Up Next

2018 FIFA World Cup

How to sound smart at a World Cup watch party

A cheat sheet to help you drop some futbol knowledge on your friends

flSomehow, you’re sitting with a bunch of folks rooting for futbol, not football, and wondering how you got here. It is a World Cup watch party and the only soccer player you know is Pelé. But don’t fear. We got you.

Sometimes you’ve got to fake it till you make it. We’re going to help you fake it at a World Cup party with our 2018 World Cup Cheat Sheet. If you don’t know what the beautiful game is, why Portugal is comparable to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Mexican media battle or who the front-running countries are, you will after you read this. And if you forget, just keep the link in your phone to take a peek when you need to drop some futbol knowledge on your friends. Knowledge is power, and it’s our goal to make you an instant World Cup expert by getting you familiar with selected teams and soccer terms.


World Cup titles: 2 (1978, 1986)

Manager: Jorge Sampaoli

The star: Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona)

X-factor players: Paolo Dybala (Dee-ba-la) (Juventus), Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)

How they got here: It was a tough road to qualification to this World Cup for the 2014 finalists. After another final loss in Copa America 2016, a deflated Messi temporarily retired from international play. The federation entered a state of chaos with their superstar player asking for change. Several managerial changes at several levels brought Messi back into the fold and finally put them in position to qualify third in South America. They needed every bit of Messi’s hat tricks in their 3-1 win on the road in Ecuador on the final day of qualifying to secure their spot in the tournament.

Overview: After a crushing defeat against Germany in the World Cup final in 2014, the pressure has only risen on Messi. Similar to LeBron James chasing the ghost that is Michael Jordan, the media in Messi’s country has made it about Messi chasing the ghost of Diego Maradona. The star of the 1986 World Cup, who carried Argentina to victory, hasn’t helped the situation by frequently criticizing Messi in the media. The team has talent, predominantly at the forward position with Aguero, Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain. But the question lies whether a weak midfield and a young defense could hold up to the pressures of a World Cup. Also, can Messi give the kind of dominant performance his team needs this time around? They are still favorites to win Group G, matched up against Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria.


World Cup titles: 0

Manager: Roberto Martinez

The star: Kevin DeBruyne (De-Bru-een) (Manchester City)

X-factor players: Eden Hazard (Chelsea) and Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United)

How they got here: An easy group draw ensured the Red Devils would have no problem qualifying for the World Cup. They finished undefeated with nine wins and one draw, good for first place in Group H with a margin of nine points to second-place Greece. They are one of nine countries from Europe to qualify for Russia 2018.

Overview: No longer are the Belgians the “under the radar” squad they once were. They are absolute contenders for this World Cup. What was once a collection of young phenoms has now graduated to a group as talented as any national team in the world. A star midfielder on the Premier League champion Manchester City squad, DeBruyne will drive the ship that is Belgium. Manchester United star Lukaku will look to regain his early-season form for his club and be the powerful force in front of goal. Their defense is solid, with talent everywhere. But their locker room leader and captain, Vincent Kompany, also of Manchester City, could be forced to miss the tournament with a groin injury. The team has given him up to 24 hours before the team’s first match to prove his fitness or be replaced on the roster. Their main matchup to watch will be against England on June 28.


World Cup titles: 5 (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)

Manager: Leonardo Bacchi, aka “Tite”

The star: Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain)

Other key players: Willian (Chelsea), Fred (Manchester United), Paulinho (Barcelona)

How they got here: The biggest turnaround of any team from the previous World Cup was that of Brazil. German players were seen cringing as they knocked in their final two goals in the embarrassing 7-1 semifinal defeat over Brazil on home soil. The tears shed by both fans and the players even before the final whistle made it one of the most dramatic sports scenes in recent memory. But the switch turned on after their gold medal win at the Olympics, also on home soil in Rio de Janeiro, in 2016. They finished first in South America and had that wrapped up with several match days to go.

Overview: Brazil enters with an extremely talented squad at every level. 2014’s team was holding onto several older players (and still landed in the semifinals) rather than giving the new generation the experience of playing in a World Cup. Now those young footballers have grown into terrific players for some of the top clubs all over Europe. The famous yellow jersey will once again strike fear into any opponent this summer in Russia.


World Cup titles: 0

Manager: Jose Pekerman

The star: James (Ha-mes) Rodriguez (Bayern Munich)

Other key players: Juan Cuadrado (Juventus), Radamel Falcao (Monaco)

How they got here: It was a brutal quarterfinal defeat in 2014 when the hosts, Brazil, eliminated them 2-1: a disallowed goal for Colombia midway through the second half, a screamer of a goal from 30 yards out from Brazilian defender David Luiz and most of all the broken backbone Neymar suffered that ended his World Cup dreams. Colombia was critical of the officiating but was forced to move on. The team brought back Argentine manager Jose Pekerman and finished fourth in South America using a wide base of players, young and veteran.

