(NEWSER) – The World Cup begins today. If those five words have your eyes glazing over, hang on—and read on. We've pulled together five things to know about the games (which FIFA calls matches, but which the media refer to interchangeably as games and matches) that'll have you in the loop and, we hope, thinking "huh, kind of interesting."
- How it all works: We'll assume you're already aware that Brazil is hosting; it'll play the inaugural game, against Croatia, at 4pm ET today. That's game one of 64, which has CNN painting the games as "like March Madness, but not." Today has just that single game, but the next two weeks will see the 32 participating teams (who had to qualify) each play three games. A team gets three points for winning and one for tying, and two teams from each of eight groups will advance, with a "do-or-die knockout round" beginning June 28. It all ends July 13. In the US, the matches will air on ESPN, ESPN2, and ABC.
- The games are really far apart: This is far from a centralized tournament. As Vox explains, the 12 stadiums are peppered throughout Brazil, which is about 87% the size of the US. The US team's first two games are about 1,700 miles apart. The BBC adds that the games are spread over two of Brazil's three time zones.
- How the US is expected to fare: Meh. We're in the "group of death," which Vox reports is the nickname given to the one group (of eight, remember?) whose four teams are all pretty solid. The US' group will have it playing Ghana (which eliminated us in 2010), Germany (ranked No. 2) and Portugal (ranked No. 4, and starring the you-may-have-heard-of-this-player Cristiano Ronaldo). As an ESPN analyst puts it, "The US may play an exceptional World Cup, and it still might not be good enough to get past Portugal, Germany, or even Ghana."
- So who is favored to win? Brazil or Spain, per Vox. The former is No. 3 and has hometown advantage; the latter won in 2010, and is ranked No. 1. As CNN notes, only eight countries have actually ever won it.
- One of the juiciest facts: A number of teams (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Mexico) have been banned by their coaches from having sex during the games. Brazilian players can have "normal," non-"acrobatic" sex.FiveThirtyEight took a look at whether such a move is likely to help their on-field performance.
Bonus reading: Adidas promises this year's soccer ball will suck less.