A World Cup primer

Russia's Alexander Kerzhakov, left, shoots as Morocco's Zouhair Feddal, right, tries to block during a friendly soccer match in Moscow, Russia, Friday.
Russia's Alexander Kerzhakov, left, shoots as Morocco's Zouhair Feddal, right, tries to block during a friendly soccer match in Moscow, Russia, Friday.

The true world party, the FIFA World Cup, will kick off on Thursday at 5 p.m. when host nation Brazil takes on Croatia. It's a month-long celebration of the world's most popular sport fueled by (hopefully) benign nationalism and colorful crowds singing songs.

The 2014 World Cup, which will culminate with the final played July 13 in Rio de Janeiro, is expected to set all-time viewer records in America, seeing how ESPN's ratings jumped 41 percent from the 2006 World Cup to the 2010 tournament.

Now that American media has given the event a full embrace, it'll undoubtedly draw in the casual fan and the actively curious. Even if you don't like soccer, the World Cup will surely be part of office chatter and barroom conversation.

What follows below is a short soccer catechism for people who may not know Lionel Messi from Lionel Richie, but want to join in the fun.

So, the World Cup, then.

Yes, it is a month-long international soccer tournament held every four years in a different country. Barring an untimely extraterrestrial invasion, it'll be the most paid-attention-to thing on the planet.

USA manager Jurgen Klinsmann called it "bigger than the Olympics and it's only one sport."

Where and when can I watch the matches?

Rio is one hour ahead of Eastern time, and the early round matches are slated for noon, 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. ESPN, ESPN 2, ABC and Univision will be broadcasting all of the matches live. ESPN is also streaming the matches live for subscribers.

I could presumably watch matches online while at work?

Yes. Just transfer your clandestine YouTube cat video viewing strategies to watching soccer.

But I like to watch sports at the bar.

Well, you're in luck. Bars and pubs in southeastern Connecticut are already preparing to pour pints for soccer fans, especially those on extended lunches and those coming down with strange, incapacitating month-long illnesses seen only on episodes of "House."

Diramud Hanafin, a footie fan and owner of Hanafin's Pub in New London, said he's ready to welcome fans of all teams.

"We've been getting plenty of people recently who come in for the USA matches," Hanafin said.

Hanafin also said that fans of other nations also take in the games.

"Like Greece," he said. "A lot of the Greeks in the area come in."

So there's something to watching games at the pub.

Soccer, fan-wise, is about atmosphere.

"There's an appeal to watching soccer with like-minded supporters all feeling the same things together," Hanafin said.

And this year the World Cup is in Brazil - what's special about that?

Well, even though soccer started in the British Isles, few would argue that the game's spiritual home is in Brazil, whose teams have won the World Cup five times and play a style of soccer called, in Portuguese, "jogo bonito," or "play beautifully."

There's a song that English fans sing whenever their teams are doing well called "It's Just Like Watching Brazil," to give you an idea.

I've heard there's been criticism and social unrest in Brazil because of the tournament.

There's been public outrage at the cost overruns in stadium construction and the extravagance of the staging the World Cup. For example, according to The Guardian, a recent government report found that cost of the new stadium in Brasilia tripled to $900 million because of fraudulent billing. You don't have to Google too hard to find these stories.

I'm trying to get my girlfriend/boyfriend into soccer. What's a good movie to watch?

Well, you might seek out "Bend it Like Beckham" or "The Damned United."

Well, actually we're more readers than film buffs.

Try "Fever Pitch" by Nick Hornby, "The Miracle of Castel di Sangro" by Joe McGinness, "Brilliant Orange: The Avant Garde World of Dutch Soccer" by David Winner or "How Soccer Explains the World" by Franklin Foer.

Is the United States going to win the World Cup?

It's highly unlikely.

I can dream about the United States winning the World Cup, right?

Yes, and you should. As Joe McGinness put it, "(Football) is about joy as much as it is about anything. It is especially about the joy of the unexpected, even the unimaginable."



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