Overview: Colombia enters the tournament with an intriguing team. “Los Cafeteros” arrive in Russia with a squad of young players, some of whom are playing for big clubs in Europe but most of whom are leaders in some of the biggest clubs in South America. They’ve long been known as a physical team that plays with maximum effort until the final whistle. Juan Cuadrado will be key down the right wing on the attack, as James Rodriguez will receive much of the attention. Also, what will Radamel Falcao be able to give them at this stage of his career? Having a goal scorer of his caliber to come off the bench in crucial situations is a massive luxury.


World Cup titles: 0

Manager: Hector Cuper

The Star: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)

Other key player: Mohamed Elneny (Arsenal)

How they got here: What a season 2017-18 has been for Salah. Not only did he break the Premier League and Liverpool single-season scoring records in his first year in England’s top flight, but he single-handedly dragged his country to its third World Cup appearance and first since 1990. On Oct. 10, 2017, with Egypt needing a win to advance out of Africa’s qualifying stage to the World Cup, Salah stepped up to take a penalty kick in the final seconds of a 1-1 game against Congo. The fans in the stadium in Cairo were sent into an absolute frenzy when he knocked in the shot from 12 yards out. Salah was a waterfall dripping tears of joy.

Overview: After suffering a shoulder injury in the Champions League final, Salah was in tears at the prospect of not being able to participate in the World Cup. Since then, they have received news that he will likely be cleared to play. Salah has said in the media that his team feels no pressure: “We were not even supposed to be here. We will just go out there and play our game. We are tough. We will fight.” That’s clearly a relaxed approach to the country’s first World Cup since two years before their current superstar was born. With his talent, and a solid defense, Egypt can surprise an opponent and be a difficult matchup for others in the first round. Group A gives them a possibility, facing the hosts in Russia, Saudi Arabia and the favorites of the group, Uruguay.


World Cup titles: 1 (1966)

Manager: Gareth Southgate

The Star: Harry Kane (Tottenham)

Other key players: Dele Alli (Tottenham), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)

How they got here: England qualified for the World Cup with relative ease despite having a campaign that failed to inspire at times. They won Group F of European qualifying but weren’t truly challenged with a favorable draw, as they finished eight points clear of Slovakia and Scotland. A plethora of talented players are on the roster, but they haven’t proven to play a type of soccer that strikes fear into opponents.

Overview: England enters the fray with a new era of young players. Gone are the days of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney. Dele Alli and Raheem Sterling are guys who will be looked upon to use their skill and quickness on the wings to attempt to make up for less creative center midfield players. Harry Kane is among the best goal scorers in the world, and he will need to have a massive display for England to advance deep in the tournament.


World Cup titles: 1 (1998)

Manager: Didier Deschamps

The star: Paul Pogba (Manchester United)

Other key players: Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid), Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain)

How they got here: The summer of 2016 was tough to swallow for fans of the French national team. They hosted the Euro Cup that year, and after defeating reigning World Cup champion Germany in the semifinals, they lost the final in Paris in extra time against a Portugal team that was without superstar Cristiano Ronaldo for most of the game because of an injury. Still, France was able to bounce back and finish first in Group A of European qualifying ahead of Sweden and the Netherlands.

Overview: France may have the most talented roster of this World Cup. The depth of this team is second to none. A strong and dominant midfield featuring Pogba and N’Golo Kante will be key to their game. A lot of pressure is on Pogba, after an up-and-down season plagued by injury at Manchester United. They shouldn’t have trouble scoring goals, with dynamic strikers in Griezmann and the 19-year-old Mbappe. Tomas Lemar of Monaco, an electrically fast option on the left wing, is another name to watch. The question remains whether this French team can finally capitalize on its enormous amount of talent and gain the mental toughness it takes to win a tournament of this magnitude. Be on the lookout for Griezmann-led Fortnite goal celebrations.


World Cup titles: 4 (1954, 1974, 1990, 2014)

Manager: Joachim Low

The star: Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich)

Other key players: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid), Marco Reus (Borussia Dortmund)

How they got here: The defending world champions had absolutely no problem during qualifying, finishing 10-0. They advanced with a first-place finish in Group C, 11 points clear of Northern Ireland. Their overtime win in the 2014 World Cup final over Argentina followed an amazing 7-1 drubbing of host Brazil in the semis.

