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World Cup Primer

A Layman's Guide
to the Games

For Americans not indoctrinated in the ways of international soccer—which is to say, the vast majority of them—the arrival of the World Cup is a bit like crashing a party: Strangers are getting wildly excited and you're not exactly sure what to do with yourself. Fear not, the World Cup is a simple pleasure (unless you're an England supporter), just watch the pitch-perfect Nike ad that sets the riotous tone for the month-long tournament. The same ground rules apply as they would in any sport: beer is welcome, and avoid anybody in face paint.

In most countries, the team manager is a national figure viewed with curiosity and intrigue, like a disgraced cabinet minister or Pamela Anderson's husband. In America, more people could name their old gym teacher than skipper Bob Bradley. Anonymity, however, does not mean lack of success, and the US boys have something they've never taken into a World Cup before—expectations. Regardless of what happens in their highly anticipated match against England on Saturday, the yanks should beat Slovenia and Algeria and advance to the knock-out round, something they've rarely done before. This is the year: they're physical, direct, and veterans Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan should see them through. Once they're in the deep end, a trip to the quarterfinals would be a serious accomplishment, the semis would be historic, and we can't even speculate beyond that.

Need a Clinic In How to Play?

Watch Spain. No country is playing better—they do everything with purpose and flair, and make it all look easy. Their midfield is absurdly good, led by Xabi Alonso, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas. They control the tempo before delivering incisive passes to strikers like Fernando Torres (pictured) who know how to finish. They're the tournament favorites and deservedly so.

The Best Player In the World?

That would be Argentina's Lionel Messi, though you wouldn't guess it from his appearance. He's short, stocky and looks like your little brother's best friend. Underestimate him at your peril. His goals defy explanation: he's why they invented Youtube.

Who Should You Watch?

England never lives up to the glory they deserve in their own minds—they're pathologically incapable of winning a shoot-out. Wayne Rooney (pictured) may look like a hooligan,  but he's one of the world's most dynamic players. A visionary passer with a wonderful sense of the game. Can he do it alone? With an uncertain back line, it's an uphill battle for Fabio Capello's men and more misery for the old country.


No African side has ever made it to the semi-finals, and this year, with the tournament in South Africa, that Cinderella story would be even more compelling. This year's class act is Ivory Coast, though their imposing striker, the marvelous Didier Drogba, may be out with an injury. So what did Ivory Coast, the hope of a continent, get as their reward? A place in the group of death, with Brazil and Portugal. It's a tough road for one of the most popular teams in the tournament.

It's true that some first-round games begin at 7:30 a.m., a dicey proposition. That just means you need a bar that serves Radeberger, a fine morning pilsner. Ultimately, soccer makes the case for itself: it's an intuitive game, direct, physical, continuous. So clear your schedule and take the plunge. Good luck lads, the next round's on us.


Download the Cup's official match schedule.


TV channels broadcasting the games to more than 200 countries.

Where to Watch

GQ offers up the best "soccercentric" bars.



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