World Cup Cheat Sheet: How to Watch if You Don’t Watch Soccer


The World Cup is scheduled to kick off at 4 p.m. Eastern time, and if you’re into sports but not necessarily a soccer fan, you’re probably kind of terrified. After all, there’s nothing worse than admitting that you don’t know something, and if you’re not into the sport, soccer is firmly off your radar until the World Cup, which comes around on the same schedule as the Olympics, but doesn’t afford nearly the same amount of novice leeway into the event. Because, while no one really minds if you don’t understand curling when you watch the Winter Games, everyone is going to care if you don’t know soccer during the World Cup. At least, it can definitely feels that way.

So what do you need to know about World Cup soccer in order to not look like a rube? Well, in keeping the first things first, you can absolutely call it soccer. There’s no reason to call it football if you don’t normally call it football: It’ll sound awkward, and you’ll almost certainly forget to keep up appearances at some point. Better not to spend brain power on remembering to call soccer something you don’t call soccer normally, especially when there’s so much else to pay attention to. Like, say, what the different kind of formations are or which teams are expected to be good and which teams are not.

Remember, nothing about soccer is inherently more complicated than anything you find in American football or basketball — it’s the lack of familiarity that presents the biggest hurdle. To put it in American football terms, you don’t have to know the difference between a 4-3 and a 3-4 defense, you just have to know the difference between the quarterback, the wide receiver, and the defender. Easy, right? Exactly. So let’s break down some broad strokes — which teams are expected to do well, which teams aren’t, how to figure out what’s going on on the field, so on and so forth.