Overview: Former captain Phillip Lahm and Mario Gotze, who scored the World Cup title-winning goal in 2014, are the only notable names that are missing from the roster from the previous tournament. The machine that is Germany’s midfield should only be rivaled, talentwise, by France. Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil and Reus lead a plethora of options who can suffocate teams defensively and dizzy opposing defenses when on the attack. Of course, up front they can count on Muller scoring some goals, as he’s only the third player to score 10 goals in his first two World Cups.


World Cup titles: 0

Manager: Juan Carlos Osorio

The star: Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez (West Ham United)

Other key players: Carlos Vela (Los Angeles FC), Raul Jimenez (Benfica)

How they got here: Although it was a turbulent ride, Mexico actually qualified easily for Russia 2018 with a first-place finish in the final round of Confederation of North and Central American and Caribbean Football (CONCACAF) qualifying. So why does it always feel as if the sky is falling over the Mexican national team? For starters, the mere fact that their head coach is Colombian has driven a deep divide among the media and their fans. Hugo Sanchez, a legendary player and former coach of Mexico, recently said, “Osorio’s cardinal sin is being a foreigner. As a Mexican, I just can’t accept that a coach who leads the Mexican national team is not a Mexican.” While this pride may be admirable, it goes along with the media’s inflated expectations for a team that has never made it past the round of 16 in a World Cup. Plenty of top federations hire international managers to coach their national teams. Osorio has elicited the best results Mexico has seen in 20 years, winning 31 of his 47 games in charge, including nine draws.

Overview: Because of the incredible criticism from both the media and their fans, many of the Mexican players are heading into the World Cup talking not about “winning for the pride of their country” but about reaching personal goals and pleasing a much smaller audience. Defender Hector Moreno recently said, “When I go home after the World Cup and my daughter and wife are proud of me, that will be my success.” The squad does include talented and experienced players. One addition to the roster who wasn’t there at the last World Cup in Brazil is Vela of Los Angeles FC. He had a huge falling-out with the Mexican federation in 2013 while he was playing for Real Sociedad in Spain and removed his name from contention before the announcement of the final rosters in 2014. Hernandez is the most famous Mexican player who is, though past his prime, still very capable of scoring. Will the off-the-field drama be too much for the players to handle? We’ll find out in the group stage when they face defending champion Germany.


World Cup titles: 0

Manager: Ricardo Gareca

The star: Paolo Guerrero (CR Flamengo)

Other key player: Jefferson Farfan (Lokomotiv Moscow)

How they got here: If drama is your favorite genre, the Peruvians’ road to the World Cup is exactly the story you want to hear. They needed a 75th-minute free kick goal from captain Guerrero on the final day of qualifying to finish fifth in South America’s qualification table. By rule, this entered them in a two-game playoff with the winner of the Oceania region, New Zealand. Peru was the favorite, but a scoreless draw in the first leg set up a dramatic scene in Lima the following week. Peru won 2-0 to secure the country’s first World Cup berth since 1982. The parties were epic in the nation’s capital. But when the dust finally settled from the celebrations, Guerrero was suspended for six months for taking a banned substance. That banned substance was cocaine, which he blamed on drinking a native Peruvian tea made with coca leaves. Guerrero, who plays for Flamengo in Brazil, maintained his innocence, and after a battle in a Swiss supreme court, his ban was temporarily suspended to make him eligible for the World Cup.

Overview: Having Guerrero on the squad makes a massive difference. He is an experienced goal scorer who has always lived up to his last name, which means “warrior” in Spanish. But let’s not be fooled — he is 34 and past his prime. It will be difficult to get a win against group favorite France. Peru’s focus should be on going all out against Denmark and Australia to seal a berth in the Round of 16.


World Cup titles: 0

Manager: Fernando Santos

The star: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)

Other key players: Andre Silva (AC Milan), Joao Moutinho (Monaco)

How they got here: The improbable European champions in 2016 kept their solid run of play moving forward through qualification, with a 9-1 record that was good for a tie for first place with Switzerland. They arrive without a ton of fanfare surrounding anyone, except of course Ronaldo.

Overview: Portugal is the team that brings to mind the 2018 Cleveland Cavaliers. Ronaldo is LeBron James in this instance, and he’ll carry the team into the knockout stage. But does he have enough around him to truly propel his squad against the top teams in the world? Despite their incredible Euro Cup title, this is a team that relies heavily on one player. That typically doesn’t work out well in World Cups. Still, as dynamic a player as CR7 is, any game can be turned on its head. It should be an epic matchup to start the tournament, as they’ll play border rivals Spain, which will have Ronaldo facing a few of his Real Madrid teammates.


