Soccer is a popular sport played with a round ball propelled mainly by kicks from a player's foot. In soccer, players are not allowed to intentionally touch the ball with their hands or arms while it is in play, with the exception of goalkeepers in a restricted area. The goal of the game is to kick the ball into the opposing team's goal; each goal gives that team a point and the team with the most points at the end of the 90 minute game is the winner. Outside the USA, it is generally called "football" (Spanish: fútbol).
When played at the Olympics, soccer is considered to be somewhat of a joke sport. This is so as the Olympic competition is held with players who must be under-23. Therefore, they are not the best players in the world.
The word soccer derived in England as slang for "Association Football", . Football games have been popular in England since the Middle Ages, but the modern game of soccer derives from formalizations of the rules during the mid nineteenth century which came from the universities of England. The Football Association (FA) was founded in 1863 and continues to be the game's governing body within the UK. "Association Football" (later shortened to soccer) meant the version of football approved by the Football Association's rules. The rules were published at Cambridge University in 1847, as many private schools were playing each other with different rules.
Rules of the Game
The game is played between two teams of 11 players (10 out-field players and one goalkeeper each). In official play, there are two 45 minute halves separated by a break known as half-time which according to the rules of the game must last less than 20 minutes. Unlike most sports, the clock does not always stop when the ball is not in play. When the ball is knocked out of bounds or a penalty is committed, the clock runs continuously. If a player is injured then the referee makes up that lost time by adding minutes onto the end of the half. This is known as stoppage or injury time. If both scores are even at the end of regulation time, the game is usually declared a draw. However, in knockout cup games, there is often an additional period of play consisting of two 15-minute halves. In some competitions, the first goal in this period (golden goal) wins the game. If the scores are still level, the result is decided with a penalty shootout. The set of rules used in soccer are called the Laws of the Game.
The game is played on a grass (or artificial grass) pitch with dimensions 90-120 m (100-130 yards) in length and 45-90 m (50-100 yards) in width.  A goal is scored when the ball is propelled into the opposition net. The side scoring the most goals is the winner. Infringements include playing the ball with any part of the body other than the feet or head; pushing or blocking an opposing player and stepping outside the playing area while the ball is in play.
Accuracy in kicking is very important to make sure that one can kick the ball around opponents, manage it in tight spaces, and make long passes to other players in better positions. Expert players have trained to kick from a variety of angles, both forward and back and to the side, and also to use their chests and heads to maneuver a high-flying ball.
Soccer Around the World
It is the most popular team sport in the world, described by the legendary Brazilian player, Pele, as "The Beautiful Game". Its governing body is FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association). In most countries it is the most popular sport or at least among the most popular (the United States being a notable exception). Though it is often not a high-scoring game, its popularity comes from the often dramatic saves from goalkeepers and incredible shots from skilled players in attempts to score a goal. In the United States soccer was associated with communism during the Thirties, as several communist organizations used soccer in an attempt to recruit recent European immigrants to their cause.
Every four years there is an international competition known as the World Cup, where countries send their best players to compete for the title of best national soccer team. Every four years in Europe there is the European Championship in June and July when the leagues finish which is a 16 team competition for members of UEFA, the European governing body. Each other continent also has a competition, such as the African Nations Cup, which is every two years in January.
Many soccer fans are extremely passionate about their favorite teams, traveling to other countries to support them. Several countries have had problems controlling over-excited fans, with the crowd sometimes spilling onto the pitch, fighting with themselves, disliked referees and even players. England once had a poor reputation from its soccer hooligans who got into drunken fistfights with fans of other teams. This situation has largely changed, with much better behavior at English football matches and considerably increased violence in several other countries, especially Italy.
In most European countries each large town will have at least one football team who play in leagues, which last August to May in most of Europe but March to October in others. Unlike most American sports, the top teams in each league go up a league to be replaced by the last teams in the league above. The top teams in the top division of each European country enter the UEFA Champions League, a league and knockout competition played on Tuesdays and Wednesdays around the season.
- Ferenc Puskas, a forward for Real Madrid and Hungary in the 1950s, introduced 'total football' and destroyed the old-fashioned English team of the time.
- Lev Yashin of the USSR in the 1960s is reputed to be the best-ever goalkeeper.
- Pele, Brazilian player active from 1956-1974, often considered to be the greatest soccer player to ever kick the ball.
- Alfredo di Stéfano, Argentinian midfielder who played for Real Madrid. considered by Maradona to be the greatest.
- Bobby Moore, captain of England in the 1966 World Cup Finals and one of the finest ever center halves.
- George Best, of Manchester United and Northern Ireland in the 1960s, was possibly the best player never to have played in the World Cup Finals.
- Franz Beckenbauer played for West Germany in the 1960s and 70s. Defenders rarely gain the limelight in football but Beckenbauer's performances against the great teams of England in 1970 and Holland in 1974 were exceptional.
- Johann Cruyff, captain of Holland in 1974 and 1978: why his Dutch team's brand of Total Football never won them the World Cup is an enduring mystery.
- Diego Maradona, Argentinian midfielder of the 1980s, often mentioned alongside Pele as one of the greatest.
- Zinedine Zidane, French player, retired shortly after the World Cup final match between France and Italy in 2006.
- Cristiano Ronaldo, a Portuguese contemporary player for Real Madrid.
- Lionel Messi, Argentinan forward, currently plays for Barcelona.
A note on terminology
In the United States, "football" refers to American Football. Outside the United States, "football" refers to soccer. In many other languages, a phonetic equivalent to the English word "football," such as the Portuguese word "futbol" is used to denote the sport.