A pitch for the World Cup

So your appetite has been whetted and in case you’ve been living in a cave you know that the World Cup soccer matches are now in full swing. Many local residents are probably still smarting from the failure of the U.S. men’s team to qualify for the biggest sporting event on the planet and are thinking there’s no reason to watch the month-long tournament currently underway in Russia. That would be a mistake.

Viewed by more than 3.5 billion people worldwide—and you thought the Super Bowl was a big deal—the World Cup, held every four years, brings together 32 teams from around the globe to compete for the coveted trophy won in 2014 by Germany in Brazil.

Whether it’s the players’ incredible athleticism, the tourney’s drama or the sheer craziness of the rabid fan base, there are so many reasons to watch. Forget about the annoying time-outs and commercial breaks that dominate American football. Other than the halftime break, players in soccer are in constant motion for the entire 90-minute match.

From the smallest country—Iceland has about 334,000 residents (roughly the size of Simi Valley, T.O. and Ventura combined)—to the largest—Brazil with around 210 million— the qualifying teams are currently in the middle of group stage qualifying.

Each group, determined by a semi-random draw, consists of four teams that will play against each other. The top two teams from each group (determined by a points system based on wins, draws and losses) advance to the knockout stage made up of the 16 remaining teams. Those teams then play in a single-elimination tournament until only two are left.

Favorites to win this year still include Brazil, Spain, France and Germany (even with their stunning opening loss to Mexico). And don’t count out Argentina (Lionel Messi) or Portugal (Cristiano Ronaldo).

For all those soccer coaches and players in Calabasas, Agoura Hills, Oak Park and Westlake Village, these games offer a fantastic opportunity to see the game at its finest. Take note of the positioning of players, the ball movement, the first touches, the dribbling, the set pieces, the different shots on goal and the overall skill level of these incredible athletes. You and your team will be better for it.

So what if you’ve never played or watched a soccer match in your life. It’s an elegant sport and the only one in which a 0-0 result can still be mesmerizing. Even if you’re not that interested in the games, Google the players’ names to learn their back stories (we recommend Paul Pogba, Mohamed Salah and Neymar). The coaches also have interesting resumes: Iceland’s Heimir Hallgrímsson is a part-time dentist. You can even use the World Cup as a chance to brush up on your geography. Can you find Senegal on a map?

Yes, team U.S.A. is out, and America’s best soccer players won’t be playing until the Women’s World Cup in 2019, but we still hope you pull up a seat, enjoy the action and experience the magic when the announcer screems goooooaaaaaaaallllllllll!

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