World Cup titles: 0

Manager: Aliou Cisse

The star: Sadio Mane (Ma-Nay) (Liverpool)

Other key players: Cheikhou Kouyate (Ku-ya-te) (West Ham United), Diafra Sahko (Rennes)

How they got here: The road to qualifying for Russia was not as smooth as the standings indicated. Senegal finished first in Group D of African qualifying, but that was after the Senegalese federation appealed the result of a match against South Africa because of a controversial call by a referee. In an unprecedented move, FIFA granted a cancellation of the game result, and Senegal returned to win the match and secure a spot in the World Cup. They are the most dangerous of the five African nations in the tournament, along with Tunisia, Egypt, Nigeria and Morocco.

Overview: In their first World Cup since 2002, the Senegalese have one of the top wingers in the Premier League at their disposal. Liverpool’s Sadio Mane will give defenses fits with his top-quality speed and technical ability. A solid midfield, led by Kouyate, will be key in their group games against Colombia and Poland. Without a doubt, this is a talented squad that could make some noise in Group H, but advancing to the knockout stage would already be a victory for Senegal and their fans.


World Cup titles: 1 (2010)

Manager: Fernando Hierro

The star: Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid)

Other key players: Marco Asensio (Real Madrid), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), David de Gea (Manchester United)

How they got here: The 2010 world Champions are back with a new era of footballers, with just six players still on the roster from that Cup-winning team. They finished first in Group G in European qualifying, five points ahead of Italy, which shockingly failed to qualify. Over the past several years, the young Spanish talent such as Asensio and Isco have been developing at some of the top clubs in the world. Now they are front and center at the World Cup, in the prime of their careers.

Overview: In an unprecedented move just two days before the tournament, Spain fired its manager Julen Lopategui, who was undefeated as their head coach. It was announced just a few days before the tournament that he would be the manager of Real Madrid next season, one of the most powerful club teams in the world. The Spanish federation moved swiftly after they determined it was disrespectful to announce this before the World Cup began, and a distraction to the team. Still, Spain remains one of the most talented squads in Russia 2018. As mentioned before, one of the dream matchups of this tournament comes in just its second day. Portugal vs. Spain will be a thriller, simply because of the relationship between so many of the Real Madrid players and Portugal’s star, Ronaldo. But Spain will surely be favored in a match that will likely go a long way to deciding who will win first place in Group B. The 2010 champs return with a dominant midfield and an attack that features the younger Marco Asensio and the legend of former Chelsea and current Atletico Madrid striker Diego Costa (although more famous for his antics than his goal-scoring lately). Spain will also have the calming presence of David De Gea, quite possibly the best goalkeeper in the world.


World Cup titles: 2 (1930, 1950)

Manager: Oscar Tabarez

The star: Luis Suarez (Barcelona)

Other key players: Edinson Cavani (Paris Saint-Germain), Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid)

How they got here: Uruguay finished second in South American qualifying, with Edinson Cavani leading the competition in scoring with 10 goals. They finished above Argentina and Colombia and had their ticket to Russia booked with two match days to spare. This is another squad with a reputation for tough play and winning ugly, and they’ve done just that in the previous few World Cups, including a fourth-place finish in 2010.

Overview: Suarez is one of the most feared strikers in the world. Coupled with Cavani, it’s an attacking duo that could give defenders nightmares. The key for Uruguay will be a midfield that lacks experience, and how they hold up controlling games against some of the tougher teams. Their defense is solid, led by their captain, Godin, so they should be able to advance in a group with Russia, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Simple soccer term glossary

The beautiful game: Soccer

The pitch: The soccer field

Firecracker: A long shot from outside the box that threatens the goal or ends up in the net.

Extra time: Soccer’s versions of overtime. Two 15-minute halves played in entirety.

Stoppage time: Because of the running 45-minute clock each half, these are the additional minutes added to each half by the referee based on any stoppages (usually from injuries).

Cross: A long pass into the penalty box from one of the wing positions, close to the sidelines.

Striker: An attacking player whose main job is to score and take shots on goal.

Nutmeg: When an attacking player dribbles the ball through a defender’s legs.

Advantage play: A referee can allow play to proceed after a foul if the attacking team still possesses the ball.

Spot kick: A penalty shot, from the penalty spot.

Corner: A place kick taken by the attacking side from a corner of the field after the ball has been sent over the end line outside the goal by a defender.

Tackle: No, not the NFL style of tackle. A soccer tackle is an attempt to make a move and, with your feet, try to steal the ball from a player who possesses it.

Clean sheet: When a goalie prevents his opponents from scoring any goals during an entire match.

The shirt: Player jersey

Manager: Head coach

CORRECTION: This article originally stated Sergio Ramos played for Barcelona. It has been updated to reflect the correct information.

Stefano Fusaro is a bureau reporter for ESPN, and has covered sports in major markets for 13 years. He’s a proud first generation American of Hispanic descent, but he was too short to make it to the NBA. So he settles for being an NBA 2K Hall of Famer.

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.