SB Nation

SB Nation Soccer News | June 12, 2014

The SB Nation World Cup Glossary

What is Soccer?

Soccer -- more commonly known as football (but we'll stick with 'soccer' here to avoid confusion) -- is the most popular team sport on the planet. Originating in England in the 1800s before spreading rapidly around the globe, soccer is played with two teams of eleven players each, the objective generally being to score more goals than the other team in 90 minutes, split into two 45-minute 'halves'.

There is one ball, and goals are scored by getting into the ... goal. Regulation-sized goals are 24 feet (7.32 m) wide by 8 feet (2.44 m) high, and in order for a goal to register the ball must completely cross the line of the goal without any rules being broken by the scoring team.

The most notable aspect of the sport, of course, is that all but one player on each team, the goalkeeper, is barred from using their hands to touch the ball while the ball is in play. Every portion of the body bar the arms is legal to use.

How big is the field?

It depends, but the answer is generally somewhere around 110 yards by 70, with the goals placed on the shorter ends (the 'bylines'; the longer are 'touchlines'). The dimensions can actually vary fairly significantly, but in practice high-level play is more standardized, although there's still plenty of variability, which impacts how games are played. Bigger 'pitches' mean fewer shots and more passing, smaller ones make for a more frenetic game.

Kickoffs from the center of the pitch (the opposition team is not allowed within the center circle) restart the game after a goal or a scheduled a break in play. If the ball goes out of play along the touchline, the team that touched it last concedes a throw-in. If it goes out of play along the byline, the result is either a corner (defending team got the last touch), a goal kick (attacking team got the last touch) or a goal.

The most notable areas of the pitch are the two penalty boxes, within which two important rules change. The first is that goalkeepers can use their hands to stop the ball while in play, and the second is that fouls committed by the defending team result in a free shot from 12 yards, with only the defending goalkeeper allowed in the penalty box to try to stop it.

What are the rules?

The first and most important rule is that soccer players cannot use their hands unless they are a) the goalkeeper and b) in their own penalty area. But there are several other important ones to consider:

Fouls: include kicking, tripping, holding and generally doing harm to the opposition. Impeding players by placing your body between the opponent and the ball is legal, as are shoulder to shoulder challenges when within playing distance of the ball. Fouls result in direct free kicks (or penalty kicks).

Offside: A player is offside if they're in the attacking half and higher up the pitch than both the ball and the second-to-last opposing defender (including the goalkeeper). Players offside at the moment the ball is played by their own team are not allowed to interfere with play.

Substitutes: In competitive games, teams are only allowed three substitutions -- swapping an active player for a bench player -- for injuries or tactical reasons. This can only occur while play is stopped, and substituted players are not allowed back onto the pitch during the game in which they were substituted.

The rules are enforced by the referee and his assistants, together known as match officials. The referee follows play and is the main arbiter of fouls, while the linesmen, each assigned one touchline, are most visible when monitoring the offside rule (more on that later). In some matches, extra officials are placed behind the goals to confer with the referee.

There is no instant replay in soccer.

What are cards?

Cards are a mechanism by which match officials punish particularly egregious violations of the rules. There are two types of cards. Yellow cards are generally shown for arguing with the referee, an egregious foul, persistent fouling or interfering with the flow of the game. Two yellow cards result in a red card, which means dismissal from the pitch without the possibility of being substituted. Red cards can also be given 'straight', generally as the result of dangerous play, gross misconduct or illegally interfering with a scoring opportunity.

Unlike yellow cards, red cards can be issued to inactive players or a team's coaching staff, which forces them to vacate the bench. This, however, is a rare occurrence.

How long is a game?

In terms of the amount of time you'll need to dedicate to watching a full soccer match, the answer is that it can vary, and sometimes significantly. Generally, for televised matches, you should expect full time (the end of the match) to be a little under two hours after kickoff (which is the start). This is because there is a roughly 15 minute break between the halves, during which the players leave the pitch. However, games can be paused for injuries, fan interference, goal celebrations, etc, and it's not entirely uncommon for a match to last two hours or longer.

