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The Ultimate Guide to the World Cup

It may be hard to notice if you are a U.S. American, but soccer (or football, as the rest of the world calls it) is the most beloved sport on this Earth. While the rest of the world is glued to their TV screens every time the World Cup comes around, U.S. Americans have only over the course of the past decade or so started to pay attention to the international force that this tournament conjures.

If you are a newbie who has not yet caught footie fever, you may be wondering what all the fuss is about. In order to get you ramped up for what could be the trip of a lifetime to see the World Cup in Qatar in 2022, the travel experts at Bucket List Events are here to help you orient yourself in the dramatic and exciting world of international soccer.

world cup guide

Germany beats Argentina 1-0 to win the tournament in Brazil in 2014. Source.

What is the World Cup?

The FIFA World Cup is an international soccer tournament that gathers 32 of the best national teams from various countries. The event lasts just over five weeks and is played in tournament fashion, with half of the teams qualifying at each stage to move onto the next round of competition. The FIFA World Cup is the single most prestigious soccer tournament and most-watched international sporting event in the world. Over the course of the event, more than half of the international population will tune in to view at least one game.

How many matches are played in the World Cup?

64 matches in total are played during the World Cup: 42 during the group stage, 8 during the knockout round (also known as the round of 16), 4 during the quarter finals, 2 in the semi-finals, 1 third-place match, and 1 final match. So there are plenty of chances to watch!

How often is the World Cup played?

Because a lot of effort goes into hosting the FIFA World Cup, much like the Summer or Winter Olympics, the tournament only happens every four years. Many host countries invest billions into the infrastructure necessary to host the games, and building the stadiums and hotels obviously takes time. Furthermore, national teams dedicate a great deal of energy and deliberation into assembling players and training for the tournament. The qualifying stages can last between two and three years depending on the region of the world.

What is FIFA?

 You might be wondering what exactly FIFA is (other than an incredibly addictive video game series). FIFA is an acronym for international soccer’s governing body. FIFA stands for the French words “Fédération Internationale de Football Association.” In English, that means the International Federation of Association Football. In American English, feel free to swap “Football” out for “Soccer.”

The organization started in 1904 to oversee international play in Europe. More than 100 years later, FIFA oversees 211 national teams as they vie to make the final field of 32 teams for the FIFA World Cup.

world cup trophy

The FIFA World Cup Trophy in all its glory. Source.

Is the FIFA World Cup related to Soccer at the Summer Games? How is it different?

To use a favorite sports metaphor, World Cup and Summer Games soccer are two completely different leagues. While the Summer Games may be the premiere event for many sports, its football competition can’t quite hold its torch to the World Cup.

How exactly is World Cup soccer different from the Summer Games? For one thing, the Summer Games consist mainly of teams that field players ages 23 and under – each team is only permitted to have three players older than that. That means the players in the Summer Games generally don’t have a ton of experience playing on the international stage. World Cup players however are hand-picked from professional leagues across each country, meaning all of the stars who have been kicking butt in their respective professional leagues play. It is not at all unusual for a World Cup team to have several players in their thirties on their starting line-up. And because World Cup players generally have established careers already, they also bring the drama of years-long public rivalries to the tournament.

Secondly, the World Cup tournament is just much much bigger than the Summer Games. Where 32 teams play at the World Cup, only 16 play at the Summer Games. That means there are far fewer matches played in the Summer Games tournament than in the World Cup. The team size is also bigger at the World Cup, with squads of 23 instead of 18. The scope of the event is in no small part what makes the World Cup so exciting to watch.

How do teams qualify for the World Cup?

There is a lengthy qualifying process just to make the FIFA World Cup. Regional tournaments in Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, North/Central America and Oceania/Australia determine the best teams from those areas that go onto the FIFA World Cup.

The qualifying process can take anywhere from two to three years because teams in each region play each other in home-and-away matches. Because so many soccer federations exist in Europe, nearly half of all FIFA World Cup participants from from European nations. It is also often the case that athletes from Africa or South America play for European Clubs during the regular season but their home-country’s national team during the World Cup.

Where is the World Cup? How are World Cup host countries chosen?

Roughly seven years prior to the start of the event, FIFA requests bids from interested countries. Generally to avoid boycotts, the tournament alternates between being located in Europe or the Americas, though this has changed of the last 20 years with host countries in Africa and Asia as well.

Countries interested basically propose a super-elaborate project for hosting that includes what kind of stadiums, infrastructure, transportation, and housing they will build. FIFA examines the bids and determines which country is best suited for the event. With several years notice, the its selected host country needs to fulfill all of its promises to ensure that the event is safe, state-of-the-art, and a good time for players and spectators alike.

What is the World Cup 2022 location? When does play start?

