What a newbie needs to learn about the World Cup from another newbie …

So you want to get in on the action, eh? Me too. Problem is, while I can sit through and enjoy the odd game of soccer (see I messed up already), ahem, football, when there’s bacon around, I don’t know enough to truly comment on anything World Cup related.  Yes, I know how many players are on the field at once and the rules and what not, but what about the more subtle nuances that will help me feel part of the cool football crowd? So here’s my slightly researched attempt at preparing for the World Cup, beginner-styles:

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1.  The big names are the obvious ones

Immediately, I assume that every team that is actually good is going to be from a country I wouldn’t immediately think of when I think football. This is not the case. It’s pretty much the standards. Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Brazil, England (sometimes), etc. So don’t bother cheering for Iran or Japan because you think they’re underdogs (although … see number 2).

2.  Everyone loves an underdog

Of course, we do. We’re Canadian for Pete’s sake, and we’re Torontonian to boot. So if that’s your game your picks should be:

    • Belgium
    • Ivory Coast
    • Uruguay
    • Australia

The best part about these options is they’re all from different continents so you can choose the one you most identify with or the one you want to travel to the most, or the one you just recently visited.  No, I can’t tell you anything specific about these teams. But I hear they’re great, just not the greatest.

3.  No “I” in team … except for these guys

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Balotelli. Ronaldo. Torres.

It’s great to have a favourite team, but what about the actual players, the men.  You can’t just yell “Go Spain” at a TV for two hours now can you? Well, you could, but serious football fans wouldn’t appreciate it very much. So here are a few names (that are incredibly biased) that you can shout until your heart’s content.

  • Spain: Fernando Torres (and he’s a bit of a dreamboat too)
  • Italy: Mario Balotelli (He’s a crazy one to watch: he usually scores and/or gets sent off in the same match. He’s also allergic to grass [not even kidding] and he once set off fireworks in his bathroom, almost causing his house to burn down  [again, not even kidding])
  • Brazil: Neymar (yup, one name, like Madonna)
  • Germany: Phillip Lahm
  • Portugal: Cristiano Ronaldo
  • England: Steven Gerrard
  • Uruguay: Luis Suarez (another crazy one; he’s been known to bite the opposing players)
  • Argentina: Lionel Messi
  • France: Karim Benzema

4. World Cup Moments worth knowing about

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  • Two World Cups ago some French dude, Zinedine Zidane, headbutted an Italian dude, Marco Materazzi and that was kind of a big deal. For all the gory details click here.
  • Last World Cup, I had just returned to working at the Duke of Kent after a stint in Edinburgh and Spain won the tournament. It was a busy day at the pub and I remember the constant horn honking on Yonge Street. That’s why living in Toronto is awesome.
  • A bitter rivalry exists between England and Argentina. In June 1986, these teams met in the quarter finals. Six minutes into the second half, Diego Maradona (arguably one of the best footballers ever) scored using his hand. Following the match he claimed the goal was scored “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God”. Argentina went on to win the match 2-1 and knocked England out of the tournament.
  • One of the saddest stories in World Cup history was the murder of Andrés Escobar. The Colombian scored an own goal in 1994 against the USA, and was shot and killed in his home country two weeks later. One common theory is his own goal caused gambling losses to several high-powered criminals of the time. Technically, this has never been proven. Talk about taking the world’s most popular sport too seriously.
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So you still don’t really know anything about soccer. Yes, ok, I call it soccer. Here’s an easier solution to your football naiveté. Head over to your favourite Duke and saddle up to the bar. Early, so you get a good spot. Ask the person sitting next to you to tell you a bit about the World Cup because you read a silly blog about it and you didn’t learn a thing. They’ll probably tell you a story or share a specific moment that changed their idea of a player or the sport and, in turn, that might change you too. Either way, get out there, make friends and have fun. You’re bound to say something silly but who cares, because when it comes to any sporting event – it’s all about the enthusiasm.