The Non-Soccer Fan's Guide to the World Cup

World Cup fever is kicking in! The world’s biggest tournament begins Thursday in Russia, and whether you are watching for what’s happening on the pitch or the sidelines, there is a lot to love.

If you’re still learning the rules of the game and want to sound like you know what you’re talking about, this is the blog for you! Here’s a basic guide to the 2018 Russia World Cup. We’ll give you everything you need to understand the “how” and “why.” (Your beverage and snack of choice are up to you!).

Why should you watch the World Cup?

If you are not a soccer fanatic, maybe you are wondering if you should even watch. Here are five decidedly non-soccer-y reasons you should:

  • The World Cup is always one big party and the pre-game festivities are just part of it.
  • Emotions! If you want to see a grown man cry over losing a game, tune in. The players wait four years for the occasion, so it’s easy to understand why each game is a big deal.
  • Rolling around on the ground and diving like a fish out of water are just parts of the game. (You can chant “she fell over” and you will fit right in.)
  • Everyone’s hair is perfect. No, really! Many players will look as if they haven’t even played a game.
  • Refereeing decisions are made between four officials with no technological help – just four officials, a whistle, a yellow card and a red card.

How do teams qualify for the World Cup?

If you are the host nation, you qualify automatically. (2018’s host is Russia.) For everyone else, it is a two-year process of other tournaments and matches. The six confederations that make up qualifying for the World Cup all have Round Robin tournaments throughout the two-year period. Thirty-two teams qualify with each confederation getting a certain number of spots; Africa 5, Asia 4.5, Europe 13, North/Central America and Caribbean 3.5, Oceania 0.5, South America 4.5.

The rules

Here are some rules and keywords that you will need to follow along and sound like you know what you’re talking about with your friends and coworkers.

  • Kit – Soccer uniform, including jersey, shorts and socks
  • Added time/stoppage time – There aren’t time-outs, so this is time added to the end of the match to make up for fouls, delays, injuries and rolling around on the ground.
  • Yellow card – A penalty for being naughty; if you get two, you are gone for the game
  • Red card – A serious penalty. The player must leave the field and return to the dressing room for the rest of the match.
  • Side – This is another word for team. Don’t get it confused with “off-side” which is a penalty that means you are nearer to the opponents’ goal than the ball, or the second to last player
  • Clean sheet – You didn’t get scored on!
  • Group of death – The teams are grouped for the first round of play, and just two advance to the next round. A group that has 3 strong teams gets this nickname.
  • Parking the bus – Defending like your life is on the line and putting all your players behind the ball


Pro tip

The World Cup is NOT the Olympics and will NEVER be the Olympics, so do not try and compare the two when discussing with a soccer fanatic. The Olympics features amateurs, meaning nearly all the players should be under 23 years old and are not allowed to have sponsors. However, for the World Cup, the 23-man roster has no age limits and no stipulations. This means the most famous and popular players are usually not able to compete in the Olympics, but will we be stars in the World Cup.

Finally, you need a team to support. Typically, the favorites are Germany and Brazil. But if you want a long shot, maybe consider supporting Panama or Saudi Arabia. If you are wondering about the United States (or Italy and Holland), well, they didn’t qualify. They’ll try again for 2022!

Catch all the action on FOX and FOX Sports!

Article written by Jessica Baynton

Jessica Baynton
After 3 year of coaching nationally-ranked private high school soccer teams, Jess moved into a career in sports marketing and now shares the story of WorldStrides' Excel division. During her spare time, you'll often still find her on the sidelines of a soccer game, or watching sports, traveling, and learning about people and culture.