As you might be aware, the FIFA World Cup is just around the corner: the tournament kicks off next Thursday at 4:00 PM EST as the host nation, Brazil, takes on Croatia in the annual rite of tournament-opening sacrifice. The host of issues we can delve into is as rich as the culture of our lovely host nation: can Brazil win the World Cup on their own soil (last hosted in 1950, also the year of America's most hilarious victory ever)? can a European team win in South America for the first time ever (best result: Holland's second place finish in 1978)? can America break their duck against Ghana? and can someone finally topple Spain's unrivaled dynasty?
Since I'm certain the World Cup will get a lot of comments/interest (relatively, anyways) on RTT, MasonW proposed having a place for commenters to discuss the World Cup (as opposed to clogging up the Tennessee-related articles). In the spirit of the event (and because I want to talk about the World Cup), I figured I'd put together a bit of a primer about the World Cup that also doubles as a place we can go to chat about it.
I have no idea what all I can write about yet, or what I could write about (for instance, my knowledge of the US team has flagged compared to recent years, and I know far more about the club game - and likely many of the European national teams - than our own national team). But today I figured I'd go over the basics of the World Cup, what to watch for, and some of the story lines you'll be hearing about (as referenced above).
This Grantland piece (by Mike Goodman) contains a pretty good run-down of the basics of soccer, for those of you who have only a passing interest in the game. Don't know a fullback from a centerback? Couldn't tell me the difference between a 4-4-2 and a 4-3-3? Check it out. It was a pretty informative piece and serves as a good primer for the World Cup in general.
If you have graduated from reading that piece, then congrats, you know enough to enjoy the sport. Confused about how the tournament is formatted? Me too. Fortunately, SB Nation has you covered. In the linked piece there is a run down of the format of the tournament, how the teams qualify, and a quick guide to who you should cheer for (I will probably pen something about that tailored to you, the Tennessee fan at RTT, as well). It boils down to this: do not support Uruguay.
I think the basics are out of the way, so let's talk story lines. I went over some of the big questions earlier, but there are a lot of things to watch for in this World Cup. For instance, how closely will the performances of the national teams follow performances of certain club teams? It's long been theorized that national teams with a strong core from one national team perform well, but the globalization of the game is making that sort of concentrated effort difficult. Outside of Spain (with a strong Barcelona-Real Madrid core) and Germany (with a pretty strong group of Bayern Munich players) there aren't really that many standout teams with strong domestic cores that are also expected to go far (I'm not looking up the composition of the Australia squad, for instance).
That question is a little myopic. Will the trend of European dominance of the international game continue? 12 of the last 16 World Cup semifinalists have been affiliated with UEFA, culminating in the all-Euro semifinals of 2006. But this tournament is in the famously anti-European confines of South America. If Brazil can't win it, there is an eager crop of South American teams to nip at Europe's heels: Argentina, Colombia, Chile, and Uruguay are all ranked in the top 10 of the World Football (Soccer) Elo Ratings. Note: the other 5 teams of the Elo top 10 are European. Should be heady stuff.
Finally, we have some American questions. Aside from the obvious questions such as can we win (no), can we beat Ghana (we had better), and can we make it out of the group (???) there are some more tangential (and arguably more interesting) questions. Will the United States' best players returning to the MLS hurt the American national team? Who will take on the creative burden to ease the load on the aging Clint Dempsey? How will the squad react to the controversial decision to not include Jonathan Spector?
Only time will tell.
Feel free to ask any questions you have in the comments, I'll happily (over)oblige. I'm also willing to have discussions about things like tactics and I also want ideas for future topics I can make these posts about.