Understanding Soccer: A Beginner’s Guide To What’s Happening On The Field At The World Cup

Soccer is at once one of most simple - and most beautiful - of all sports.

here's how to understand soccer
Thibault Camus / AP Images

Soccer is at once one of most simple - and most beautiful - of all sports.

The 2018 FIFA World Cup is here! The biggest sporting event in the world begins this evening when host Russia takes on Saudi Arabia. And if you’re not a soccer fan at all, the Inquisitr is here to help you understand the Beautiful Game (seriously, as Huffington Post reminds us, that’s what it’s called). Note that this article is only about how to understand the game (and the playing structure of the World Cup); this companion Inquisitr report will teach you how to enjoy the game – after all, you can’t enjoy a sport if you can’t understand it.

The Basics: Put The Ball In The Opponent’s Goal

At its heart, soccer is quite possibly the most simple of sports. Eleven players on each team compete to put the ball in their opponent’s goal the most times in 90 minutes. Put the ball in the opponent’s goal, score a point, keep them from doing the same, and come out of the game with more points. Easy-peasy.

But there’s more to it than that.

The Field

For this article, we’re going to imagine a hypothetical game between Blue and Red. Take a look at the diagram of a soccer field below, where the blue dots represent the Blue players, the red dots represent the Red players, and the black dot represents the ball. In this example, Blue is defending the west goal and trying to put the ball into Red’s goal in the east; vice-versa for Red.

here's how to watch soccer
  Lifestyle Graphic / Shutterstock

The white lines along the north and south edge of the field are called the Touch Lines. If a the ball touches a Blue player’s foot, or any other part of his body, before going across one of the Touch Lines, a Red player will get to throw the ball back into play from the spot on the line where the ball crossed; vice-versa for Red.

The white lines along the east and west lines are the Goal Lines. If Blue is attacking the Red goal, and a Blue player kicks the ball across the Goal Line, Red’s goalkeeper will be given the ball and he’ll kick it or throw it to a teammate. If Blue is attacking the Red goal and a Red player kicks it across the goal line, Blue will be given a Corner Kick.

What’s A Corner Kick?

The kicking player will stand in a corner of the field nearest to his opponent’s goal, while his teammates and the opposing team line up in formation. He’ll kick the ball into play, and with any luck, one of his teammates will knock it into the goal for a point (or in extremely rare cases, he’ll put enough spin on the ball that it will curve into the goal on its own – but don’t count on it).

The Off-Sides Rule

Entire books have been written about this rule, but the long and the short of it is this: you can’t be the closest thing to your opponent’s goal – the ball and/or an opposing player must be between you and the ball. Consider the following scenario.

here's how to watch understand soccer
  Lifestyle Graphic / Shutterstock

Blue is attacking the Red goal. In the scenario above, B is in good shape because there are two Red players between him and the goal. But if B got between the Red players and the goal, and the ball was still behind him, he’d be off-sides. The ref would raise a red and yellow checkered flag, and Red would get possession of the ball.

NOTE: This is only the most basic of basic explanations of the off-sides rule. For a more thorough explanation of the off-sides rule, check out this video.

Penalties And Cards

There’s a fine line between enthusiastic play and manhandling your opponent, and crossing that line can get you a penalty. If the penalty is particularly egregious, the person committing the foul will be given a yellow card (a warning), and his opponents will be given possession of the ball. If it’s really really egregious, he’ll be given a red card and ejected from the game – or, “sent off,” in soccer parlance. And baseball this isn’t: If one of your 11 players is sent off, you’ll be playing with 10 for the remainder of the game.

If the penalty occurs in your own penalty area (the larger of the two boxes in front of the goal), you’ll get a penalty kick – that is, the player gets a straight shot at the goal, from a few feet out, with no players in between him and the goalie.

What’s This “Stoppage Time” Business?

After 90 minutes of play, the game is over – except when it isn’t. In soccer, the clock doesn’t stop – rather, the ref keeps time himself. So if, for example, play stops for three minutes while the medical team attends to an injured player, the ref will add three minutes of play to the clock, and the game will end when the clock reaches 93:00 instead of 90:00.

Wins, Losses, And Draws

Like hockey, it’s possible for a soccer game to end in a draw (or a tie). In fact, the only time a game will continue if the score is tied after regular play, or extra time, is in the single-elimination phase of a tournament, such as the World Cup.

In those cases, the game will be decided by a shootout. Each team will take five penalty kicks; whichever team scores the most wins. If a series of five penalty kicks don’t produce a winner, the process is repeated until it does.

And now you know the most basic of basics when it comes to soccer. Keep in mind that I’ve simplified some complicated concepts and left out libraries’ worth of subtlety, nuance, and minutiae. To truly learn the Beautiful Game, become a soccer fan! And you can start by watching Russia take on Saudi Arabia today at 11 a.m. Eastern Time.