World Cup to begin June 11 in Johannesburg, South Africa

The World Cup is international soccer’s showpiece event, a quadrennial championship featuring 32 of the top national teams in the world.

The tournament was launched in Uruguay in 1930, and the 19th edition is set to be played in South Africa between June 11 and July 11. It will be the first World Cup to be held on the African continent.

Italy, one of only seven nations to win the Cup, comes in as the defending champion, while the other six previous winners — Argentina, Brazil, England, France, Germany and Uruguay — also will be taking part.

The tournament consists of 64 games, 48 of them in the first round, and the 32 teams are divided into eight groups of four for first-round play. The winner and runner-up in each group advance to the 16-game knockout phase.

The U.S. will play England, Slovenia and Algeria in the first round, while Mexico will play South Africa, France and Uruguay. Both teams will be based in or near Johannesburg.

Since South Africa is in the Southern Hemisphere, this will be a winter World Cup, with cold and rain likely. South Africa is a large country, and the nine cities and 10 stadiums being used in the tournament are anywhere from one hour to 18 hours apart by road and up to five hours apart by air.

The tournament will begin and end at Johannesburg’s 94,700-seat Soccer City Stadium. The semifinals will be played in Cape Town and Durban. The other cities and towns being used in the tournament are Port Elizabeth, Bloemfontein, Pretoria, Rustenburg, Nelspruit and Polokwane.

Matches will kick off at 1:30 p.m., 4 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. local time. The nine-hour time difference means they will begin at 4:30 a.m., 7 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Pacific time.

European champion Spain comes into the World Cup as the favorite, closely followed by five-time winner Brazil. Also in serious contention are, in alphabetical order, Argentina, England, France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands.

Once the tournament starts, there are anywhere from two to four games a day in the 48-game first round. There is no break in play between June 11 and June 29.

Most, but not all, of the leading players in the world will be taking part, including Argentina’s Lionel Messi, the reigning FIFA world player of the year, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, England’s Wayne Rooney, Spain’s Xavi and Andres Iniesta, and Brazil’s Kaka.

For information on the venues, schedules, and other details, the official website for the tournament is:

All 64 matches will be broadcast live on U.S. television on the ABC/ESPN network of channels.