You may not usually be that interested in soccer, but for the next month you should give it a shot. The FIFA World Cup, which is the world’s biggest single-event sporting competition, kicks off Thursday. Over the next month in 12 venues across Brazil, 32 teams will face off, each with the hope of becoming world champs.
The last team to win was Spain in the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. That means fans, from Germany to Argentina, have waited four years for this extravaganza, the pinnacle of a sport that is, for all intents and purposes, an international obsession. You can find up-to-date World Cup news, along with previews of all the teams playing at this year's tournament on NBCSports.com.
Although professional soccer has yet to grip the U.S. the way it has much of the world, the event has an enormous audience. An estimated 715.1 million people tuned in for the final match of the 2006 FIFA World Cup. FIFA, soccer's world body, estimates that the tournament will be watched by some 3.2 billion people around the world.
Host country Brazil has the best track record in World Cup history, claiming five championships since the games started in 1930. It hasn't hosted a World Cup since the 1950 games, which were the first after a 12-year absence caused by World War II. As a result of the war, Italy held the championship for 12 years.
Despite enthusiasm among soccer fans, Brazil has run into all sorts of problems preparing for the games, including massive protests, a 214-mile traffic jam and uncompleted transportation projects. The stadium that will host the opening match between Brazil and Croatia still isn't finished. According to a Pew Research Poll, six in 10 Brazilians believe hosting the World Cup will be bad for their country.
Where to watch:
All of the games will be aired live on ESPN and Univision, and 10 matches will be on ABC, including the championship game. They'll also be streamed on WatchESPN and WatchABC. NBCSports.com has a schedule of when and where all 64 matches will air. You can also find a scoreboard, team standings and stats about each team at the NBCSports.com World Cup home page.
The first game is between Brazil and Croatia on Thursday at 4 PM ET. The tournament will run through July 13, when a world champion will be crowned.