Written by Henry Standage (@henrystandage)
Hey, I get it. You find soccer boring. You prefer the 11 minutes of action in a football game over a 3 hour span, than the 90+ minutes of soccer action you get, with only a single 15 minute commercial break that comes at halftime. The players are whiny (although we might be a little numb to it after four straight LeBron James playoff series), and they cry, and most importantly; we as Canadians suck at it.
The other day I had a friend ask me if Toronto were in the World Cup. I told him no, and explained that the entire country of Canada had only made it once, way back in 1986. Canada didn’t even score a goal in its three group stage games, before they were sent home. Trust me guys, once you see a Landon Donovan type figure in a Canadian kit, scoring big goals like this, you’ll be hooked. It’s awesome. It feels larger than life.
One of my very favourite things about the World Cup is how it can be used as a measurement of time. My first World Cup was in 2006. I was 8 years old and it was my first year following soccer religiously — all to say, I was very innocent. In the quarter-finals, my favourite player and childhood icon Wayne Rooney, was given a red card. England lost in penalties. As tears streamed down my face, all my dad could muster up was “Welcome to being an England fan, Hank”.
THAT’S SOME REAL SHIT. WHAT THE FUCK DAD. I WAS 8.
By 2010 (age 11), I was a little more chiselled, a little more wary. England had a sensational qualifying campaign, and came into the tournament as one of the favourites. I fell for their old tricks again. After three lackadaisical group stage performances, we lost to Germany 4–2 in the Round of 16. England was robbed of a goal when it was still 2–1 Germany — the ball had crossed the goal-line, but the referees didn’t see it. Imagine if a world class chef served Gordon Ramsay a hot pocket, just think about the type of anger that would prompt. When I say that England’s goal being disallowed was enraging, maddening and infuriating, Gordon Ramsay being served a hot pocket is the type of anger I am talking about.
In 2014 (age 15), I had full fledged teenage angst trust issues. We got knocked out in the group stage. Let’s move on.
However, as contradictory as it sounds, BE EXCITED. Canada just got selected as a joint-host for the 2026 World Cup — they will have a reasonable shot at qualifying. In the meantime, you need to get ready, so let’s talk about what’s going to be going on in the next month:
To start, I have to make on thing clear. Diving is the fucking worst and every hardcore footy fan deep down feels embarrassed by it when they watch it with friends. Only certain countries dive, typically teams from South America and Southern European nations. I can appreciate a good villain though — and nothing is worse than seeing cheaters lose. This is the lens I want us to view divers through.
Now let’s talk about the tournament. The World Cup starts with 32 teams. The host team (Russia) qualified automatically. The other 31 teams had to go through qualification against other teams in their regions. So, while Australia had to qualify against countries like Fiji and Samoa, teams like England had to qualify against tougher European sides (Holland and Italy both didn’t even make the World Cup.) Bottom line: if you qualified from Africa, South America or Europe, you know how to play footy.
The 32 teams are scrambled randomly into eight 4-team groups (named A,B,C,D,E,F,G and you’ll never guess, H). Within their 4-team group, each team will play each other once. You get 3 points for a win, 1 point (each) for a tie, and 0 for a loss. After these three games, the team with the most points will leave the group as A/B/C/D/E/F/G/H #1. Team #1 from group A will play team #2 from group B. Team #1 from group B will play team #2 from group A. This goes down throughout the C/D, E/F, and G/H pairings, and a bracket of 16 teams is formed. The two teams in each group with the least number of points have been eliminated. After that, it’s like March Madness, or going out with your friend who still cries about his ex every-time he has three beers. Move on or go home.
Some groups are harder than others. For example, Portugal and Spain are in the same group. That really fucking sucks for the two other teams in that group.
Now, who should you cheer for? Most people opt to use their ancestry. If you look hard enough, you can usually find some European in you. If not, you could always cheer for an Asian team! Apparently Genghis Khan had sex with like half of the world during his tyrannic reign, so it’s pretty 50/50 on if you’re a descendant of Gengis Khan. You’re probably Mongolian!
All jokes about Gengis Khan’s historic sex-life aside, maybe there isn’t a team you’ll feel naturally inclined to cheer for. And if you’re not a gambling degenerate like myself, you can’t even buy passion. So what do I recommend? Go to pubs, watch it with your friends who do have a connection with one of these teams. Learn the best player’s names, try to notice what they do differently to the other 21 players on the pitch. Drink beer, scream at 90th minute winners — think about where you would shoot the ball during decisive penalty kicks. Look at the fans in outrageous costumes in the stands, ponder what this experience and celebration must mean to them.
I promise, whatever passion you devote to the game, the game will give back to you. Besides,
We’re going to throw a hell of a party in 2026.
Henry Standage is a blog contributor majoring in English at Western University. He is currently in the midst of once again convincing himself into believing in this years England World Cup team.