Every four years, most American sports fans get reintroduced to soccer when the World Cup begins. Kind of like curling at the Winter Olympics , you might not have seen much of this sport on TV in quite a while. So, here's a quick refresher on how 32 national teams earned a ticket to this year's contest in South Africa.
With the title of the world's most watched sporting event, the World Cup has a three-year qualification phase to narrow the more than 200 national teams down to the 32 that actually take part in the World Cup, which will be played in various cities in South Africa between June 11 and July 11.
The easiest way to get in is to have your country host the tournament, which guarantees your national team a spot. Better yet, pair up with another country to co-host the games, and you both can skip qualification.
Ironically, winning the previous World Cup does not come with the same qualification benefit. Since the 2006 Finals, the reigning champion has had to earn a place just like everyone else.
This year, there is one host country hosting, South Africa, so that leaves 31 additional slots to fill.
The International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), the world governing body for soccer, divides the globe into six continental zones (sorry, Antarctica). Each zone is assigned a certain number of teams that can qualify based on FIFA's assessment of how many competitive teams are in each zone.
Each confederation then sets its own rules for its qualifying tournament format with a few constants from FIFA, such as wins are worth three points, ties are worth one point and losses earn no points.
Here is the breakdown for the 2010 tournament, given by the name of each continent's soccer association and the nations that have qualified:
- Confederation of African Football (five qualifying teams): Algeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria have qualified.
- Asian Football Confedration (four qualifying teams): Australia, Japan, North Korea and South Korea have earned spots.
- Union of European Football Associations (13 qualifying teams): England, Germany, Denmark, Spain, France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland will play in South Africa this year.
- Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (three teams): USA, Mexico and Honduras have qualified.
- Oceania Football Confederation (one team qualifies): New Zealand beat Australia in the playoff between the two countries.
- South American Football Confederation (five teams qualify): Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Argentina and Uruguay have earned tickets to the World Cup.
Are these the best 32 teams in the world? Probably not, as some of the perennial powers didn't make it through qualification including Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ukraine, Ireland, Croatia, Russia and Egypt. Still, there will be some great soccer so enjoy it while you can.
- Why Goalies Hate the New World Cup Soccer Ball
- Why Soccer Moms and Dads Go Mad
- Group Predicts Robots Will Win Soccer's World Cup in 2050