Millions of passionate fans follow two ball sports, one the favorite of Americans and the other the favorite of the world. Each is played on a large rectangular field and based on rules that evolved in the 19th century. “Soccer is a gentleman's game played by beasts. Football is a beastly game played by beasts,” opined Henry Blaha, a Boston College football player, in 1972. Indeed, soccer is merely a contact sport, one that girls and women have made stellar progress in as players. Football meanwhile, a collision sport, becomes at times genuinely violent.
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Both sports feature two opposing squads of 11. Soccer players form a single unit, while football players are assigned to offense, defense or special teams. A regulation football field is 100 yards long by 53 yards wide. A soccer field is slightly larger, ranging from 100 to 130 yards long and 50 to 100 yards wide. Football fields feature markings every 10 yards and hash marks for single yards, while soccer fields mark out a kickoff circle, a midfield line and two penalty areas. Each sport features a playmaker, typically the quarterback in football and the central midfielder in soccer. Offside rules in each sport require the team on offense to move down the field in rough unison, employing clever tactics rather than cherry-picking to elude the defense. Kickers and punters in football typically kick the ball using the laces of their shoes, soccer style.
Soccer play proceeds continuously through two 45-minute halves, while football consists of pauses of as long as 40 seconds between each play in the game, which lasts for four 15-minute quarters. In soccer, only goalkeepers can legally use their hands to touch the ball. Outdoor league soccer played under the rules of FIFA, the international governing body of soccer, only permits three substitutes per game, while football allows unlimited substitutions during stoppages in play. Tackles that are legal in American football would constitute a foul in soccer. Soccer players wear jerseys, shorts, shinguards and cleats, while football players wear uniforms, helmets and shoulder pads.
Scoring in football requires the ball to break the plane of the end zone for a six-point touchdown or two-point conversion. The ball must go through the goalpost uprights for a kick to count as an extra point or three-point field goal. In soccer, the ball must fully cross the goal line between the goal uprights and under the crossbar to count as a goal. Soccer fans roughly equate a one-point soccer goal to a touchdown and extra point, such that a 4-2 soccer game translates into the same amount of offense as a 28-14 football game.
As of 2011, the 208 member nations of FIFA compete to qualify for the quadrennial World Cup to determine the world champion of all national teams. Club teams compete in regional cups to determine the best team in Europe, Africa, South America and other FIFA regions. The American football champion is determined in the Super Bowl, the annual February matchup of the champions of the NFC and AFC, conferences with 16 teams each. All the players in the NFL are professionals, while World Cup can include amateurs; New Zealand's undefeated team in the 2010 World Cup, for example, included amateurs and managed to tie Italy's pros.
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I know, I know. You're probably either cringing at the use of "soccer" instead of football, or wondering how a sport that sometimes ends in 0-0 ties and isn't regularly broken up by beer commercials could possibly be the best in the world. But let's put all that aside for a minute and talk about why this game -- whatever you want to call it -- is hands down, without question, the greatest sport that ever was.
- 1. First off, it's a global sport.
- 3. Plus, minimal equipment is required.
- 4. Meaning you can play anytime, anywhere.
- 5. Size matters less than agility and speed.
- 6. But it's still athletically rigorous -- you have to be in amazing shape to keep up.
- 7. Most sports get an "offseason" -- soccer doesn't.
- 8. Meanwhile, World Cups bring the entire planet together.
- 9. And with all the international friendlies taking place, you can see top teams play without spending a fortune.
- 10. Mostly, it's just beautiful to watch.
- 11. Especially when players master incredible tricks.
- 12. Soccer chants prove just how passionate fans are about this.
- 13. It's truly a team sport: Every person counts and anyone can score.
- 14. Women kick ass in the game -- there's a women's World Cup that also gets crazy viewership numbers.
- 15. Sportsmanship is an important part of the culture.
- 16. Soccer announcers are far superior to all other announcers in the sports world.
- 17. There are always new superstars whose fancy footwork or goal-scoring prowess seems to be a gift from the heavens.
- 18. And there is nothing more amazing then watching a goal effortlessly hit the net.
- 19. Mini celebrations after a player scores are the best.
- 20. But most importantly, more people watch soccer than any other sport in the world.