History of Soccer & the World Cup in Brazil

Instructor: Jeremy Battista
Soccer or football, as it is known outside of the United States, is one of the most popular sports in the world. While the general idea of the game seems straightforward, one might wonder how it got its start and how it came to be the sport it is today. We will look at the history of soccer here.

Soccer's Roots

Soccer has been around for a long time, and it boasts one of the largest fan bases in the world. As with most modern sports, soccer finds its earliest beginnings in ancient history. There is some evidence to supports the idea that leather balls were kicked into nets as a version of soccer as far back as the 3rd century BC in China. Other evidence has been found linking the sport with the Roman and Greek empires. Even here in North America many Native American tribes played versions of soccer.

Here we see aborigines playing soccer. This picture is dated to the 19th century.
Aborigines Soccer

Many of the early versions of soccer would have resembled a combination of rugby, American football, and soccer, with some games (especially the Native American ones) being especially brutal.

Like many other sports, soccer found its start as a way to prepare soldiers for war, focusing on military tactics. Over time, the sport began to develop into more of a fun activity. The problem with the initial games of soccer was that often they were brutal with very few real 'rules' and mainly became a free-for-all. Severe injuries were common.

Modern Soccer

It is generally accepted that the modern game of soccer in Europe came about in the 19th century. It had been banned in places like England and Scotland during the Middle Ages because of the violence of the sport. During this period it was perfectly acceptable to bite, kick, or punch an opponent with no fouls called for such behavior.

This changed around 1848 with the establishment of the Cambridge Rules, which we still follow to this day. These rules laid the ground work for our modern version of soccer. Some places in England chose to follow rules that were similar to rugby, which the Cambridge Rules outlawed. It wasn't until 1863 however that the first real football association was established, separating itself from the rugby association. This is where soccer really took hold and began spreading to other countries.

Two young boys competing for the ball during a match.

Sailors and traders are credited with helping to spread soccer around the globe. Around 1904 the French athletic organization, the Union Française de Sports Athlétiques, began organizing international soccer matches and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) was born. At the time of its founding, FIFA had seven member nations (Spain, France, Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland) which quickly grew to 41 by 1930. Beginning in 1937 FIFA first began codifying the rules of the game, which would remain in effect until revisions were made during the late 1990's. By 2016, the number of FIFA member nations had grown to 211 members truly a worldwide sport.

While soccer may not be as popular in the United States as say, baseball or football, we see European soccer stars paid salaries that are comparable to the stars of the NFL or MLB. Basically, elsewhere in the world, soccer is king, while in the USA, NFL reigns supreme.

World Cup

The World Cup is a championship sporting event held every four years to determine which nation has the best soccer team in the world. The teams come from FIFA's member nations and has been played every four years with the exception of the years between 1939 - 1950 due to World War II. The event was originally conceived by FIFA's president in 1930, Jules Rimet, as an event that was between Olympic years.

The participating national teams come from FIFA's member nations, but qualifying for the tournament is a rigourous affair. Over three years the various national teams play qualifying games until only the best 32 teams in the world remain. Once this qualification period is over, the 32 teams meet in a month long competition to determine the best of the best. During the group phase, the teams are randomly placed into eight groups comprised of four teams. Each team plays one match against the other teams in their group once to determine seeding for the knockout stage of the competition.

During the knock out phase the first place team from a group plays against the second place team from another group. This phase of the competition is a single elimination game where once you lose, you are out. It is in this phase that we see quarterfinals matches, semifinals matches, third place match up and ultimately, the finals match.

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