As the crowning jewel in the world’s most popular sport, the FIFA World Cup has drawn literally billions of viewers every four years. And now that the U.S. national team is a respectable entrant, a contender even, Americans are taking notice like never before. In fact, the U.S.A. Portugal tie last week drew 18.22 million American viewers on ESPN, the most ever for a soccer game. So while you’re bushing up on your soccer-ese to hold your own in World Cup conversations, here are some things you might not know about the huge competition:
1. Don’t be bullied into calling it “football,” You’re not the only one calling it Soccer
While it is true that most of the world calls soccer football (or their language’s version of football), you can call it soccer proudly. It’s not just the U.S. that calls the game soccer, it’s also Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Japan, South Africa and some of its neighbors and much of the South Pacific. And the reason for that is the British. Back in the 18th century, British immigrants and colonizers in many countries brought with them two games they called football — soccer and rubgy. To make the distinction, the kind of football they play in the World Cup was called association football, which was later shortened to soccer. Oddly, the Brits went back to calling soccer football, but their former colonies developed other games they called football, so they stuck with soccer.
2. brazil is the only team to have competed in every world cup , and they lead the world with five wins
Brazil, the hosts, is the only team to have played in every World Cup, and lead the world with five wins. In the 1950 World Cup, Brazil met Uruguay in a knockout match, and to the shock of millions, Uruguay won 2-1. One of the most surprised was FIFA president Jules Rimet; who had only prepared his congratulatory speech in Portuguese (the dominant language of Brazil), and not Spanish (which they speak in Uruguay). With nothing to say, Rimet simply called over Uruguay captain Obdulio Varela and handed him the trophy. The following day, Brazilian media refused to print or broadcast details of the game, because none of them believed their team could have lost. Later, when they came around, they also reported on an increase in suicides immediately after the game.
3. The World Cup inspires dumb, nationalist slogans like Australia’s “Socceroos: hopping our way into history!”
For this World Cup, FIFA held a competition that allowed fans to choose their team’s slogan. The results were varied. Some were just plain ridiculous — like Australia’s “Socceroos: Hopping our way into history!,” some were mundane — Argentina’s “Not just a team, we’re a country” — and many were beer commercial style — like the Netherlands’ “Real men wear orange.” Belgium’s “Expect the impossible!” showed how little faith their fans had, and France’s “Impossible is not a French word” is an outright lie (it’s even spelled the same). The American slogan is typically Hollywood via Madison Avenue, “United by team, driven by passion;” but our favorite has to be South Korea’s. While other countries are almost guaranteeing win, the Koreans just want their players (the Red Devils) to have a good time, and they went with — “Enjoy it, Reds.”
4. Brazil’s Ronaldo and Germany’s Miroslav Klose are the all time leading World Cup scorers with 15 each
Americans are often surprised at how little scoring goes on in World Cup games, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some celebrated scoring specialists. The all-time scoring leaders in World Cup history are Brazil’s Ronaldo and Germany’s Miroslav Klose with 15 each. The top American is Landon Donovan with five, but Clint Dempsey is close with four, including two already in 2014, and has a long career ahead of him. Still, they pale compared to Russia’s Oleg Salenko, who scored five goals in one game against Cameroon in 2004 and potted another against Sweden in the same World Cup. It was the highlight of an otherwise unspectacular career. France’s Just Fontaine scored 13 at one World Cup, 1958. And he had a far more impressive career than Salenko.
5. The original World Cup trophy is no more
The first World Cup trophy was a gold statue of Nike, the Greek goddess of victory. It was originally called Victory, but was renamed the Jules Rimet Trophy in 1946 to honor FIFA’s influential president (while he was still serving). But when Brazil won its third World Cup in 1970, the rules allowed it to keep the trophy, rather than pass it on to the next winner. Although it was protected in a case with bullet-proof glass, the Brazilians hadn’t been all that careful, and thieves in 1983 managed to pry the back of the case off with a crowbar and make off with the trophy. It was never recovered, and Brazilian authorities believe it was melted down for its gold. A newly designed trophy, the one they use today, was first presented at the next World Cup in 1974.
6. The World Cup trophy made a dog named Pickles a national hero
The World Cup trophy had been stolen once before it ended up in Brazil. After England won the Cup in 1966, they proudly displayed it all over the nation. At Westminster’s Central Hall, during a church service, the cup was stolen. And the explanation of the crime was something only the English would come up with — “Nothing at all went wrong with our security,” an official told reporters. “The Cup just got stolen.” Later, a man named David Corbett was walking his dog, Pickles, in suburban Upper Norwood when the black-and-white pup found an object wrapped in old newspapers under a hedge. It was the Cup. Finding the missing trophy not only won Pickles national fame, but a year’s supply of premium dog food and appearances in several films at twice the normal pay rate for dogs.
7. World Cup winners tend to be “home teams”
Besides the obvious economic benefits, the host nation (or nations because sometimes it’s shared) qualifies automatically, no matter how bad they are — we’re looking at you, North Korea. And host nations have won six world Cups, including Uruguay in 1930, Italy in 1934, England in 1966, Germany (or at least West Germany) in 1974, Argentina in 1978 and France in 1998. And it even pays to be a neighbor sometimes. All four World Cups played in South America (1930, 1950, 1962 and 1978) have been won by teams from South America.