In knockout tournaments, however, when only one team is allowed to progress, a game can last significantly longer, and in theory they don't actually have to finish at all. In practice, knockout games tend to last as long as a normal game, with a significant minority clocking in at closer to two and a half hours should the game be tied 90 minutes in.

There are different kinds of games?

There sure are! There are actually several different types of match. League matches always finish after 90 minutes, with three 'points' awarded to a winner, one to each side if the match is a draw and zero for a losing team; the point of a league is to finish with the most points after a set number of games. Single knockout games cannot be drawn, so teams tied after 90 minutes play another half hour (extra time) and then have a penalty shootout to determine a winner. Two-legged knockout games are played with 90 minutes home and away, the aggregate winner going through (with other tiebreakers), and there is a special kind of single-round knockout format that allows for replays of the entire game should it be drawn.

To make it even more confusing, some tournaments, including the World Cup, are a mix of different kinds of game, starting with league-style matches in a group and followed up by knockout games.

Oh, and there are also 'friendly' games as well. These are essentially just for show/practice.

What are the positions?

There are many ways you can set up a soccer team on the pitch and therefore many different positions (and names for them). But there are a few basics you should know.

The goalkeeper: Wears a different shirt to everyone else, and is the only player on a team allowed to touch the ball with his hands ... in his own penalty area, of course. Almost always the last line of defense for a team (Thibaut Courtois, Belgium).

The defenders: Normally four on a team, sometimes three. Will typically form a line just ahead of the goalkeeper. The central defenders (center backs) tend to be tall and strong -- their job is to win the ball before it gets into dangerous positions, whether in the air (with their heads) or on the ground. Typically, center backs do not contribute heavily to the attack (Sergio Ramos, Spain). Wide defenders (fullbacks) are expected to play along a flank, preventing attacks on their side while also assisting play going forward (Philipp Lahm, Germany).

The midfielders: Generally all-rounders, most midfielders contribute to both attack and defense in some capacity. That said, there are many different types of midfielders. Defensive midfielders support the defense and rarely move forward (Sergio Busquets, Spain), box-to-box midfielders do everything (Paul Pogba, France), deep playmakers contribute to the attack from further back on the field (Luka Modric, Croatia), and attacking midfielders tend to sit high up the pitch and do less defending than their deeper-lying brethren (Mesut Özil, Germany).

And there are also wide midfielders, who are also called 'wingers'. These stick to the flanks to provide attacks from wide but also have significant defensive responsibilities (Antonio Valencia, Ecuador).

The forwards: The typical forward (or striker) is known as a center forward -- typically they have minimal defensive work and hang around near the opposition penalty box (Luis Suárez, Uruguay). The other main type of forward is the wide forward, who tends to be more involved in general attacking play and harasses the opposing fullback (Neymar, Brazil).

We'll go into a little more detail on the positions in a bit.

What does a manager do?

Same as they do in most sports, really: manage the team. Although, obviously, it's a little more complicated than that. Soccer is one of the few sports in which the role of manager can vary team-by-team, especially at the club level. Some managers are responsible for every facet of an organization, including player acquisition, while others only take responsibility for the main team (the 'first team' in soccer parlance) in training and in games.

There are some core duties shared by all managers, however: they're responsible for selecting how their team lines up (both in personnel and tactics), mid-game substitutions and the structure of first-term training sessions. They also tend to be the face of their team in the media, since unlike US sports access to soccer players tends to be fairly limited.

As a result, managers (especially managers of big club teams) take on a celebrity aspect that's somewhat unusual by the standards of other sports.

What is injury time? And extra time?

One of the strange quirks of soccer is that time is not stopped when the ball isn't in play. Instead, the referee is (at least in theory) supposed to keep track of how much time has been spent with the ball out of play per half and added on at the end. This is called stoppage time or injury time, and tends to total about four or five minutes a game. It's a very hand-wavy system, but nobody can change it now because in reality the ball spends about 30 minutes per match out of play.

