So, its getting to that time again. Once every four years you are obliged to be interested in some obscure sport played by over 265 million people worldwide. That sport, called ‘Football’ or ‘Soccer’ depending on what room you’re in, is about to hold its 21st World Cup in Russia.

But unfortunately, you stopped paying attention in 2014 when Australia got knocked out in Brazil, and you face the fear of being rejected by mainstream society for asking: “Is soccer is the one where you can only pass backwards?”

Never fear, because Pelican Sport has got you covered to get you up to speed for when the tournament kicks off on June 14th.

What is the FIFA World Cup?

The FIFA World Cup is the most prestigious International Football event in the world and is the most followed and watched sporting event. It has been won five times by Brazil, four times by Germany and Italy, twice by Argentina and Uruguay and once each by England, France and Spain.

This edition consists of 32 teams seeded into eight groups of four. Within a group, each team plays each other once, with three points for a win, one point for a draw. The two teams with the highest points in each group move forward, with teams tied on the same number of points being sorted by goal difference (goals for minus goals against). This leaves 16 teams left who compete a knockout finals stage until only one team remains as champion.

How has Australia gone in the past?

Australia has played in four previous FIFA World Cups. After a winless debut in 1974 the Socceroos spent  32 painful years waiting for a second shot at Football’s biggest trophy. We eventually qualified for the 2006 World Cup in Germany off a heroic penalty shootout against Uruguay, in a moment that will make any Socceroos fan run around the room using their shirt as a makeshift helicopter.

This 2006 team nicknamed ‘the golden generation’ played well, beating Japan and tying with Croatia to progress to the round of sixteen where they were knocked out after an atrocious penalty call. Italy went on to win the World Cup – as we would have if it hadn’t been for that penalty.

While our results were similar in 2010 (one won, drew one, lost one) in the group stage, a 4-0 drubbing to Germany in the game we lost meant our goal difference was so bad that we failed to progress to the round of sixteen.

In 2014, we encountered ‘the group of death’ in 2010 champions Spain, and powerhouses the Netherlands and Chile. We played quite well regardless, at one point being 2-1 up against the Dutch but we ended up losing all three games (admirably).

Are Australia any good this time around?

It depends what you mean by ‘good’, any team that manages to make the World Cup is by definition ‘somewhat’ good. However, of the teams participating Australia is the 8th lowest ranked at 36th in the World.

Australia has had an odd few years, winning the most recent edition of the Asia Cup for the first time, but failing to automatically qualify for this World Cup, requiring to beat Syria and Honduras to qualify in one of the last spots.

Most recently Australia got flogged by Norway (who failed to qualify for the world cup) 4-1 but we drew with Columbia 0-0 and beat the Czech Republic 4-0 in International friendlies.

The fact that Australia were recently given a lower chance of winning the cup (0.1%) than Italy (1.6%), who didn’t even qualify for the competition pretty much sums up our chances. However Australia has never lost a World Cup game in Russia, so there’s a positive stat to get your hopes up.

Who are our good players?

Matthew Ryan (GK)

Our Goalkeeper will likely be Matthew Ryan who plays for Brighton in the top flight of English football, the Premier League. Ryan kept 10 clean sheets (i.e didn’t concede a goal) in the most reason EPL season and is generally pretty good, and he probably won’t throw the ball straight into the opposition striker’s foot, so that’s something.

Aaron Mooy (Midfield)

Not only is he one of the most beautiful bald men in the world, Mooy is probably our best player and will probably take our corners and our free kicks. Essentially any good play will make will likely start with this man who also plays in the EPL for Huddersfield. Plus he’s a honoree member of the choof crew, which is a bonus.

Tim Cahill (Striker)

Aside from having a service station named after him (Pictured Left), Tim Cahill is quite good at scoring goals. In fact he’s scored the most goals in Australia’s international history, scoring 50 goals in 105 games, including in our last three world cups, a feat that even some of the best players in the world fail to match. Cahill is now however 38 years old and will probably struggle to play a whole ninety minutes, which means that some people think he should be dropped for younger, quicker players. However, that probably won’t stop the Socceroos from rolling Cahill out there in a wheelchair to head the ball into the net if need be.

