Soccer has developed from an ancient military exercise and pastime into the most popular international team sport, complete with international tournaments, vast audiences and advertising endorsements. The game derives from several ancient foot-and-ball games.
The first recorded form was tsu' chu, described in a Chinese military manual in the second century B.C., according to FIFA. Other early variants include the games of kemari in Japan, episkyros in Greece and Roman harpastum game. Although these sports involved kicking a ball, they also differed -- sometimes significantly -- from soccer. For example, kemari lacked the competing teams, goals and field. The object of the players was simply to pass the ball to each other without letting it touch the ground while standing in a circle.
Soccer-like games developed in third-century England, with a ball game recorded on Shrove Tuesday in Derby as part of a festival to celebrate a victory over a contingent of Roman troops. By 1175, the Shrove Tuesday soccer game was an annual event. This sport was known as football and continued to develop and gain appeal in England through the 19th century.
In 1823, the British game encountered a new variation, rugby, similar to modern U.S. football. Four decades later, the London Football Association was launched to differentiate the original sport from rugby. Football now had two main branches: association football and rugby football. In North America and Australia, the first game was called soccer, an abbreviation of the English title, association football. It's called fútbol in Latin America and Spain and foosball in Germany.
Modern soccer is a worldwide phenomenon garnering at least the same level of popularity and enthusiasm as American baseball. The Olympics has featured the sport since 1900. In addition, FIFA, the organization that regulates soccer, draws millions of spectators to the World Cup every four years and boasts a larger membership of nations than even the United Nations.