Stoppage time is indicated at the end of each half by one of the match officials, who'll raise a board to indicate how many minutes will be added on to the 45. This is indicated on television with a plus sign next to the game clock. The match is only over at the referee's discretion, however, so the amount of time added on is merely a guide, although it tends to be a very accurate one.

Stoppage/injury time is different than extra time, which is an additional half-hour of play (two 15-minute halves) for knockout games which are tied after 90 minutes. There is no 'golden goal'; the thirty minutes are played no matter how many additional goals are scored. And yes, you can definitely have stoppage time during extra time, which isn't confusing for newcomers at all.

What is a penalty shootout?

Technically this is 'shots from the penalty mark', but everyone calls them penalty shootouts and you should too. If a knockout game is still tied after extra time, it goes to a penalty shootout, where each team takes turns trying to score from the penalty spot. To start, each team gets five kicks; if they're tied after those first five rounds the shootout continues round-by-round until a team has won. Players can take penalties in whichever order they choose, but a player cannot take a penalty twice unless everyone else in his team has taken one.

Shootouts are widely considered the most stressful part of watching soccer. Unless England are involved, because you know they'll lose.

Can you explain the offside rule again?

Absolutely. The offside rule is really a rule about when you can pass forward. As we mentioned earlier, a forward pass is always legal if any of three conditions are true at the moment a pass is played:

1) The recipient is behind the ball.
2) The recipient is in his own half.
3) There are at least two defenders (including the goalkeeper) between the recipient and the goalline.

3) is the most common. Beyond that, there are some further subtleties. Players cannot be offside if the opposition has deliberately played the ball (i.e. an accidental touch does not count, but a careless pass is fair game). Players cannot be offside from throw-ins, corner kicks and goal kicks.

The biggest source of confusion on offside is in the timing. Remember, offside is called based on everyone's position at the moment a pass is played by the original player, not when the recipient actually touches the ball. Remembering that timing matters is the key to understanding when you'll see that offside flag raised in a game -- and might also give the viewer an insight until how difficult an assistant referee's job is: they have to watch the player on the ball and the defensive line simultaneously. There's a reason offside calls are so contentious so often.

Let's give a couple of examples:


Not offside

And that's all you really need to know.

What is the World Cup?

The World Cup is the most important soccer tournament on the planet. It is contested over 64 games by 32 national teams every four years and tends to be watched by a significant fraction of the global population; lifting the trophy is considered by most to be the pinnacle of a soccer player's career. For some countries, even making it to the World Cup is a significant achievement, only a few teams in each tournament are ever considered serious contenders to win the competition.

Long story short: it's the most important trophy in the world's most popular sport.


How can I watch the World Cup?

That would depend on where you are. For Americans, ESPN is covering the whole tournament (including free streaming and archived games if you have access to ESPN3). For the rest of the world, Live Soccer TV will be a great place to get listings. Other options include going to local bars and/or actually flying to Brazil and trying to get tickets. It's probably a bit late to do that last part now, mind.

Who runs the World Cup?

The World Cup is run by an organization named FIFA, which stands for the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (that's French, but you can probably get the gist of what it). Run by President Sepp Blatter, FIFA is the global overseeing body for football, and they can more or less do whatever they want with the World Cup and the rules of soccer itself, because it's so incredibly popular that people can't help but watch it.

Unsurprisingly, that means that FIFA tend to make a lot of money, and since they're not really directly responsible to any particular government... well, there's a reason that they're widely considered to be one of the most corrupt bodies in professional sport, if not human history. It turns out that everyone will tolerate quite a lot of corruption in exchange for soccer.

How are the 32 teams picked?

Teams qualify for the World Cup via a number of different processes. Let's briefly run through them.

