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Pictured is Miroslav Klose, a star Polish-born player competing for the highly ranked German team, during the 2010 World Cup

Soccer is a sport played with a round ball generally played using the player's feet. 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 penalty area. The object of the game is to kick the ball into the opposing team's goal; the team with the most goals at the end of the 90 minute game is the winner. If both teams at the end of two 45 minute periods are level on goals, the result is a draw, or the teams may rematch or play a period of extra time and penalty kicks to force a result. Outside the United States, it is generally called "football" (Spanish: fútbol).

Televised soccer, with low scoring and virtually no violent contact, is less addictive for spectators than American football is. Americans gambled $1.8 billion on the 2022 FIFA World Cup,[1] but wager $10 or so billion on the Super Bowl.

Competitive soccer by women has a high rate of lesbianism, perhaps due to its encouragement of physical aggression.

Soccer has drawbacks as a sport, however. Girls can ruin their knees playing soccer, while boys can suffer head injuries while heading the ball, particularly if hardened. Practicing not to develop hand-to-eye coordination as required by soccer is unhelpful for other sports.

As an occasional hobby, soccer can be an easy, popular sport for children and adults alike:

  • As Stephen H. Webb wrote at First Things, to contemporary American parents, "Baseball is too intimidating, football too brutal, and basketball takes too much time to develop the required skills ... Soccer is the perfect antidote to television and video games. It forces kids to run and run, and everyone can play their role, no matter how minor or irrelevant to the game."[2]


The word soccer derived in England as slang for "Association Football."[3] 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

Dimensions of a soccer pitch

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. [4] 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

Goalkeeper leaping to make a save

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.

Diving (Cheating)

Soccer is well known as a sport for cheats. Players will often exaggerate or completely fake infringements or injuries in order to win penalty kicks. While there are penalties for deliberately faking a fall, the benefits far outweigh the risks in such a low-scoring game and players are encouraged by their coaches and fans to try and win unjust free kicks. There have been numerous highly controversial instances of high level games being decided by such acts, such as the recent opening game of the 2014 World Cup.

Great Players

  • Pele, Brazilian player active from 1956-1974, often considered to be the greatest soccer player to ever kick the ball.
  • 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.
  • 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 centre-back.
  • 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. Began the rebuilding of Barcelona when he became their manager and his ethos and style of play remains to this day.
  • Diego Maradona, Argentinian midfielder of the 1980s, often mentioned alongside Pele as one of the greatest.
  • Zinedine Zidane, French player, he had won almost every trophy and competition his team had competed in. Retired shortly after headbutting an Italian a World Cup final match in 2006. Is the current manager of Real Madrid where he has lead them to back-to-back Champions League titles for the first time in the competition's history.
  • Cristiano Ronaldo, a Portuguese contemporary player for Real Madrid. Considered one of the all-time greats not just for Real Madrid but in all of football.
  • Lionel Messi, Argentinan forward, currently plays for Barcelona.
  • Claude Makélélé, French holding midfield player. While not generally thought of as one of the best players of all time, his style of play revolutionized the midfield. Breaking up attacks, playing simple football and allowing the more attacking players to play without as many defensive duties.
  • Gianluigi Buffon, Italian goalkeeper who has played over 650 league games, played in 3 World Cups (was selected for the 1998 World Cup but never played), and considered one of the best goalkeepers to have ever graced the game.
  • George Weah, Liberian striker who is regarded as one of the best players to have come from Africa. The first African player to be named World Player of the Year. Weah later became President of Liberia; his son Tim was on the 2022 United States World Cup team.


Matthew Philbin faults the media for using soccer to undercut American exceptionalism and muses:

  • Soccer requires comparatively little from children but the ability to run after the ball - the risk of failure for anyone except maybe the goal keeper is zero. Even the strong chance that any given game will end in a tie makes it attractive for parents reluctant to impart life's difficult lessons to young kids.[2]

A note on terminology

Coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

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. Calcio is the term used in Italy, as it is the Italian word for football

See also