Soccer, or football as it is known outside North America, is arguably the most popular sport to both play, talk about and support, according to the Football Association website. For many, watching their national team play in the football World Cup brings out passion and euphoria as well as a sense of unity and national identity. Football fever has long gripped the nations of Europe and South America but, perhaps surprisingly, football first originated in China.
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Cuju is the name for a Chinese soccer-like game believed to exist 3,000 years ago, according to History of Soccer website. The game could be played with any part of the body apart from the hands, and the target was a small hole rather than a net. Sports historians also speculate that the Greeks and Romans had a game resembling soccer. Forms of the game were outlawed in England as early as King Edward's reign in 1307 because of its brutality.
The game of soccer, as it exists today, officially took shape with the formation of the English Football Association in 1863, according to the FIFA website. The Football Association was a group of 11 schools and clubs that met one evening in a London Tavern to define the rules for the game. Over the next half century, hundreds more teams and competitions emerged as Britain's growing working class started playing the game.
FIFA, or the Federation Internationale de Football Association, is soccer's world governing body. It formed in Paris in 1904, with the founding countries being France, Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and Spain. FIFA anticipated that soccer's popularity would spread and sought to establish the code of rules set by the English FA as the international standard for playing the game. The English FA initially refused to join this French-dominated European football alliance.
The first official World Cup was staged in Uruguay in 1930. Only 12 teams participated, four from Europe, and the hosts beat Argentina to win the cup. The shape of the tournament and the number of teams involved has changed many times over the years. All 208 FIFA member countries took part in qualifying for the 2010 FIFA world cup in South Africa, with the 32 best teams arriving on the continent to decide the 19th winners of the tournament.