The host team -- for 2014 that would be Brazil -- is automatically entered into the tournament. Until 2006, the previous winners were too; now that's no longer true. The other 31 slots are assigned by continent (confederation) as follows:

Europe: 13 slots.
Africa: 5 slots.
South America: 4.5 slots.
Asia: 4.5 slots.
North/Central America: 3.5 slots.
Oceania: 0.5 slots.

A half slot means a playoff which is drawn at random. The half-seed from South America tends to dominate.

Each continent's governing body (separate from FIFA) is free to come up with their own qualification structure, and so they do. Europe uses several seeded groups, with the winners qualifying automatically and most of the second place teams going into an in-confederation playoff system. South America has every country on the continent compete in one big league and takes the top five. Africa has a minor knockout tournament to decide groups, but then uses those groups to seed playoffs. Asia and North/Central America both have multi-stage knockout/group systems. It's messy and complicated, but it tends to work out fine.

After teams have qualified, they tend to play a number of friendlies with different lineups as coaches assess players and work out tactics for the World Cup.

How are the hosts chosen?

Messy and complicated and arguably does not work out just fine. This is the most contentious issue in the scary world of soccer politics. In theory, countries who hope to host the World Cup submit a bid to FIFA, who get together and vote on the best bid until they agree where a World Cup should be held. In practice, the World Cup seems to go to whomever is best at bribing the necessary FIFA officials. This has been true for some time, but after FIFA awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar (scorching hot summers, dubious at best human rights record), things are coming to an ugly head.

Countries which win bids (and there is precedent for multiple hosts -- Japan and South Korea did it in 2002) tend to have to make costly upgrades to infrastructure and build several new world-class soccer stadiums. Brazil have had major problems with getting ready to host the 2014 World Cup, with severe delays and several construction deaths, and the promised infrastructure mostly hasn't materialized.

How is the tournament structured?

The World Cup starts with eight four-team 'groups' (A-H). Each team in a group plays everyone else in the group once, with three points going to the winner of each game and one apiece for a tie. The teams finishing with the first and second highest points total in each group advance. The most important tiebreaker here is goal differential, which is goals scored minus goals conceded -- so racking up goals against weaker teams is actually fairly important in difficult groups.

16 teams advance from the group stages into a single-knockout tournament, which is structured in advance (the winner from Group A plays the second team from Group B and so on). There are eight 'Round of 16' games, four quarterfinals, two semifinals and, of course, the final. The sharp-eyed reader will have noticed that this doesn't add up to 64; that's because the losers of the semifinals enter a playoff for third place. Since nobody cares much about finishing third versus finishing fourth and there is therefore no pressure, this tends to be one of the most entertaining matches of the entire tournament.

How are groups assigned?

The draw is set several months before the tournament begins. FIFA maintains a (fairly complex if weirdly flawed) ranking system for all of the national teams under its banner, the top seven plus the host nation are seeded and kept separate from each other in 'Pot One'. Then geography comes into play, with teams grouped into pots by continent and groups getting a team from each pot. This is all done in an elaborate ceremony which takes entirely too long, and is followed up by everyone arguing about which group is hardest.

Which teams do the best?

Brazil is the all-time leader, with five wins from 19 tournaments, although their last win was 12 years ago in 2002. The current champions, Spain, have only won once, but they've also won three major international tournaments in six years and so are not to be treated lightly. The other traditional powers include Italy, Germany and Argentina; the latter two have both been waiting for more than two decades since they last won the trophy.

Only eight teams have ever won a World Cup, the other three being Uruguay, England and France.

There are other big international tournaments?

Each confederation hosts a regular championship for (broadly speaking) teams from that continent. Europe/UEFA hold the European Championship every four years (Spain are back-to-back champions), South America/COMNEBOL have the Copa America on a similar schedule, Africa/CAF have the Africa Cup of Nations on a schedule that nobody seems to have nailed down and the other major tournament you may have heard of is the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which features teams from North and Central America.

All international tournaments are prestigious, but their importance tends to correlate directly with how good a continent's teams are (the European Championship is, for example, much more important than its Oceanian counterpart).

How is international soccer different to club soccer?