Not our Defense

Our defenders are pretty crap. If you find yourself at a sports bar during the month of June and you see some dejected Australian fans be sure to chuck in a “Our back four is so shit” for mad social cred.

Who are Australia playing?

Australia is in group C with France, Denmark and Peru who are ranked 7th, 12th and 11th respectively. We also play them in that order.

Australia’s best hope for the knockout rounds is to beat Peru, a team having faced a rollercoaster of emotions after their captain was banned and then unbanned less than a month later after testing positive for cocaine. A draw with Denmark and narrow loss against France (to maintain our goal difference) may be enough to see us over the line. One advantage of our group is that France will probably beat everyone, and by a lot, meaning that the mini tri-series between Australia, Denmark and Peru will probably be all to play for.

If we somehow make it through to the round of 16 we’d most likely run into Argentina. If we won that we’d not only have achieved our best result ever in the world cup but you might want to bring your washing in for fear of raining pigs.

Who are the favourites?

Brazil, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, with maybe the dark horses being Belgium and Argentina. In whatever order you like.

Reigning champions Germany do what Germans do best, which is mercilessly knock teams out with clinically precision, and have the best success rate of any team in the world cup’s history in penalty shootouts.

On the other hand, Brazil have won the world cup the most times (5) and boast quite a strong squad with a mix of youth and experience and are ranked number two in the world behind Germany.

France and Spain also bring squads with insane squad depth (their third teams could probably still be ranked in the top 25 nations in the world), while Portugal and Argentina feature two of the best players in the world, Ronaldo and Messi respectively.

What if I don’t care about the football, only the memes?

Well, you’ve eaten your vegetables, now its time to get to dessert, what are likely to be the biggest memes of the 2018 world cup?

Italy

Italy have won the world cup four times, including as most recently as 2006. However, they face an incredibly hard group this time around featuring the Dutch, Chile and the United States in Group DNQ. This group kicks off on the 37th of June and is sure to be interesting.

Iceland

Iceland features a population of 340,000 people of which 50.4% are male, leaving 169, 410 men. Of which only around 40,000 are the appropriate age (16-35) to be playing international football. Meaning that if you meet a 20 something year old Icelandic man in a bar someday, there is a roughly .0275% chance he is in Iceland’s starting 11. So, it’s probably worth asking.

Russia

Apart from hacking elections and propping up dictatorships in Syria, the other thing that Russia has been up to over the last few years is preparing to host the world cup. FIFA decided with a vision in their heart, and a suitcase of cash in their hands that they wanted to world cup to move to Eastern Europe for the first time.

Despite being the lowest ranked team in the competition, they received automatic qualification as hosts, and have somehow ended up in a group which is rather easy. In fact suspiciously, they have the easiest group in modern world cup history hmmmm. So don’t be surprised if you see Russia get a few ‘interesting’ penalties in the 90th minute.

Also, their fans are racist. I don’t have a joke here, it’s pretty shitty.

England (and penalties)

Despite inventing the sport, hosting top standard leagues, and producing players as good as Beckham and Rooney, England have only won a singular world cup all the way back in 1966. It’s likely that the misery will be piled on again this year taking their winless streak to over 50 years.

In fact, England have been knocked out on penalties three times in the World Cup and in the European championships three times, all since 1990. They have never won a penalty shootout in World Cup history, and as soon as things stop going their way you should expect the whinging to come out of the dressing room. They are, after all, England.

In Conclusion

There you have it, you’re all good to go to a sports bar with sweaty middle-aged men and watch fast French men run rings around our Centre backs. And who knows, maybe you’ll fall in love with the World Game and before you know it you’ll be one of those people complaining about Manchester United, the AFL and why your mates refuse to hang out with you anymore.

Matthew Maltman
Sports Co-Editor