Soccer World Cup Cheat Sheet: Understanding the Tournament

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As the world’s professional soccer seasons draw to a close, the countdown to the World Cup is well underway. Between June 12 and July 13, thirty-two teams representing thirty-two countries will descend upon pitches across Brazil, playing for the chance to enter the final and walk away the winners. Since December, when the draw was held, the placement of the teams who qualified has been known, but where does the road to the gold lead from here, and who is represented?



From the qualifying stage: thirteen European teams; five from Africa; four from the Caribbean, Central and North America; five Latin American teams; and four from Asia emerged victorious. As the host country, Brazil was automatically guaranteed a spot. The draw took these thirty-two teams and divided them into eight groups of four for the final part of the competition. The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) is the governing body for soccer, and in its regulations for the World Cup explains how the tournament plays out. Essentially, following the progress in theory means keeping track of a lot of numbers and repetitive letters. But once you have it sorted out, everything clicks into place.

Over three days, all of the teams in each group play each other once in what is known as the Group Stage of competition. The groups are classified A through H, and have numeric classifications within the groups. For example, the U.S. is in Group G (along with Germany, Portugal, and Ghana), at the fourth slot, G4. The numbers assigned to the countries don’t matter too much at this point. It mattered more when filling the groups out after the qualifying rounds. The top ranked teams, based on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Cup Ranking, took the first seeds within each group. The remaining three seeds within each were filled at random. Teams from the same qualification zone could not be placed in the same group unless they were a European team. In that case, a maximum of two European teams could be placed in the same group.

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