<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

The Tournament

The World Cup tournament started on May 31 and will conclude with the championship game on June 29 in Mexico City. By now, the 24 teams that qualified have been pared to 16 as the second round begins. But, unlike the first round, play goes to a knockdown phase, where a single loss eliminates a team. The first round was round-robin, with teams playing for points.

The quarterfinals will be played in Mexico City, Guadalajara, Puebla and Monterrey, with the semifinals in Mexico City and Guadalajara and the final in Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium.

Mexico was not the original choice to play host to the 1986 tournament, that honor having been given to Colombia. B when economic difficulties forced the South American nation out, Mexico was awarded the event.


Mexico had been the site of the 1970 World Cup, and despite fears that the heat and high altitude would ruin the tournament, it proved to be one of the most successful in terms of the quality of soccer played.

But things haven’t been going well for Mexico since it was awarded the tournament. Last September, earthquakes devastated Mexico City, and between 8,000 and 10,000 people died and thousands of others were left homeless. And, the economic situation of the country has been getting worse as the peso has been dropping rapidly in value against the dollar.

Only six countries have won the World Cup--Italy (1934, 1938, and 1982), Brazil (1958, 1962, 1970), West Germany, (1954, 1974), Uruguay (1930,1950), England (1966) and Argentina (1978).

The Game


Combining the speed and excitement of ice hickey, the teamwork of basketball and tactical maneuvering of a chess game, soccer’s appeal is easy to see. The action is virtually nonstop, and the game requires superb physical conditioning. Visually, soccer provides scenes no other sport can match--the spectacular flying save of a goalkeeper stretched full length to stop a shot, the overhead scissors kick, the crunching desperation of a sliding tackle, the power of a half-volley hammered goalward from 20 or 30 yards. Although soccer is a contact sport, the game also requires a great deal of finesse. Players must know how to trap the ball with the chest, thigh or foot; they must learn to dribble past, rather than through, an opponent, using changes of pace, feints an footwork that would dazzle a top-flight boxer. The ability to read an opponent’s intentions and pinpoint accuracy in passing and heading are among the skills that give the world’s game its unique flavor.

The Players

Each team consists of 11 players. Only the goalkeeper is allowed to use his hands, and then only within the penalty area. The 10 field players are divided into defenders, midfielders and forwards, their divisions depending upon which system a particular coach chooses to employ. The most common systems are the 4-4-2 and the 4-3-3. Midfielders serve as links between the defense and attack, playing both roles. Each team can use no more than two substitutes in a game.

The Rules


A soccer match is composed of two, 45-minute halves and there are no timeouts. Time lost due to injury or other cause is added on to the end of each half. The referee has final authority for all that occurs on the field. He keeps a record of the game, acts as timekeeper and can caution or eject a player for violation of the rules. When a player is ejected, a team must play short-handed. The referee is assisted by two linesmen, whose duties include indicating when the ball is out of play for either a throw-in, corner kick or goal kick. The ball is a leather sphere, between 27 and 28 inches in circumference and weighs between 14 and 16 ounces inflated. Goals are scored when the whole of the ball has crossed the goal line between the posts and under the crossbar. The goal is eight yards wide and eight feet high. The team scoring the most goals is the winner.

There are nine offenses that, if intentionally committed, result in a direct free kick being awarded to the opposing team at the point of the infraction. These offenses include kicking, tripping, holding, pushing, or striking an opponent. If the offense occurs within the penalty area, a penalty kick is awarded from the 12-yard spot. Penalty kicks match a player one-on-one against the goalkeeper and are successful roughly 90% of the time. Five “lesser” offenses, for example, obstructing an opponent or delaying the game, result in indirect free kicks being given at that point. Shin guards are the only protective equipment worn.