SAO PAULO, Brazil — The World Cup is upon us, and for the next month, there will be a significant uptick in the number of folks skipping work, watching games in the break room and wildly mispronouncing Eastern European surnames.
Want to get in on the fun surrounding this quadrennial event that stokes the intensest of passions while doing considerable damage to some countries’ gross domestic products for the month?
Here are some fun facts to get you started:
Let the games begin
The host country, Brazil, will kick off the action against Croatia at 4 p.m. ET Thursday in Sao Paulo. The Brazilian squad is a heavy favorite, but Croatia is no slouch, boasting several stars who play in Europe’s top leagues. Keep an eye on one of them just before kickoff: forward Eduardo da Silva. Born in the slums outside Rio de Janeiro, he now plays for the Croatian national team, and his mother reportedly says he intends to sing both countries’ national anthems.
64 games, like March Madness, but not
There is only one game on the first day of the Cup, but between Thursday and June 26, all 32 teams who qualified will play three games each in what is known as the group stage.
Garnering three points for every win and a point for every tie, the teams will be whittled down to the best 16 — two from each of the eight groups. They will then face off in a do-or-die knockout round beginning June 28. Your March Madness bracket? Yeah, it will look like that, but with a quarter of the teams. The final is July 13.
Only world war can stop it
The World Cup has been held every four years since 1930 with the exception of 1942 and 1946, when it was canceled because of World War II. This will be the 20th World Cup.
It’s the eighth time it’s been held in South or North America and the second time in Brazil, the first one being 64 years ago. Only South American teams have won World Cups held in the New World, and the last South American World Cup was won by Argentina on home soil in 1978.
Speaking of winners
There isn’t much parity to the World Cup. In fact, only eight teams have won it. England, France and defending champion Spain have won it once each. Argentina and Uruguay have won it twice. West Germany has held the trophy aloft three times, Italy has claimed victory four times and Brazil has won it five times. Hmm. Why on Earth do the Brazilians need home-field advantage again?
It’s not all fun and games
Allegations of corruption within world soccer’s governing body, FIFA, and class warfare within the host nation are casting a pall over the Cup, though don’t expect it to dampen fans’ fervor once the teams take the pitch.
Specifically, a key sponsor, Sony, is demanding an investigation into the controversial award of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, and in Brazil, protesters are asking why an emerging nation is spending billions on hosting a football tournament rather than using it to alleviate poverty.