Club soccer pays the wages, international soccer is an entirely different beast. The biggest teams in soccer are the clubs (Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, etc), who hold players' contracts and play the vast majority of the matches. But players for club teams are all eligible to be called up to their national team without breaking their contracts with the club, and most leagues have 'international breaks' so that playing for a national team doesn't conflict with the club schedule.

International soccer tends to be less fluid than top-level club football, because the players involved don't spend as long training with each other and coaches have less time to impose a system on their team. There's also more caution -- the emphasis is on avoiding mistakes rather than blowing the opposition away -- and while that's true for big club tournaments as well, contesting the World Cup tends to bring out the most cautious approaches of all.

What determines which country you play for?

This depends. The obvious one is citizenship (including nationalised citizens), but you can also qualify for teams through parents and in some cases grandparents. Countries are more or less free to determine selection criteria within a reasonable scale, and some use very strict rules while others are far more relaxed. Many players are eligible for two or more countries, but as soon as they represent a country in a competitive game, they are then barred from swapping allegiances.

Which country a player chooses to represent can be the source of considerable rancor and debate -- Spanish center forward Diego Costa switched over from Brazil in 2013, and his reception at the World Cup is unlikely to be pleasant.

Is there a preview you'd recommend?

Why yes! Yes there is:



Responsibilities: Blocking shots, defending center, distributing.

Example: Manuel Neuer (Germany)

Goalkeepers lead a lonely life. They're the only players allowed to use their hands, but they're also the only players who will almost never get bailed out for their own mistakes. If the goalkeeper makes an error, it's bad news for his team -- they even get their own special word for blunders (the howler) -- but conversely, they can also be heroes, single-handedly snatching the game from the opposition with a string of saves. It's those saves that will get a goalkeeper onto highlight reels, but shot-stopping is just part of their job, and veteran goalkeepers will tell you that most of shot stopping is positioning rather than pure reflexes. Their other jobs include marshaling the defense, catching crosses and smothering throughballs before forwards can pounce.

Left/Right Back

Responsibilities: Defending flank (more), attacking flank (less).

Example: Pablo Zabaleta (Argentina)

Sometimes considered the most important position on the pitch (the team with the best fullbacks, so the theory goes, wins the World Cup), sometimes the least, the fullbacks' must perform two key functions. First and formost, they must contain the other teams' most dangerous wide players when their flank is under attack, preventing them from either driving inside or crossing. Once that's been dealt with, they must then support their side on the attack, generally trying to create overlapping runs with a teammate to set up a cross into the opponent's box. They run an awful lot.

Center back

Responsibilities: Defending center, distributing.

Example: Vincent Kompany (Belgium)

A team's big bruisers. Center backs lock down... well, you can guess from the name. Their job is to control their own penalty box and the space immediately in front of it, and they tend to be both tall (in order to deal with aerial balls) and strong (to knock strikers off the ball). In most formations there are two or three center backs, and they have to be in constant communication to work out which of them will challenge for possession and which will mop up -- in four-man back lines the center back partnership is particularly celebrated. Due to their size, they're frequently used as set-piece threats at the other end of the pitch.

Left/Right Wingback

Responsibilities: Defending flank, attacking flank.

Example: Darijo Srna (Croatia)

A fullback on speed. Wingbacks are generally deployed when a team is concentrating on attacking through the middle and requires one player to control an entire flank by themselves, it therefore takes a special sort to be drafted in. Essentially given the same defensive responsibility as your garden variety fullback, a wingback is tasked with far more going forward, and can often be found ridiculously high up the pitch, frequently in scoring positions. Which is fine until possession is lost and they have to go back and defend, at which point... you're probably getting tired just thinking about it, aren't you?

Defensive Midfielder

Responsibilities: Defending center, distributing.

