One of the most beloved sporting events in the world, the World Cup, doesn’t draw the same following in the United States as it does in other parts of the world. So if you have some questions about the way the soccer tournament works, who’s playing, or how they qualified, you’re not alone. But you don’t have to miss the action just because you aren’t 100% sure what’s going on.
Read on to get the answers to some of the most common questions about the World Cup and what we expect to happen in 2018.
1. What is the World Cup?
If you’ve been hearing everybody talk about the World Cup for weeks, but aren’t sure what it is, we’ve got you covered. The Guardian explains succinctly that the FIFA World Cup is an international football (soccer) tournament played by 32 teams every four years. This year’s World Cup involves 64 matches played in 12 venues across 11 different Russian cities. The Guardian reports that the tournament is “without question, the biggest, most prestigious sporting event on the planet.”
Next: Where is the tournament happening?
2. Where is the 2018 World Cup?
Vox reports that FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, “chooses where it will hold its quadrennial flagship tournament based on bids (and maybe some bribes) from countries.” In December 2010, it made the surprising decision to have Russia host the 2018 competition. Other candidates included a joint bid between Belgium and the Netherlands, a solo England bid, and a joint bid between Portugal and Spain. Vox reports, “At the time, those options seemed more attractive to soccer fans because, well, they have great soccer facilities and cultures — and are also not run by an autocrat like Vladimir Putin.”
Next: What about the United States?
3. Is the United States playing?
Let’s cut to the chase: The United States didn’t qualify to play in the 2018 World Cup, “even though it really should have,” according to Vox. The United States, as part of North America, competes in the CONCACAF regional qualifying tournament and made it to the fifth and final one, the “Hexagonal,” where the six best teams compete. The U.S. had to place among the top four teams in a group consisting of Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago to make it to the World Cup. But the U.S. didn’t perform well in the round and ended up in fifth place. As Vox reports, “you won’t see the United States in Russia because of its tragically poor performance.”
Next: What about the history of the World Cup?
4. How long has the World Cup been happening?
The Guardian reports that FIFA — which stands for the Féderation Internationale de Football Association — hosted the first World Cup back in 1930, after soccer became a popular event at the Olympics, according to Vox. FIFA wanted to stage an event where professionals — instead of amateurs at the Olympics — could play and draw big crowds. FIFA’s third president, Jules Rimet, was the mastermind behind the very first World Cup, which took the form of an invitational tournament played by just 13 teams. Uruguay won the first World Cup in 1930. And this year’s World Cup is the 21st.
Next: How many teams do I have to keep track of?
5. How many teams compete?
FanSided reports that 32 teams compete in the World Cup after a rigorous, two-year qualifying process. These 32 teams get divided up into eight groups of four. Each team in the group plays the other teams in the group once. Then, the top two teams advance to the knockout stage, which consists of a single elimination tournament. If any of these knockout matches ends in a draw, the teams play an additional 30 minutes of extra time (and proceed to a penalty shootout if the draw persists). The winner advances to the next round. A quarterfinal proceeds to a semifinal, which ultimately leads to the World Cup final.
Next: What do the groups look like this year?
6. Who is in each group?
According to FanSided, Group A consists of Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Uruguay. Next, Group B includes Spain, Portugal, Iran, and Morocco. Group C consists of France, Australia, Peru, and Denmark. Group D includes Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, and Nigeria. Then, Group E consists of Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, and Serbia. Group F includes Germany, Mexico, Sweden, and South Korea. Next, Group G consists of Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, and England. And finally, Group H includes Poland, Senegal, Colombia, and Japan.
Next: How did each team get there?
7. How did the teams qualify?
The New York Times reports that the 32 teams playing in the World Cup qualified by competing — except for Russia, which qualified automatically, as the host, despite its “patchy” performance over the last two years. But as FanSided notes, hundreds of countries around the world would love a spot in the World Cup and have to compete in six confederations to get one of the 32 spots. “There are six confederations bound by location that have countries that can qualify: Africa, Asia, North/Central America and Caribbean, South America, Oceania and Europe,” the publication notes. FIFA gives regions with more and better national teams a greater number of spots.
Next: Does the World Cup feature the same teams each year?
