World Cup 2018: How not to sound so American when watching

Warning: Britsplaining ahead.

Nick Hide Managing copy editor
Nick manages CNET's advice copy desk from Springfield, Virginia. He's worked at CNET since 2005.
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Don't be like Chad.

Chad sits near me here in the New York office. We have a TV on a wall nearby that usually shows whatever sport is on, occasionally soccer. I've heard Chad on more than one occasion describe a soccer score as "two-love."

Chad. That's tennis.

The World Cup kicks off Thursday, and if you're an American like Chad, you can be forgiven for not knowing that. Despite the fact that the US hosted the 1994 tournament, has a dominant women's team and is home to a slowly growing professional league with some aging A-list stars, soccer remains a relatively minor sport here, in every sense.

This time, the US didn't even qualify. But, my American friends, that doesn't mean you can't enjoy the World Cup, immerse yourself in it and get excited about jointly hosting the 2026 go-round, with Mexico and Canada (assuming you don't suffer some diplomatic catastrophe with your neighbours by then).

As a humble immigrant, a grateful guest in your amazing country, I'd like to share with you a few things about the sport I call football. (Although, when I was growing up in England in the '80s and '90s and liking football was basically compulsory, "soccer" was quite a common synonym for it, and not the nails-on-chalkboard signifier of ignorance it's become today.)

Mexico v Iceland

You guys are good.

Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

I should say, if you or your forebears are from Central or South America, this primer isn't for you. You have a vivacious, boisterous, borderline insane football culture of your own and I raise my pint glass to you.

This is for Chad.

First of all, these players are professionals. They play for clubs all over the world, but mostly in Europe, with its superrich leagues. They also play for their country, or at least whatever country they can claim a grandparent from, or where they've lived long enough to qualify. (You might spot some dudes with Brazilian-sounding names playing for places far from South America.)

Football is the easiest sport in the world to understand. Only the keeper ("goalie" is fine too) can use his hands -- that's literally it. You don't even have to understand the offside rule anymore, because there's a video referee to replay it until they get it right. Just remember: each match (not "game") is played on a pitch (not a "field").

The best way to show your love for the world's favourite sport is to pick a team to support. The Guardian has a really good guide to every single player going to the World Cup, with some phenomenal anecdotes, like how Michy Batshuayi loves Dortmund because they have the same colours as Spongebob.

Just don't say you're from that country if you were born in America. Like, if you're called Nino and you have three cousins called Nino and you're Middle Nino, OK, you can support Italy. (Well, you could if they had qualified. Sorry, Ninos.) That's fine. But you're not Italian.

FC Bayern Muenchen v Chelsea FC - UEFA Champions League Final

Don't be like this.

Darren Walsh/Getty Images

If you're really keen, buy a shirt (note: not a "jersey"). Just don't go the full John Terry and get a whole kit (note: not a "uniform") unless you're under 11 years old. 

If you happen to have a viking helmet hanging around, Iceland are an excellent choice for the uncommitted fan to follow. Icelandic Twitter is hilarious.


Be like this.

Haraldur Gudjonsson/Getty Images

My barber Ari is Armenian. Armenia have never qualified for the World Cup (it's tough being a small European country). So he's supporting England, because he watches a lot of English Premier League matches. I apologised. They won't get very far. England are younger, more likable and maybe more talented than they have been in years, but the quarter finals would be an achievement.

That might seem odd to Americans used to Olympic success, but like most of the 32 teams at this enormous tournament, they're just happy to be there. Well, not happy to be *there* -- it's in Russia and they might get racial abuse or some novichok -- but you know, happy to be involved.

England v Nigeria - International Friendly

Poor Harry Kane. He tries his best.

James Baylis/Getty Images

That reminds me: Teams are plural. England are going to fail, not England is going to fail. They're a group of individuals, not a monolithic corporate entity like a US sports franchise.

Football is really boring, as The Simpsons told us. This is crucial to its appeal. Forty-five minutes with no ad breaks is tough, but you can do it. Get a beer, make jokes about John Terry, and you're good. It's all about delayed gratification: Those South American GOOOOOOOOOL guys are celebrating something having happened, not just their team winning. When something does happen, you've earned the excitement. Scream, shout -- just don't high five. Hugs are acceptable, if it's an absolute screamer, or at a critical moment.

Yes, it's fast kickin', low scorin' and ties -- but after the group stage, there are no ties! (We call them "draws.") If the scores are even in the knockout stages, it's 30 minutes of even slower football, when the chance of a goal recedes to virtually zero, then the excruciating heartbreak of penalties. You may cry.

Now that's entertainment.

More handy tips!

  • He's Ronaldo. Don't call him "Ronnie," as I have heard Americans in sports bars refer to him. Do make fun of his statues.
  • David Beckham hasn't kicked a ball in five years.
  • It will always be funny to make fun of John Terry.
  • The Damned United is an exceptional film you should watch tonight.
  • Oh, and Chad, it's "two-nil".

Originally published June 14.
Update, June 15: Clarified that Italy did not qualify for this World Cup. Poor Ninos.

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