Example: Luis Gustavo (Brazil)

Calm and collected, a defensive midfielder plays something of an old-man role, because taking risks is the last thing he should be doing. Generally used to free up the rest of the team to do some attacking, a defensive midfielder's primary role is to sit in front of his center backs and either win the ball, slow down opposition attacks, or force play wide. Preferably in that order. The space a defensive midfielder controls is extraordinarily important, so they very rarely vacate it -- if they do and the opposition manages to counter through the middle, someone's probably having a very bad day.

Their secondary role is ball retention, so if you're a fan of no-pressure sideways passes, defensive midfield might be for you!

Box-to-box midfielder

Responsibilities: Everything.

Example: Arturo Vidal (Chile)

The box-to-box midfielder is a beast. Or at least, he's supposed to be. Perhaps the purest position in the sport, playing the box-to-box role means a player must be good or better at more or less everything. They're expected to defend well, keep possession under pressure, pick out smart passes, track opposition runs, find their way into dangerous positions and perhaps score a few goals. Although they don't make as many flashy plays as their more attack-minded teammates, they're the players who make everything tick, and a top-notch box-to-box player can be an absolute marvel to watch.

Attacking midfielder

Responsibilities: Scoring, assisting.

Example: Yaya Touré(Ivory Coast)

Attacking midfielders are an interesting breed in that they're not really a breed at all. They come in all shapes and sizes and with very different approaches, but they all have one thing in common: mess with the opponent as high up the pitch as possible. Some are pure playmakers, who move around in the space between the enemy defense and midfield before playing the pass that will open their opponents up. Some are less subtle, charging in and causing havock in the opponent's box whenever they can. Some take on an active defensive role, trying to disrupt attacks before they start. Some stand around and wait for their team to get the ball back.

And most of them are quite a lot of fun.

Left/Right Winger

Responsibilities: Defending flank (less), attacking flank (more)

Example: Antonio Valencia (Ecuador)

The winger is considered a very old-fashioned player. Sticking to their touchlines, working up and down the pitch, wingers used to be an ever-present sight in soccer, particularly English soccer, and their primary job was to receive the ball, run as close to the opposition byline as possible, and cross it in for a forward. Out of fashion now because of the move to the more versatile wide forwards, the few pure wingers that stick around are still dangerous, because it turns out that dribbling really fast past defenders and crossing is a totally viable attaking move. Who knew?

Left/Right forward

Responsibilities: Scoring, assisting.

Example: Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)

Take away a winger's attachment to the touchline and some of their defensive responsibilities and you get a wide forward (sometimes they're referred to as inside forwards, just to confuse everyone). Wide forwards tend to be very fast, and although they're capable of crossing they generally prefer some combination of long-range shooting and dribbling past flat-footed defenders. That skillset tends to be both fairly flashy and incredibly dangerous, and it's no surprise that some of the best-known attacking players in the world play in this position. As a rule, the more attacking they do, the less inclined they are to pitch in defensively.

Second striker

Responsibilities: Scoring, assisting.

Example: Wayne Rooney (England)

In general, this is the player whose all-around game is too good to be used as a straight-up center forward. Instead of being isolated like a true striker, they can not infrequently be found dropping back into the midfield to exchange passes with their teammates, helping to build up attacks. But they're not attacking midfielders -- when push comes to shove they'll find their way into the penalty box to score their fair share of goals. Second strikers seem to have a knack for being in just the right place to pounce on loose balls, and defenders hate them for it.

Center forward (striker)

Responsibilities: Scoring

Example: Edinson Cavani (Uruguay)

Goals are the point of soccer, and the center forwards tends to be the one providing them. Ideally tall enough to get on the end of crosses, powerful enough to engage in some fairly muscular duels with opposing center backs and a good enough marksman to finish chances when they come, the center forward is one of the few players capable of changing games by themselves. If you're new to watching soccer and want to get a feel for how this sport plays out, watching the movement of the top strikers in the game is a fun exercise -- the way they're able to create and exploit space off the ball is magnificent.