Qatar is the host country for the 2022 World Cup. The tournament is set to begin on November 21 and will conclude on December 18 with the final game played that day to crown the winner.

Qatar was announced the 22nd host country of the World Cup during a 2010 ceremony in Zurich. Source.

What are the World Cup Qatar stadiums like? What are the cities like?

The 2022 World Cup in Qatar will be unlike any other the world has seen up until this point. While the 2018 World Cup in Russia was held over a greater amount of space than any tournament prior, the Qatar World Cup will be first tournament to ever be held over such a small amount of space.

Qatar is about the size of the U.S. state of Connecticut, and is home to less than 3 million people. The short distances and small scale will magnify the intensity of the tournament. With such proximity in this small country, it may even be possible to attend two matches in different stadiums in a single day!

Doha, Qatar’s gorgeous capital and largest city, will be the hub of the action. Considering that Qatar has the highest per capita GDP of any nation on earth, you can rest assured that Doha has all of the modern luxuries and sightseeing opportunities that international travelers could hope for.

Eight brand new or completely renovated stadiums are currently in the works for the Qatar World Cup. Two more are being planned, and the possibility of building an additional two stadiums is also being discussed. The blueprints for the completed stadiums are truly breath-taking:

doha qatar world cup

Plans for the Doha Port Stadium in Doha, Qatar.

What is the format of the World Cup tournament?

At the start of the tournament, the 32 teams fit into eight groups of four teams each. In that group, the teams will play each other once for a total of three games during group play. Teams are awarded three points for a win, one point for a tie and no points for a loss.

Teams that finish in the top two of a group move onto the Round of 16 elimination round. During the knockout stage, the FIFA World Cup then turns into a regular tournament where the loser of the match goes home. The last two remaining teams will play for the World Cup.

What happens if there is a tie?

If teams are tied after all games in group play, tiebreakers determine who moves on and who must go home. If the teams have the same number of points, then the team with the better goal differential has the advantage. For example, a team that scores 10 goals but gives seven (a goal differential of +3) has an advantage over a team that scores 12 goals but gives up 11 (a goal differential of +1) if the teams are tied after three matches.

If the goal differential is tied, then the next tiebreaker goes to the team that scores more goals. After that, there are four other tiebreakers. The final one to determine which team moves on is a coin flip. Drawing lots to determine the fate of FIFA World Cup teams is rare, but it has happened a few times.

What is the format of a World Cup match?

World Cup matches are played in a pretty similar fashion to ordinary soccer games. Teams play two 45-minute halves. At the end of each half, referees assess some extra time to play to allow for the stoppages that occurred during each half. That’s because the clock does not stop running even when the ball is not in play.

If the games are still in the group stage, then matches end after the two halves no matter what the score is, even if it is tied. The winning team gets three points and the losing team gets no points. If the teams tie, then they both get one point.

If the game is tied after 90 minutes in a knockout round game, then the game will go to extra time. In this situation, extra time consists of two 15-minute halves. At the end of that 30-minute span, the team that is leading is the winner. If the two teams happen to be tied after the extra 30 minutes of soccer, then the game moves to penalty kicks.

Penalty kicks are very high pressure, and most fans and players would prefer that no games are decided this way. Each team gets five shots, and the team with the most goals after each team shoots five times will be the winner. If the teams are still tied, it will go round by round until one team scores and the other does not. Talk about edge-of-your-seat action!

The Argentinian and Dutch teams watch with baited breath as this 2014 Semi-Finals game is settled in a penalty shootout. Source.

What is a “Group of Death”?

In every single World Cup tournament so far, there has been a Group of Death. The Group of Death is the fun nickname given to a group that consists of multiple talented teams. For example, a group with three really good teams would be considered the Group of Death because only two of those three teams can make it out of the group.

During the selection process of the eight groups of 32 teams, only the top eight teams (including the host nation) are seeded. The rest are put into groups at random draw. That means teams may find themselves with a ton of talented squads in the same group.

Many fans found that 2018 World Cup in Russia didn’t truly have a Group of Death, and that the groups were split quite fairly.

What about the Women’s World Cup?

FIFA also hosts a Women’s World Cup every four years, always at intervals with the Men’s Tournament. Unlike the men’s side, the United States women’s team is one of the premier international soccer programs in the world. At the last Women’s World Cup in 2015 in Canada, the U.S. women dominated on their way to winning the trophy. Since the Women’s World Cup has been held, the U.S. Women’s Team has ALWAYS placed at least in the top three and has won the tournament more times than any other nation.


Are you ready to personally witness the excitement of the world’s most-watched sporting event? Do you want to travel across one of the globe’s most fascinating nations? Inquire about traveling with Bucket List Events to 2022 World Cup in Qatar today.

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