For soccer aficionados and casual fans alike, June 12 will be Christmas, New Year's and Mardi Gras all rolled into one big ball bursting with excitement, curiosity and questions. Thursday’s the day when Brazil and Croatia will kick off the 20th FIFA World Cup before some 65,000 spectators at Arena de São Paulo and a worldwide television audience of billions.
The World Cup is surpassed only by the Olympic Games in global interest, and there has been a flood of stories about qualifying matches, group draws and roster announcements.
Nearly 3 million tickets have been sold for the tournament. U.S. fans have snatched up the second most number of tickets after fans in Brazil, and the host nation is spending approximately $11.5 billion on the Cup. Four million dollars of that amount is being spent on building or renovating the 12 stadiums that will host the matches.
The U.S. Men’s National Team enters the tournament with some momentum. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s 11-man side swept its three-game send-off series by closing with a 2-1 win against World Cup qualifier Nigeria Saturday in Jacksonville, Florida. Forward Jozy Altidore accounted for both goals after a six-month scoring drought.
Here’s a round-up of what to look for once the quadrennial craziness begins Thursday:
Dates: The 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil tournament takes place June 12 to July 13. The championship match will be held at 96,000-seat Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on July 13.
Tournament Format: In the opening round, there are eight groups of four teams that will play each other in a round-robin format with points awarded for ranking the sides. Winning teams receive three points, while teams that draw receive one point each. The top two teams from each group advance to the win-or-go-home stage that begins with the round of 16.
Cities: FIFA’s key requirements for hosting the World Cup include eight to 12 stadiums, venue-specific training sites in the respective host cities and base camp facilities for the 32 teams. In an effort to spread the benefits of the World Cup to all corners of the country, Brazil’s local organizing committee decided to host games in 12 cities. The cities are Belo Horizonte, Brasilia, Cuiaba, Curitiba, Fortaleza, Manaus, Natal, Porto Alegre, Recife, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and Sao Paulo. Located in the Amazon rainforest, Manaus will host the U.S.-Portugal match June 22 in a setting so humid that new two-minute timeouts have been approved for the 30th and 75th minutes of the match.
Groups: Group A — Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon. Group B — Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia. Group C — Colombia, Ivory Coast, Greece, Japan. Group D — Uruguay, England, Italy, Costa Rica. Group E — France, Ecuador, Switzerland, Honduras. Group F — Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Nigeria, Iran. Group G — Germany, Portugal, USA, Ghana. Group H — Belgium, Russia, South Korea, Algeria.
Group of Death: Every four years, FIFA’s tournament lottery kicks out a four-team selection dubbed the “Group of Death” because of the level of competition. In 2014, Group G received the distinction to the dismay of U.S. Men’s National Team, which will play powerhouses Germany and Portugal as well as Ghana. Ghana knocked Team USA out of the tournament in 2006 and 2010, while Germany had that distinction in 2002. However, in an age of global soccer growth, almost all of the groups are set to be highly competitive. And as far as the Group of Death goes, Group D could make a pretty strong argument for that title, too.
Rankings: As of June 5, FIFA’s rankings showed Spain in first place, followed by Germany, Brazil, Portugal, Argentina, Switzerland, Uruguay, Colombia, Italy and England. The United States ranks 13th, ahead of traditional powers such as the Netherlands (15) and France (17).
Favorites: Experts give the sides from Brazil, Spain, Germany and Argentina the best shots at hoisting the gold trophy in Rio de Janeiro on July 13. Brazil has won the Cup five times, more than any other nation. Spain is the defending champion.
Hospitality: Operations teams from United States and Brazil have spent more than two years preparing the ground for visitors. Interest has been “unprecedented,” according to SportsMark, the official U.S. sales agent for hospitality packages. Brazil expects 3.7 million visitors. In the United States, MLS and U.S. Soccer plan to host watch parties at a variety of indoor and outdoor venues.
Technology: Goal-line technology will be used for the first time in the World Cup. Called GoalControl-4D, the new system has seven high-speed cameras focused on each goal mouth. The system uses detection software and a CPU to send a radio signal to the referee’s watch in less than one second indicating a goal, according to FIFA.
Olympic Connections: There are four members of Team USA in Brazil for the World Cup who also represented the United States in the Olympic Games. They are goalkeeper Tim Howard, who was on the U.S. Olympic roster in 2000, and three players from the 2008 squad: goalkeeper Brad Guzan, midfielder Michael Bradley and Altidore. A team of U-23 players, in addition to a handful of overage players, will make up the U.S. Olympic Team if it qualifies for the 2016 Games. Rio de Janeiro will play host to the 2016 Games.
John Conroy is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. His work spans topics in technology, business, current events, sports and music. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.