Vocabulary: Attacking

Pass: Play the ball deliberately to a teammate using one's feet.
Shot: Strike the ball at goal.
Dribble: Running with the ball.
Run: Movement off the ball with the hope of finding space behind or between defenders.
Cross: A pass from wide to the opposition penalty box (high or low).
Through ball: A pass through defensive lines to an open player.
One-two: A pass immediately followed by a return pass.
Flick: A one-touch pass with any body part.
Backheel: A backwards pass (with the heel).
Diagonal: A long pass forward and wide.
Switch: Moving the ball from one flank to the other.
Overlap: A flank run past an engaged defender, generally used to force crossing situations.

Vocabulary: Defending

Tackle: Winning the ball while the opponent is dribbling or stationary.
Challenge: Generally synonymous with tackle.
Interception: Winning the ball off an opposition pass.
Clearance: Kicking or heading the ball from danger.
Marking: Defending one player in particular, with or without the ball. Most often on a set piece.
Tracking: Following and neutralising an opposition run.
Save: A goalkeeper blocking a shot.
Stuck in: Being forceful when tackling.
Walls: A line of defenders set up to block a shot from a free kick.
Back-pass: A goalkeeper picking up a pass from a defender, leading to an indirect free kick.

Vocabulary: General

Header: Striking the ball with one's head.
Pace: Speed, on and off ball.
Power: Strength.
Work-rate: How much a player is willing to run off the ball
Tempo: The speed of play.
Volley: Striking the ball before it's hit the ground.
Control: How well a player's touches set them up to do what they want.
First touch: Generally synonymous with 'control'.
Nutmeg: Playing a ball between an opponent's legs.
Stepover: A dribbling feint in which the player in possession swings their free leg over the ball before pulling it back around.
Dummy: Pretending to play the ball but letting it run.
Set pieces: Generally used to describe free kicks and corners, rarely throw-ins. Requires specific defensive/attacking schemes.
Goal kicks: A kick from the six yard box after the attacking team has put the ball out of play over the defenders' byline.
Corners: A kick from the corner of the pitch after the defending team has put the ball out of play over their own byline.
Throw-ins: A two-handed overhead throw from the touchline. Goals cannot be scored directly from throws.
Free kicks: Awarded after a foul, defenders must stand at least ten yards away. Sometimes can be a direct shooting chance.
Indirect free kicks: As free kicks, but goal cannot be scored directly.
Penalties: A free shot from twelve yards with only the goalkeeper to beat, awarded after a foul in the penalty area. Also refers to penalty shootouts.
Kick-off: From the center circle, used to restart matches after a goal is scored or a scheduled stoppage in play.
Brace: A player scoring twice in one game.
Hattrick: A player scoring three times in one game.
Clean sheet: Conceding zero goals in a match.
Dissent: Arguing with a match official.
Booking: Receiving a yellow card.

Vocabulary: Team play/Tactics

Rigid: A team's players stick tightly to their assigned role in a formation.
Fluid: A team's players are free to move around outside of formation constraints.
Direct: A team will attempt long, quick passes without worry about losing the ball.
Counterattack: An attack into space immediately after a team wins the ball.
Tiki-taka: Maintaining possession through short passes, looking to wear out the opposition.
Anti-football/negative football: Defending at all costs, not looking to attack.
Total football: Fluidity taken to its logical conclusion. All players except the goalkeeper can play in every role.
Catenaccio: Generally misused, originally a specific defensive system but now synonymous with 'anti-football'.
Pressing: A team without the ball putting coordinated pressure on their opponents.
Transition: The moments after a team gains or loses possession.
The pivot: A midfield pairing in which both players are capable of covering for their partner.
Overload: Cramming players into one area of the field.
Passing lane: The most direct passing route from one player to another.

What is a formation?

A formation is a means of describing team shape. Each number denotes how many players at each position a team is playing, with the goalkeeper never included. The numbers represent defenders first, then midfielders, then forwards. As an example, a 4-4-2 has four defenders, four midfielders and two forwards (note that sometimes the midfield is split up into two bands). Formations are the most basic way to explain how a team is lining up, and they give an insight into the style of play as well.

