled outside of the U.S. and want to support a foreign land that you’ve had a positive experience with, root for them!
  • Pick a Favorite: Germany is considered a favorite in this year’s World Cup, having won FIFA’s Confederations Cup (the trophy for a smaller FIFA tournament, also held every four years) with a team of non-starters.
  • Choose an Underdog: If you’d like to cheer this year for those who have an uphill battle, consider Iceland (the smallest nation to ever qualify for the World Cup).
  • Go with Colors: If you follow or participate in the annual NCAA March Madness bracket, you may have heard of fans choosing winners based solely on which team color they prefer per game. So why should the World Cup be any different? Check your wardrobe for a palette you love and represent your team visually!

Ready to Watch?

If you’re interested in working on your soccer skills, training, or practicing drills, check out our other blogs this month. Do you have any other ways our community can celebrate this year’s World Cup? Leave some ideas in the comments below, and view this year’s television and live stream schedule of World Cup games here!