All you need is a relatively flat surface and a roundish ball, and you can play soccer, widely recognized as the most popular game in the world. Soccer can incite passions, can unite communities and nations, and is famous for the wildest of post-game stadium riots. The object: to maneuver the ball into the opposing team’s goal. Teams of 11 on 11 players can use their feet, head, or other body parts to pass the ball from one team member to the next, but only the goalkeeper may pick up the ball with his or her hands.
People have played ball-kicking games for millennia; the ancient Chinese game cuju (which literally means “kick ball”) is the earliest known form of soccer originating around 400-200 B.C. The rules for modern soccer, or football, were developed in the mid-1800s in an attempt to standardize the game’s rapid expansion across England. The Fédéracion Internationale de Football Association, or FIFA, is the sport’s governing body, and hosts the FIFA World Cup every four years. The 2010 World Cup will be held in Johannesburg, South Africa; its stadium has a capacity of 94,700.
Soccer superstars include David Beckam, who has played for top-ranked Manchester United of England and Real Madrid; and Brazilian soccer legend Pelé, known as “The King,” who won his first—of three—World Cups at the age of 17.
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See the best of European football without having to wait for the next World Cup.