The 2014 World Cup is upon us. Soccer has been a love of mine for a long time. When I was younger, I wanted to play but just never did. I would watch my brother, cheer him on, and then go jump in the pool. Gradually, my brother moved on from soccer, and both our lives were surrounded by chlorine. And that was it for my soccer fandom until the 1999 World Cup happened. When Brandi Chastain ripped off her jersey and skidded to her knees producing the “sports bra” moment, all I could think was “YES!” It’s still one of my favorite moments in sports, and I’m not the only one. Never before had I seen the country rally for a World Cup, and that kind of restarted my fandom. But beyond my knowledge of my brother’s 8-year-old soccer team, I don’t really know how to be a “futbol fan.” So I figured this World Cup, which begins today, June 12th, is the perfect time to change that, so I went straight to the expert. Here’s how you can be a futbol fan from a woman who knows World Cup first hand, two-time World Cup and Olympic Champion Brandi Chastain.
World Cup 101 from Brandi Chastain: 6 Tips To Make You a Futbol Pro
1. Know your lingo.
It’s not mandatory to refer to soccer as “futbol,” but you need to know when to throw in different jargon. Brandi says, “When I am talking to my international friends I use futbol, match and pitch, but if I am with Americans, I still call it soccer, field and game. You have to know whom you are with and that can help bridge any gap immediately.”
2. Don’t keep your eye on the ball.
Although it is what most people focus on, it’s not always about watching the ball. “I realize the field is really big so I get that it is difficult,” says Chastain. “If you are going to watch the ball, try to watch their feet and focus on their balance and agility as it is amazing. If you can broaden your scope, watch the other players because you will then get a better sense of the flow and rhythm of the game. You can tell the style of a team right away when you are watching all the other players. Sometimes you are limited because of the angle of the TV shot, but when the camera gives you a wide angle, widen your perspective.”
3. Watch for Dynamic Duos.
It’s not just about one player in soccer, but about the team and playmaking is key. “Look for players who connect together, like D-Wade and Lebron or Pippen and MJ,” said Chastain. “These duos have an unspoken chemistry that you can actually see. The game then becomes more exciting and electric, as well as easier to follow and understand. For example, don’t miss the USA’s Michael Bradley (center mid) and Clint Dempsey (goal scorer).”
4. Understand the format.
Unlike the best of seven series format of the NBA Finals or the single elimination format of the NCAA Basketball tournament, the World Cup format is completely different. Chastain explains, “This is just like when you were a kid, a round robin, and then you get seeded from there. You play everyone in your first group of 4, and then depending on how many points you scored, the top 2 move on to the next round.” Don’t worry, even Brandi had to double-check how the next round works. After the first round, all you really need to know is that it’s single elimination. In Brandi’s terms: “You win, you move on. You lose, you play golf.”
5. Cheer like it’s a profession.
“It’s hard to explain to my American friends what it’s like to be overseas in a stadium during a World Cup game,” said Chastain. “They (the fans) have an incredible spirit for their team. Singing songs. Historical rivalry. A city is connected to a team, and a country is connected to their National Team.” When asked about her favorite cheers, I assumed Brandi would talk about another country but she said, “The U.S. has been using a cheer that a die-hard group of USA soccer fans called, “The Outlaws” use. It’s basically a chant with these words, “I believe that we will win!” When it comes to general cheering during the game, the most well known one is “Goal” but with an overly extended “OALLLLL” and applauding overall good play. “You will feel it coming. It’s like a big tsunami wave of a cheer. Get swept up in it and show your emotion on either side of the outcome. It is part of what makes soccer so great!”
6. Realize the roster makeup is different.
“You play for your home country during World Cup and Olympic competition, but you can play club for another country’s club league,” describes Chastain. “The majority of the players (minus Spain and Germany) don’t play regularly for club teams in the country where they were born! So there are two sets of fans, some cheering for players ten months a year and others cheering for them just during the World Cup or other international tournaments.” Lets use Cristiano Ronaldo for an example: he is from Portugal, but he is a star player for Real Madrid in Spain, where he is beloved like no other. But in the World Cup, he could play against his adoring Spanish fans. He could win the Cup for Portugal and then go back to Spain for his pro season.”
** Bonus Tip: Learn these names.
A couple of players are so awesome they only need one name. Neymar, the big player from his home country of Brazil; Ronaldo, loved by Spain during the pro-schedule, by Portugal during World Cup, and by most women all year long; Bernard, the Brazilian winger; and Koke, midfielder from Spain.
The LOVE and passion that soccer fans around the world have for their sport is off the charts. Brandi tried to describe it, saying “Their lives are directly affected by the futbol play on the field, and the outcome can be either devastating or incredibly uplifting! Take a team like Sunderland (from Britain). It’s a working class, blue-collar city, and when they won several games in the Premiere league, it was like everyone won the lottery because they didn’t move down to the first division. Survival at the top level for the smaller named clubs is an every week battle, one that their cities cheer for from the depths of their soul. The difference between safety and relegation is quite literally tens of millions if not hundreds of millions of dollars. So each game matters.”
When I asked Brandi how she feels when people remark about that amazing moment back in 1999 when the weight of the championship was on her shoulders, she said, “ I love talking about our team and our run through the World Cup, but it was so much more because it was a life-long journey to get there.” I can only imagine that the magnitude of that moment must have been incredible. There really is no other true international professional competition like the World Cup. The Olympic Games are obviously my favorite, but the passion behind this one single sport for one single trophy is truly remarkable. One month. One planet. One team. One trophy.
Hop onto the World Cup train my friends, it’s going to be a spectacular ride!
*For the 2014 World Cup, Brandi will be working with Johnson & Johnson, which is the first healthcare sponsor of the World Cup.
Featured image courtesy of Flicker.