I am ready for the World Cup to rock and roll because I spent the whole year watching the English Premier League, a conglomeration of some of the greatest stars in the game. That doesn't make me an expert, but I did sleep in a Holiday Inn Express last night, and I learned a few things about football along the way.
Herewith, in no particular order, are a few bits of tid that might help the completely ignorant become merely uninformed.
- Side. A side is a team. There is one "I" in side.
- Pitch. The pitch is the playing field.
- Match. The name for a game.
- Fixture. A fixture is a game--or more likely, the latest match in a longstanding rivalry.
- Pace. Speed--a player with pace is fast.
- Set piece. This is a corner kick on the endline or a free kick within striking distance of the goal.
- Penalty Kick. A penalty in the 18-yard box in front of the goalkeeper produces a penalty. The offensive side can choose any of it players on the field to take the free kick from eight yards out. Goalkeepers invariably guess wrong, but making or missing a penalty kick is a huge momentum-changing event in a match.
- Shootout. After the first round, the matches will be decided on alternating penalty kicks taken by the players on the field in an order determined by the coach.
- Wall. Goalkeepers set up a wall of their own players side-by-side such that they cover one side of the goal; the keeper is invariably in charge of covering the other side.
- Challenge. In soccer-speak this is a "tackle." A challenge happens when someone without the ball challenges and goes after the ball. A "clumsy" challenge--or, my favorite, a "cynical" one--can yield a yellow or red card.
- Yellow and Red Cards. One yellow card, raised above the referee's head with the offending player present, is a warning. A second yellow card is an automatic red card and you are ejected from the game, forcing your team to play at a one-man disadvantage. A particularly egregious challenge can produce banishment for a player with a red card. The act of taking a player down to prevent a sure goal also produces a red card and the old heave-ho. Red cards are massive, monumental events in any match.
- Stoppage time. This is crucial, a kind of mini-overtime. Football is played in two halfs of 45 minutes each running time, with no commercial interruption, but if there are injuries or other untoward delays, the referee keeps track of the time the ball is not in play for these reasons and adds it to the end of matches. Three or four minutes of stoppage time is typical, and many is the fixture is decided after regulation time has run out.
- Substitutes. Each team is allowed only three per game, magnifying their importance immeasurably. In particular, look for strikers with pace like Hercules Gomes of the United States to be inserted about twenty minutes in to the second half. A late sub of produces dramatic results.
- Referee and Assistants. The referee is the czar of the match and makes all significant decisions, particularly the issuance of yellow and red cards. The Assistants can assist in calls but their main function is to call offsides and award possession when a bal goes out of bounds.
- Offsides. Far and away the most significant call in soccer other than a red card or penalty kick. Offensive players must be no more than even with defenders when the ball is struck by a teammate behind them. The referee's assistant makes these calls and they will determine the winner in more games than you count. Defenders are always trying to draw offsides by moving up the pitch, but the tactic frequently backfires, particularly when the official misses the call. If there was ever an argument for instant replay in soccer, this is it.
- "He did well." This phrase, repeated over and over again, is the equivalent of "nice play" in sportstalk. "He did very well" is a way of saying that was probably a great play. I am so sick of this phrase emanating from the lips of lead ESPN analyst John Harkes I might kick the screen, high-def be damned.
So that's it. Understand the language and at least you won't be deaf to the biggest athletic event in the world. Let me know if I did well.