8. Do the same countries compete each time?
FanSided notes that because the top points earners in each group are the ones that go on to compete in the World Cup, the tournament lineup does end up looking similar each World Cup. “Generally, the same few countries always make it out of their respective group,” the publication explains of the nations that qualified for the 2018 World Cup. “Germany, Spain and France all made it through UEFA qualification with ease, as did Brazil in CONMEBOL and Mexico did in CONCACAF.”
Next: Were there any surprises among the countries that didn’t qualify?
9. Did any surprising nations miss out?
The Guardian reports that a few traditionally “big” soccer nations missed out on qualifying for the 2018 World Cup. The United States, the Netherlands, Chile, Cameroon, and Italy number among “the most high-profile nations to miss out on qualification for Russia 2018,” the publication reports. “For many international powerhouses, qualifying is invariably little more than a formality. For others, it is an incredible achievement.”
Next: How about surprises among the nations that did qualify?
10. Did any surprising countries qualify?
Just as some teams surprised their fans by not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, other teams surprised by making it into this year’s tournament. A good example? Iceland, which is playing its first World Cup this year. In addition to becoming the smallest nation to qualify for the European Championship, the country of 335,000 also became the smallest nation to qualify for the World Cup. The New York Times reports, “If anything, the latter was more impressive, since winning a group that contained Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey was no mean feat.”
Next: Who’s going to win?
11. Who’s expected to win?
Vox reports that if you follow soccer at all, then the favorites to win the World Cup won’t surprise you. They are, in order: Germany, Brazil, France, Spain, and Argentina. As Vox reports, “All those teams are ridiculously stacked with talent, and each has won at least one World Cup.” But as the publication adds, “Of course, there are still other great teams in the tournament like Belgium, Croatia, and Uruguay. With so many talented squads vying for the top prize, this could be a World Cup to remember.”
Next: How many people watch the tournament?
12. How many people watch the World Cup?
Vox reports that at least half of the world will tune in to watch the World Cup (even if most Americans probably won’t). The lack of American interest comes in part because the U.S. national team didn’t qualify. But ahead of the last World Cup in 2014 — which featured Team USA — 87% of Americans said that they knew little to nothing about soccer. And about 67% had no plans to watch the tournament.
Next: When will the final happen?
13. When is the 2018 World Cup final?
Another great question: When will the 2018 World Cup final happen? FanSided reports that the final is on Sunday, July 15, and will be played at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia. That’s a full month after the World Cup began, on June 14, and the teams that play in the final will have to get out of the group stage and win three knockout stage matches.
Next: So what do the winners take home?
14. What do the winners receive?
The Guardian reports that the team that wins the final receives “acclaim, medals, hero status in their homeland, and a hefty financial bonus from their national Football Association.” They also receive the FIFA World Cup trophy, which is made of 18-carat gold with a malachite base and depicts two humans holding up the earth. According to The Guardian, “It is arguably the most iconic trophy in all of sport.”
Next: Does the tournament generate a lot of cash?
15. Does the World Cup make a lot of money?
Like many high-profile sporting events, the World Cup generates a lot of revenue, most of it for FIFA. The Guardian explains, “They sold the TV rights for the last World Cup for $2.48 billion and made a further $2.34 billion from marketing and licensing rights. Only about 10% of the revenue it generated came from actual ticket sales.” Vox reports that all-told, the World Cup generates billions of dollars from sponsorships, tickets and shirt sales, broadcasting licenses, and more.
Next: Is it expensive for Russia to host?
16. How much has the 2018 World Cup cost Russia?
Russia, as the host of the 2018 World Cup, has spent an eye-popping sum of money on the tournament. Vox reports that Russia has reportedly spent a total of $12 billion to host the World Cup, with nearly 60% of that coming from the federal budget. That spending includes building the Krestovsky Stadium in St. Petersburg for about $1 billion. As Vox notes, “As you might imagine with a project like this — and because it’s Russia — there was a lot of corruption surrounding the stadium’s creation.” Fewer countries now want to host major global sporting events because of the expense, but authoritarian countries — like Russia — remain interested because they “don’t have to worry about financial accountability to citizens,” according to Vox.