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Comments by YACCS
Thursday, June 08, 2006

Soccer basics

REUTERS/Felix Ordonez

OK, I know there's a lot of soccer talk here, but to a lot of people, it goes over their heads.

Here's a one minute guide to the game

Be a soccer know-it-all

You, too, can have a ball and get
your kicks from the World Cup


As with the Fahrenheit system and deposing Third World dictators on a whim, Americans have always insisted on doing things their way. No surprise, then, that we insist on calling it "soccer," while almost everyone else calls it "football." Americans who refer to it as "football" do so at the risk of sounding pretentious.

Like American football, each soccer team fields 11 players. The basic setup is two forwards, four midfielders, four defenders and one goalkeeper — the only player allowed to touch the ball with his hands. Depending on position, players are supposed to attack the opponent's territory or defend their own; sometimes, they do both. While it doesn't say so in the rule book, players are also supposed to celebrate each goal like they just won the lottery.

At first glance, soccer looks like a bunch of skinny guys in shorts kicking a ball up and down a field and scoring about as often as the school nerd at the senior prom. But look closely: Soccer is a game of skill, finesse and strategy, with players constantly dribbling (moving the ball past an opponent with their feet) and passing to get a clear shot at the net. Think basketball, except the nets are way bigger and the players much smaller.

The object is to get the ball past the goalkeeper and into the net, with each goal counting as one point. Defense, however, is an essential part of the game, meaning a final score of 1-0 or 2-1 is typical. Unless you want to demonstrate your lack of soccer-savviness, don't act bored by the lack of points. Like an old-fashioned pitchers' duel in baseball, a low-scoring, well-defended game is soccer at its purest.

As opposed to American football, which consists of three seconds of bone-crunching action followed by three minutes of beer commercials, soccer is pretty much nonstop. Games are played in two halves of 45 minutes each, with a 15-minute break in between. There are timeouts only for injuries, player substitutions and fouls, so try to save your bathroom break for after the game.


Hockey sends its naughty players to the penalty box for several minutes — sort of like a child's timeout, except it's for toothless goons. Soccer referees have a unique way of dealing with such fouls as tripping, tackling or holding an opponent: They flash colored cards. Yellow means be mellow — you've been warned. Red, however, means you're dead — instant ejection. In baseball, it's called "an early shower." In soccer parlance, you've been "given your marching orders."

Wherever you end up watching a game, the following advice could save your life: Never get a soccer fan mad. They're passionate about the game — and they've been known to riot in the stands and storm the field when their team loses. They sometimes kill players, too — a member of the Colombian team was shot dead a week after the 1994 Cup by an angry fan. The reason? Colombia lost a game after the player accidently kicked the ball into his own net.

While in public, never, ever celebrate the scoring of a goal by screaming "goooooooaaaaaaaallllll!" until you pass out from lack of oxygen. Spanish-language sportscaster Andrés Cantor may have made it his signature call, but it was only cool the first thousand times he did it.

One point about football. Americans do call it soccer, officially and colloquially, so my habit is to talk about soccer when discussing the American game. But I call it football when talking to Europeans or about the non-American game, otherwise, they think you mean the NFL.

posted by Steve @ 12:13:00 AM

12:13:00 AM

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