8. Major upsets are just part of the program, people
Watching defending champ Spain go down in flames this year shocked many, but it was hardly the biggest upset in World Cup history. The world was still reeling from the Second World War in 1950, and Germany, Japan and the Soviet-dominated countries did not participate in the World Cup in Brazil. England looked like a superpower, the team to beat. But 10,000 or so people watched (the Cup wasn’t televised until 1954) as America’s Joe Gaetjens (on loan from his native Haiti) scored in the 39th minute to beat the Brits, and prevent them from moving onto the next stage.
But the biggest upset of all time came in 1966 when the North Koreans stunned Italy 1-0, knocking them out. That win sent them and the Soviet Union to the next round. North Korea looked like they had became giant killers when they stepped out to a 3-0 lead over Portugal, but the Portuguese came thundering back to win 5-3. North Korea hasn’t done much since (at least as far as soccer is concerned), but you have to hand it to them for being the first team from outside Europe or the Americas to make it out of the first round. It wouldn’t happen again until Morocco advanced in 1986.
9. Good luck beating Germany in a shootout – they’ve never lost
Ties in elimination games are decided by shootouts — the teams’ best players take penalty shots and whoever makes the most wins. It’s kind of like watching Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson throwing balls through a hoop to decide the Super Bowl, but it works for them. Or at least, some of them. The Germans have been in four World Cup shootouts and won them all. By contrast, their English rivals have won just one of three.
10. “Weird” and “lame” don’t even begin to describe just how bad the World Cup mascots have been
The first World Cup mascot was World Cup Willie, a lion with a Union Jack jersey who debuted at the 1966 Cup in England. Considering that “willie” is a bit of nasty slang in England, it’s almost funny. He was followed in 1970 by Juanito, a little boy in a sombrero who represented Mexico. West Germany topped that in 1974 with two little boys, Tip and Tap, but they didn’t have any special hats or anything. Argentina kept up the boy thing with Gauchito, a kid dressed like a South American cowboy.
In 1982, Spain broke the chain with an orange named Naranjito (little orange). Mexico got to host again in 1986 and this time used an anthropomorphic chili pepper named Pique as a mascot. Italy kind of dropped the ball effort-wise in 1990 with a stick figure named Ciao. The U.S, actually did okay in 1994 with a dog named Striker the World Cup Pup handling mascot duties. France confused the world with a chicken named Footix in 1998, and Japan and both Koreas came up with three “futuristic characters” named Ato, Kaz and Nik in 2002. In 2006, Germany stole England’s idea and brought out a lion named Goleo, and gave him a sidekick — a talking soccer ball named Pille. South Africa did okay in 2010 with a leopard named Kazumi (even though he was green), and, finally, Brazil gave us an environmentally conscious armadillo named Fuleco. So it you’re counting, it’s four boys, two foods, five animals and three of whatever the hell Ato, Kaz and Nik were. Oh, and Pille.
11. Due to popular demand, FIFA is considering expanding the number of first round teams for the 2018 World Cup
Over the years, 83 different countries have participated in the World Cup. Although, to be honest, many of them are just renamed versions of old countries like Zaire, East and West Germany, the Soviet Union and the Dutch East Indies. Because of the global desire to get into the Cup, FIFA is considering expanding the first round from 32 teams to 40 for 2018. Expect to see a lot of bad play. Before this Cup, first timers have only gotten out of the first round six times in 22 attempts.
12. If you think biting another player is bad, wait until you hear what happened in 1962
As we’ve already seen in this World Cup, it’s a player-bite-player world on the soccer pitch. But it gets worse. When Chile hosted in 1962, it was still recovering from the biggest earthquake in recorded history. Not very compassionate, two Italian journalists wrote about what a dump the place was and what a bunch of yahoos the locals were. Their articles were reprinted in Chilean papers and the bad blood was on. Italians, and people the locals mistook for Italians, were jeered, abused and beaten up. The first foul came 12 seconds into the match. English ref Ken Aston tried to take control and when Italian Giorgio Ferrini blatantly fouled Chile’s Honorino Landa, he ejected him.
If only it were that easy. Ferrini wouldn’t leave and was eventually grabbed and pulled, kicking and screaming, off the pitch by Chilean cops. It got worse, Landa punched an Italian in full view of Aston, but the ref let it go. He allowed another punch by Chile’s Leonel Sánchez to Italy’s Mario David, after Sanchez had been fouled by David. Naturally David booted Sanchez in the face as soon as he could. That Aston could not ignore, and he sent David off. Sanchez, still seething, sent a nasty left to Italian Humberto Maschio, which broke his nose. That was it for Aston, who acted like a WWE ref from then on out. The cops did return to the pitch three more times, though, to keep things from getting out of hand. Chile won 2-0, but that didn’t matter much. The real reason everyone remembers the Battle of Santiago, as the game came to be known, was that it was the inspiration for the red and yellow disciplinary cards used today. There was also a 1969 war between Honduras and El Salvador over a soccer game that cost 3,000 lives, but that wasn’t at the World Cup.