The Minimally Informed Man’s Guide to the World Cup

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - NOVEMBER 29: The World Cup trophy is seen on stage during the Behind the Scenes of the Final Draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup at the Draw hall on November 29, 2017 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Lars Baron - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
 Lars Baron - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

Let’s assume for a moment that you haven’t watched a minute of soccer since the last men’s FIFA World Cup, in 2014. No sweat. Here’s a quick-and-dirty guide to get you up to speed before kickoff.

THE BASICS

Beginning on June 14, 32 teams from across the globe will battle it out in 11 cities across Russia for a chance to claim soccer’s top prize, and the cool $38 million that comes with it. Fox Sports will broadcast the tournament stateside, airing 38 games, for a total of 350 hours of programming, until the championship match on July 15.

THE FRONT-RUNNERS

In October 2017, the United States failed to qualify for the tournament. Bummer, right? Well, since you can’t root for the home team, you’d be wise to pull for Germany, the defending champs who—the entirety of the soccer world pretty much agrees—stand a good chance of becoming the first team to successfully defend the title since 1962, when Pelé led Brazil to a repeat victory. Assuming Germany wins its group, it could face No. 2–ranked Brazil, who’s also expected to advance, in the round of 16—a rematch from the 2014 final. Other top-ranked teams include Spain, France, Argentina, and Belgium.

THE CONTROVERSIES

It wouldn’t be the World Cup if it weren’t rife with scandal. Chief among them is the fact that Russia will, as planned, host the tournament, despite its state-backed doping program, tampering in the U.S. election, supporting the Assad regime, annexing of Crimea, allegedly trying to assassinate a former spy in the U.K., etc. In March, British foreign secretary Boris Johnson publicly criticized Russian president Vladimir Putin, claiming that the autocrat will use the tournament as a “PR exercise,” much as Hitler did with the 1936 Olympics. What’s more, in January, FIFA released a report detailing how Russia and Qatar manipulated the voting system to successfully win bids to host the 2018 and 2022 tournaments, respectively, and people aren’t pleased that Russian officials have had scores of stray dogs killed in the run-up to the event.