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FIFA World Cup: Basic Soccer Vocabulary

In Italy, il calcio (soccer) is the sport, by definition—played, watched, commented on, discussed, lived, and suffered through by a tremendous number of people of all ages. Officially ruled by the Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio, soccer is played by more than four million Italians every year—and this figure does not account for the countless improv matches played basically everywhere there’s a whatever-sized piece of land, a ball, something to be used as posts (from flip flops to jacket to every possible item), and at least two players. After all, two players alone can giocare ai rigori (play penalty kicks), right? In addition to being pretty easy in terms of rules, (although some of them—like the fuorigioco [offside])—can spark heated and lengthy disputes) soccer does not require equipment, except un pallone (literally a “big ball,” but commonly used to indicate a soccer ball), nor any particular skills, at least not for playing with friends.


The Very Basics

Una partita di calcio (a soccer game) is played by two squadre (teams) of eleven giocatori (players) each. Every game has two tempi (halves) of 45 minutes each and lasts overall novanta minuti. The purpose is fare goal (to score) in the opponents’ porta (goal post; literally, “door”). The main roles in the campo (field) are: portiere (goalkeeper), difensore (defender), centrocampista (midfielder), and attaccante (striker). Other handy words are: fallo (foul), (calcio di) rigore (penalty kick), fuorigioco (offside), rimessa in campo/gioco (throw-in), calcio d’angolo (corner kick), arbitro (referee), guardalinee (linesman).

The Italian top domestic league is called Serie A, and the most successful clubs are based in major cities: Roma (Roma and Lazio), Milano (Inter and Milan), Torino (Torino and Juventus), Napoli (Napoli), and so on. The acronyms AS —Associazione Sportiva—or AC—Associazione Calcio—often found and indicated abroad, are rarely used by Italians. Rivalry between clubs from the same city is heated, to say the least, and when they compete, the match is called derby.

The Serie A season runs from September to May, and the winners win the scudetto. The top four teams are also playing in the Champions League together with the best teams from other domestic European leagues.

I tifosi (fans) play a big role in the Italian soccer world, especially those who go to the stadium and are organized in various groups—and whose lobbying power is considered too strong by many (they sometimes “negotiate” with club owners on major choices!).


Until very recently, soccer was considered a male sport: Very few girls and women practiced it and basically no attention was devoted to the female league. Things are rapidly changing, however. Soccer is still considered a predominantly male sport—you really need to stress femminile to refer to women’s soccer—but women have really rocked in the last few years and the public has started to notice. It is not unheard of anymore to mention strong female players or even salary parity—although the road there is very, very long, considering that male players in Italy are extremely well paid.


La Nazionale and I Mondiali, AKA FIFA World Cup

When it comes to gli Azzurri—the Italian national team (the male soccer national team, unless otherwise specified; see above)—the old saying goes that in Italia ci sono 60 milioni di commissari tecnici (in Italy there are 60 million coaches). Temporarily putting aside club rivalries, Italians warmly root for the national team. When Italy plays, even the noisiest streets turn quiet, the voice of the TV presenter buzzes from the open windows, and loud roars are heard in case of fouls, missed goals, supposedly wrong choices from the coach—hence the saying above—mistakes, and of course goals.

The national team competes in two major international tournaments: the World Cup (called i mondiali, every 4 years) and the European Championship (called gli europei, every 4 years). Italy won two europei (in 1968 and 2001) and four mondiali (in 1934, 1938, 1982, and 2006—the second-largest number of World Cup titles behind Brazil, which has won five times, and on par with Germany).

The national soccer team and the World Cup are part of the Italian mass culture and have been celebrated by movies, songs, books, and countless personal and collective anecdotes. The 1982 World Cup is part of the national history and even of the national identity, according to many. The final game between Italy and Germany is been the most-viewed show of all time on Italian TV.

Italy did not qualify for the last two FIFA World Cups, so expectations are understandably very high for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, which will be hosted by Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. Qualification games will be played in 2025, so for now, all we can do is to keep our fingers crossed and shout, “Forza Azzurri!


By Claudia Quesito


Read also:
Italiani: sportivi o tifosi?

Fútbol, la pasión que une a la gente


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