Soccer Articles

Soccer, or Association Football, is unequivocally the most popular sport on the planet. The sport has an estimated fanbase of three and a half to four billion people globally (roughly half the human population) and is the most popular sport in most countries. The game’s origins go back a couple of thousand years, but the modern sport that is played today began in England, where the first set of rules was decided upon in 1863. Since then, the sport has undergone multiple stages of development, expansion, and commercialization and is now played by approximately 250 million people around the world.

Today, the sport consists of multiple leagues around the world. Most countries have their own internal league system through which teams in that country compete against each other. There are also continental tournaments in which the best teams in various countries compete against each other. Soccer is played internationally as well. The best players from each country come together to represent their national team in various competitions, including the World Cup, the most popular single-sport sporting event in the world. International games and tournaments often occur during the summer when most leagues have finished or during weeks in the season when teams don’t have matches.

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Worldwide Organization of the Sport

Professional soccer is organized and governed by FIFA, which stands for the French translation of the International Federation of Association Football. FIFA governs all 211 national soccer associations and, in turn, oversees all of the club teams within each nation’s soccer association. These national associations then make up the six soccer confederations, the continental governing bodies of FIFA. The six confederations are the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), the Confederation of African Football (AFC), the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF), the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL), the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), and the Oceania Football Association (OFC).

Now, in terms of the number of individual club teams that FIFA actually oversees, there are truly too many to count. In other words, each one of the 211 national soccer associations has its own league system, which often includes multiple tiers that allow for fluidity between them via promotion and relegation. For example, in England, the top flight league consists of 20 teams. In the three leagues below that league, there are a total of 72 teams. Below those leagues, there are a seemingly infinite number of semi-professional and amateur leagues that a separate English soccer system governs but that still feeds teams into the higher leagues via promotion. So, although there are only 92 club teams that UEFA, and, in turn, FIFA, directly governs in England, the teams themselves are always changing due to promotion and relegation. This, however, is only England. Every national association, from Angola to Laos to Bonaire to Samoa, has its own system with multiple leagues and/or tiers and, thus, a sizable number of individual clubs.

Competitions, Awards, Teams & Players

Each confederation has a similar setup of tournaments in which teams participate as well as awards for which teams and players can contend. The best teams in each of the national associations within a confederation will come together in a tournament each year often known as the Champions League/Cup. Each confederation’s winner will then enter the FIFA Club World Cup, in which the best team in each confederation compete to be the best team in the world.

The top awards for an individual player are the Best FIFA Men’s/Women’s Player and the Ballon d’Or, two accolades that are voted on and presented at the end of each calendar year. Confederations, leagues, and even teams often have their own individual awards as well.

The best teams and players in the world are considered to play in Europe. These teams include Real Madrid CF, FC Barcelona, Atlético Madrid, Liverpool FC, Manchester City FC, Manchester United FC, Chelsea FC, FC Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Juventus FC, and Paris Saint-Germain FC. The two best players in the world today are Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, who have held the title for the last decade.

Matches & Leagues

A soccer match lasts for roughly 90 minutes and is divided into two 45-minute halves. There is a 15-minute intermission called halftime between the two halves during which players can rest and coaches can discuss tactics.

Both teams can have at most eleven players on the field, totaling up to 22 players at any given time. There is also a referee on the field who manages fouls and misconduct during the game. Two assistant referees cover either sideline to indicate when the ball goes out of play and which team gets possession.

Coaches can make up to three substitutions per match and are only allowed to stand in a specified “technical area” to coach their players from the sideline. Bench players, the rest of the coaching staff, and medical personnel also reside on the sideline during games.

Since the clock never stops running during a soccer match, matches often go on for slightly longer than 90 minutes due to “added time,” which is the time at the end of either half that referees add on to make up for stoppages in play during the game.

Other than that, the team with more goals at the end of the game wins. League games are allowed to end in draws, while cup competitions require games to be replayed at a later date or to continue into extra time and/or a penalty shootout. Cup competitions, or ties, also often have two legs so that teams can play each other in both teams’ stadiums. The winner of the tie is then determined based on the aggregate score of the two legs. If the aggregate score is a draw, the team with more away goals often advances. If those are equal as well, the second match goes into extra time and possibly penalties.

In league play, a team gets three points for winning, one point for drawing, and no points for losing. Each team plays every other team twice, once at home and once away. The total number of points that each team has at the end of the season then determines the winner of the league or which teams will take part in an additional playoff bracket.

Larger tournaments may also have group stages. In a group stage, there will be multiple groups of teams, and teams will play the other teams in their group. Group stages use the point system, and the top teams in each group will move on to the knockout rounds that no longer use the point system and are either single elimination or a two-legged tie.

To learn more about the rules of the game, check out Soccer 101 Beginner’s Guide: How Soccer Works.

Global Audience

A big reason why the game became so popular is television. Soccer is broadcast around the world on various networks so that anyone anywhere can tune in to see their favorite team play from across the globe. In fact, the most popular teams actually have hundreds of millions of fans worldwide.

Television broadcasting is specifically the main reason why the United States has started to pay more attention to the world’s sport. Many young adults grew up watching soccer on television, and even more teenagers and children are growing up watching it on tv now.

Soccer will only continue to expand, and although the U.S. may be a little late to the party, it certainly is a great time to be a soccer fan.

Soccer FAQs

What is soccer?

Soccer is a game played by two teams with the objective of getting a ball into the opponent’s goal. Players cannot touch the ball with their hands or arms and, therefore, kick the ball to try to score, while also working to prevent the ball from entering their own goal.

Why do people call soccer “football/futbol” in other countries?

The official name of the sport is actually association football, which originated in England. While most countries shortened the phrase to football over time, the United States adopted the word “soccer” instead, a British slang term that comes from the word “association.”

What is the best soccer team in the world?

There are multiple candidates for the best soccer team in the world, including Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Bayern Munich. Currently, however, Liverpool is the best team in the world, as it is the most recent team to win the UEFA Champions League and the FIFA Club World Cup.

Who is the best soccer player in the world?

The best soccer player in the world is either Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. Messi and Ronaldo have been competing for the top spot for over a decade and are also widely considered to be the two best players of all time.

Which country is the best at soccer?

The best national teams in the world include Belgium, France, Brazil, and England. France is currently the World Cup champion, having beaten Croatia in the final in 2018. Before that, Germany lifted the trophy in 2014, Spain lifted it in 2010, and Italy won in 2006.

Is the United States national team any good at soccer?

The U.S. national team didn’t qualify for the 2018 World Cup, but it does look promising going forward. There are many young and talented players on the team that will hopefully help the U.S. qualify for the next World Cup in 2022. The U.S. has never won the World Cup.

Why is soccer so popular?

Soccer is an easy game to play, for it can be played anywhere and doesn’t requires much. For this reason, it spread across the world, and people formed teams wherever they were. The localization of these teams then fueled PASSION among people for their local club and the sport overall.