I don't follow sports very closely. I don't watch games on TV or check scores online. I do pay attention to the big events like the World Series, Superbowl, and recently the Stanley Cup only because a local team was involved.
I work in an international department and many of my colleagues and associates originate from or reside in countries other than the U.S., and it seems that for them the FIFA World Cup Tournament is an important international event on par with the Olympics. So I have been paying some attention lately, but didn't really understand how the tournament works.
I spent some time trying to find out, and I guess if you follow football or basketball playoffs it might already make sense, but it was new to me so I thought I'd share what I learned.
There are 32 national teams that compete in the tournament. They are the result of a qualification process that started with 204 national teams, making it equal to the Olympics in terms of national participation. The qualification began in 2007 and I did not research it enough to explain it.
The tournament is divided into 2 phases, the group phase and the knockout phase. For the group phase, the 32 teams are divided into 8 groups of 4 teams. Each team plays 3 matches, one against each other team in its group. Teams are awarded points according to the outcome of each match: 3 points for a win, 1 point for a draw, 0 for a loss. At the end of the group phase, the 2 teams with the most points in each group advance to the knockout phase.
In the knockout phase the top 16 teams are paired up through another mysterious process called seeding, and play a winner take all match to advance to the next round. There are no draws in this phase. Tied games go into overtime play, and ultimately to a penalty kick contest if no decision is reached in overtime. The 8 winners play to 4 and then to the final 2 teams that compete in the championship match. The championship match is scheduled to be played July 11, and is expected to draw a viewing audience that rivals the Olympic opening ceremonies.
I might even watch.