What does a formation tell us?

Formations are a great starting point for describing how teams will play. They give an indication as to how many attacking or defending players a team is playing, as well as a base-level idea for how a team is going to play in terms of width. But it is important to remember that formations are not equivalent to tactics and can only tell you so much. There are an infinite number of variations a team can play within the same formation; they can only ever be a rough guide to what's happening on the pitch.


The 4-4-2 used to be the favored way for many teams to play, with four defenders, four midfielders and two forwards. It was the hallmark of the English for years, with tough two-way midfielders, wingers who could get crosses in and two forwards to attack the ball in the air. It is not nearly as popular as it once was, but some teams still employ it in order to get as many goal threats near the opposition box as possible. Teams using 4-4-2 tend to suffer from a lack of numbers in central midfield.

4-4-2 diamond

Whereas the 4-4-2 generally uses a flat four midfield, the 4-4-2 diamond midfield features a deep defensive midfielder, a central attacking midfielder and two shuttlers flanking them who are asking to contribute to both attack and defense. Because this formation doesn’t have wingers, teams with a diamond midfield lean heavily on their fullbacks to get forward and provide width in the attack -- but the sheer number of bodies they field through the center means that they're very tough to break down in the middle.


A variant of the 4-4-2, the 4-4-1-1 allows teams to play similarly to how they do with a two-forward setup, except it makes use of a more technical, skillful or creative second striker. If a team has a forward who isn’t as physical a player and likes to play deeper or a midfielder who is deadly going forward with minimal desire to defend, they could play in a 4-4-1-1.


There aren’t many teams that use a 4-1-4-1, but it was brought to the forefront by Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich. Bayern's variant is a hyper-offensive shape, but 4-1-4-1 can also be used defensively depending on which midfielders are played in the second band of four. The key to the formation is this: one center forward, one defensive midfielder playing behind a pivot. Useful for packing the center without compromising width.


Popularized by Ajax and the wonderful Netherlands teams of the 1960’s and 1970’s, the 4-3-3 can be played a variety of different ways and has been utilized with regularity throughout the world for decades now. Generally, the formation allows for two attack-minded wide forwards flanking a central striker, but because it can allow teams to be out-numbered in the wide midfield areas, teams normally need excellent midfielders to play it.

Some variants of 4-3-3 play two midfielders deep and one more advanced.


The last decade has seen the 4-2-3-1 become far and away the most popular formation in the world. It features two holding midfielders in a pivot, whose job can vary depending on what the team wants to do -- two box-to-box midfielders are not uncommon, but the most common usage is a more defensive midfielder and a deep playmaker. With a central attacking midfielder ahead of the pivot and pulling the strings, two wingers and a center forward, the 4-2-3-1 can play similarly to 4-3-3, 4-4-2, 4-4-1-1 or any number of formations, and it is this fluidity that has made it so popular.


Often known as the 'Christmas Tree', the 4-3-2-1 is a hybrid of the 4-4-2 diamond and the 4-3-3. It uses three central midfielders, two attacking midfielders who generally serve as playmakers and a lone striker, and tends to suffer from the same problems with width as the diamond. It is, however, extremely effective when sides have two elite-level talents to play behind the striker. Rarely seen.


The three-man back line (sometimes called a 5-3-2 if the team fielding it is playing defensively) emerged in response to 4-4-2. Three central defenders enable the defending team to keep an extra man against two central forwards, while three central midfielders overload the middle against the 4-4-2's two. The main downside to this shape is that it requires the wide players to do essentially everything, defending their flank while providing most of the attacking width.


A more dynamic variant of the 3-5-2, although it loses the extra man in midfield. The 3-4-3 normally comprises three central defenders, two central midfielders, two wingbacks, a pair of attacking midfielders and a central forward, and the attacking midfielders take some of the burden off the wingbacks in creating from out wide. 3-4-3 has been used to great effect by Chile in previous World Cups and has also been seen fairly frequently in Italy's Serie A.

Can you explain the offside rule again?

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