Tuesday, March 8, 2011

World Cup

World Cup

The FIFA World Cup is a competition held once every four years between the best football players in the world. There have been 18 tournaments held since the first one in 1930. The World Cup has been played every four years since that date. The tournament was not played in 1942 and 1946 because of World War II. The actual tournament itself goes on for almost the entirety of the 4 years in between the finals. This time period is broken into two parts, the qualifications and the finals. The World Cup could be the most popular event in the world, with estimates of over 700 million people watching the 2006 final. Each tournament has a different location for the finals with 2006 taking place in Germany and the 2010 finals set to take place in South Africa. In order to understand just how big the tournament is one needs to look at how the teams are selected, how the players are chosen for those teams, and how the finals are played out.

World Cup Qualifying

The current qualification round has evolved dramatically from the early days of the world cup. The initial tournament was for 13 teams and was done by invitation only. Currently there is a 2-3 year qualification process with strict rules and guidelines. The world is broken into six FIFA zones – Africa, Asia, North America (combining North America, Central America, and the Caribbean), South America, Oceanica, and Europe. These zones are broken up to pare down the over 200 entrants to the 32 finalists. For each tournament the different continental zones will receive a number of spots to award to their top teams. The only team to receive and automatic berth is the one from the hosting country. This new rule is a departure from the old standard where the defending champion was also given a free ride. That practice stopped as of the 2006 tournament.

In addition to this there are some regions that are awarded a half a spot. These half spots are awarded to the winner of an intercontinental play off. This play off is done by playing two matches, one at home and one away. The winner is the team that scores a greater number of net goals with away goal rules being applicable. If this still results in a tie, the match goes to extra time and then a penalty shootout.
The current break down of the World Cup is as follows: Europe has thirteen berths, Africa has five berths plus the host South Africa, Asia has four berths with a fifth berth being awarded to the winner of an international playoff between the Oceania region and Asia. South America is awarded four berths and North and Central America get three berths. There is one additional berth of the winner of a South and North American playoff. These numbers have varied slightly between different tournaments but for the most part have stayed the same. Each of the different regions has a different qualification process. Generally speaking all the countries will field a national team which is placed into one of several brackets that play during the years prior to the World Cup. Some regions will have preliminary rounds to weed the teams down even further before they enter a final playoff for the berths spots.

As you can simply qualifying is a tremendous honour for most countries. With no spots being guaranteed the national teams need to not only play in most qualifying rounds, they need to play well. The top players can not simply skip out on the qualifiers and join their national teams for the finals. Getting your country into the World Cup and playing on the national team is a long term commitment and one that most players value very highly.

The World Cup Finals

Once the 32 qualifying teams have been chosen the actual World Cup Final can begin. The actual finals take approximately one month to complete and all the Finals matches are held in the hosting country. Seven different countries have held the World Cup Trophy with Brazil winning it the most times. The have lofted the trophy five times, next is Italy, the current champions, with four followed by Germany with three. The four next champions are Argentina with two, then France, England, and the inaugural winners Argentina with one trophy each.

The final tournament begins with the group stage. In this part each of the teams are put into eight groups of four. The top eight teams are seeded and placed in different groups. After this all the other teams are assigned to a pot and those 8 pots paired with one of the seeded teams. This draw is random. There has been a system in place since 1998 that makes sure that no group has more then two European teams as well as only one team from the other FIFA Zones. This ensures the most diverse competition in the group stage. Each group plays each other once with the two best teams from each group advancing to the knockout round. In order to determine the group winner, three points are given for a win, one point for a tie, and no points for a loss. If two teams in a group wind up with the same point total the first tiebreaker is goal difference.
After the group stage is done, the knockout stage begins. This is a straight forward single elimination tournament with teams being seeded based on the final position in the group. The first round matches feature the winners from each group playing the second place finishers from another group. Each match has extra time and penalty shootouts if needed. Once this has been completed the last team standing is crowned the champions.

As you can see the four year journey to become World Cup champion is a long and arduous road. Only the strongest and best teams will be able to endure this path, and in some cases the best teams still may not be able to make it to the end. The drama and play of the world cup is second to none in all of football, and because of this it reigns as the most watched sporting event in the world.

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