World Cup Mania-Part II-Soccer for Dummies- It's a 32-team field. Co-hosts Japan and South Korea got automatic bids, as did defending champ France. The remaining 29 teams got in as part of regional qualifying tournaments. Pros are welcome, so all the stars (unless they're hurt or suspended) are here. The US is in, having tied for second with Mexico in the Concacaf (North/Central America) regional which sends three teams to the World Cup. They break down the teams into eight four-team groups, who play a round-robin series of three games. The top two teams in each group advance to what we tacky Americans would call the Sweet 16 and a single-elimination playoff.
Here's a quick list of factiods for sports junkies who'd like to get into this but are soccer-challenged. I'm doing this from memory, so feel free to let me know if the rules have changed without me knowing it. [5/30-Peter Briffa did just that,chiming in with a couple of corrections]
Fit to be Tied-Ties are allowed in the round-robin group play. To discourage teams from playing for ties, a win counts three points in the group standings and a tie only one point.
OT-In the playoff part, they play a 30-minute sudden-death overtime, although the term "golden-goal" is used rather than "sudden-death." If they get through overtime still tied, they decide it on penalty kicks, where five players from each team get to go mano-a-mano with the goalie; you can expect a 80%-or-so success rate on penalty kicks. If it's tied after five, they trade extra penalty kicks until it's decided. The 1994 men's World Cup final was decided on penalty kicks, ending as Italian superstar Roberto Baggio missed the net entirely to give Brazil the win. You may better remember the bra better than Brazil, as the '99 Women's World Cup came down to penalty kicks as well, with Brandi Chastain netting the winner to get the US past China.
Geting Carded-The soccer equivalent of a technical foul is a yellow card, given for flagrant fouls or sufficiently dissing the refs. Like in basketball, two of those get you tossed. The ref will pull out a red card for a second infraction (or an agregious single action) which kicks out the player in question without replacement. The other team is then essentially on a game-long power play, playing 11-on-10.
The Replacements-Soccer's like baseball, you can't come back in once you're replaced. This means that soccer players have to have a lot of stamina. Three substitutions are allowed, which are saved for injuries or getting as set of wobbly legs out late in the second half. You might save a old-but-dangerous player to put in the second half to give the team a late lift.
The Goalie Host-The goalie can use his hands within the penalty area, the big box surrounding the goal. Any foul within the penalty area results in a penalty kick. The goalie will occasionally punt the ball downfield, but that's a lower-percentage play and he'll more likely pass it out to a nearby teammate. The goalie has a three-step limit while holding it, so he can't run forever with it. The goalie can't catch it if his teammate intentionally kicks it to him (catching deflections is OK). [5/30 Peter Briffa writes that a 3-4 second rule has been instituted-replace the three-step rule]
Hands Off-Of course, any non-goalie touching the ball with his hands, deliberately or not, is a foul. A deliberate hand-touch gets you a red card. English soccer fans will scream about this rule, as replays showed that Argentine star Maradona deflected the winning goal of the 1986 World Cup off his hand rather than his head. The refs didn't catch it and Maradona famously denied using his hand, saying it was the "hand of God" that deflected it in. That's sorta the soccer version of the Immaculate Reception (Raiders fans still think Fuqua touched it last, making the catch illegal)
Injury Time- The referee keep the official time. So, when the 45 minutes of the stadium clock is up, the half's not over. A few minutes, for injuries and time spent after goals, will remain. The referees may announce an estimate of the injury time (or extra time), thus making this period a two-minute-drill without knowing exactly how much time is left. [5/30 Briffa notes that they now put the exact injury time on the scoreboard]
[Eschatological aside-For premillenialists, the impending return of Christ can be described using an injury time analogy. "We know the end of the game is coming real soon, but we don't know exactly how much time is left."]
Knowing your boundaries- Like baseball, the lines are inbounds. The ball has to go fully over the line to be out-of-bounds.
If a ball goes out of bounds on the side, the team who didn't touch it last gets to throw it in.
If the ball goes out of bounds on the endline and the defense touched it last, the offence gets a corner kick, where the offence will be able to center the ball and create a good scoring chance. Everyone holds their breath on a corner kick. The goalie gets a free kick (look ma, no hands) from inside the Goal Box (little box by the goal) if the offence touched it last.
Playing the ball-You can make contact with a player with the ball as long as you are going for the ball. If you make contact without coming close to the ball, it can be judged a foul. Tackling from behind is a good recipe for a yellow card.
Free Kicks- Fouls allow the other team a free kick. The fouling team has to be ten yards away from the ball. If the foul is close to their goal, the team on defense will often make a wall of a half-dozen or so players at the ten-yard mark between the goal and the kicker, thus making the offence make at least one pass before shooting.
If there is a foul inside the penalty box, it results in a penalty kick. Since those are near-automatic, you don't want to foul there.