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Soccer (or football as it is more commonly referred to outside of the United States) is the most popular sport in the world.  Soccer is a team game with each of the two competing sides consisting of eleven players.  The object of the game is simple: To score a superior number of goals by putting the ball in the opposing team’s net or goal.  Each team is permitted a goalkeeper.  Only goalkeepers can touch the ball with their hands, and they do so while defending the goal.  All other players are either defending or attacking using primarily their feet.  There are two forty-five minute halves in a match.  Games can, and frequently do, end in ties.  Although matches at the highest levels of soccer tend to be strategic, low scoring affairs with many ties, knockout phases of tournaments feature extra time (over time) or penalty kick shootouts.

The rules of the game are relatively straightforward.  As mentioned previously, use of the hands is not permitted.  If one team touches the ball out of play the other team will get possession for restarting play in the form of a throw-in, goal kick, or corner kick.  The majority of fouls are given “tripping” or “pushing” an opposing player.  Generally, if one player is “going for the ball” or gets ball first they can defoot an opposing player legally.  The same can be said for pushing or grabbing.  Usually if the hands are down players can use their weight to semi-body check each other or gain positional advantage.  Typically, pushing or grabbing with the hands, forearms, or elbows result in fouls.

Many countries around the world have their own professional soccer leagues similar to American professional baseball, with players making millions in the highest divisions (the major leagues) and a deep set of subordinate divisions (minor leagues).  The most famous leagues are in the most developed Western European countries, including: the British Premier League (featuring Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, and Chelsea), the German Budesliga (featuring Bayern Munich), Italian Serie A (featuring Inter Milan and AC Milan), or the Spanish La Liga (featuring Barcelona and Madrid).  These leagues are comprised of city teams within a country, although the players can come from all over the world, and typically do at exorbitant transfer fees (free agent trade fees between clubs).  Star players frequently move between clubs and command all the celebrity of elite American football or baseball players.  A few great players of the past include: Pele (Brazil), Diego Maradona (Argentina), Franz Beckenbauer (Germany) or Johan Cruyff (The Netherlands). Current superstars include: Lionel Messi (Argentina), Christian Ronaldo (Portugal), Wayne Rooney (England), Kaka (Brazil), and Fernando Torres (Spain) to name a few.  Many of these players will star in this years World Cup.  The FIFA World Cup is an international tournament of national teams that takes place every four years.  It is the most prestigious soccer tournament and most watched sporting event in the world.

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Terminology:

Direct kick, Indirect Kick: Both are free kicks awarded for fouls.  Direct kicks may be struck directly into the goal whereas an indirect kick must be touched by another offensive player before shooting on goal.
 
Penalty Kick: A one-on-one style free kick between goal keeper and shooter, given for egregious fouls in the penalty box.  Also used as part of a penalty shoot out to decide tied matches after extra time.
 
Offside: offside is called when an offensive player, or attacking player, is passed the ball and there are not at least two opponents between him or her and the goal line. Usually, these are the goalkeeper and one other defender, but not necessarily.  Offside is judged when the ball is struck and attackers that are even with the second to last defender are onside.  This makes offside the most controversial rule in soccer because its usually a close call and can decide goals and games.
 
Red Card/Yellow Card: To be “booked” with a yellow card means you have committed a particularly egregious foul.  A red card means the player is ejected and his team must play shorthanded , as they cannot replace him. Two yellow cards in a single game equal a red and the player is sent off.
 
Striker: A Striker, forward, or attacking player is one whose primary purpose or role on the team is attacking the opponents goal with the intention to score.  Generally, strikers rarely defend and are on the receiving end of passes and crosses.  Their strength is usually their shooting ability or penchant for eluding defenders enroute to goal.  Strikers are well known players because they score the majority of goals.
 
4-4-2:  Terminology for team playing formations. 4-4-2 means four defenders, four midfielders and two forwards.
 
FIFA: FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) is the international recognized governing body of soccer.  Designed to codify a common set of rules for international play, FIFA has overseen, organized, and promoted the sport for over 100 years.  FIFA is responsible for creating and running the FIFA World Cup, tallying world rankings, certifying officials, and approving rule changes.

Relegation: The bottom few teams in a European soccer division are subject to relegation at the end of the season.  This means if teams don’t perform they are demoted to a lower division and replaced by the top teams of the lower division for the next season.  Can you imagine the Kansas City Royals being demoted and the New Orleans Zephers going up to the major leagues? That is the concept applied to MLB.