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What would you guess is the most popular team sport in the world? Baseball? Basketball or football? No way. The answer is soccer, a sport played in almost every country in the world. It doesn’t have a lot of rules or call for much equipment. All you need is an open space and a ball.
The sport is called soccer in the United States and Canada. But in many countries it is called football, the name Americans give to an entirely different game. In Spanish-speaking countries, where the game is especially popular, the name is fútbol.

WHAT IS SOCCER?
Soccer is a game played by two teams on a field that is shaped like a rectangle. Players on one team try to  knock a round ball through the other team’s goal. The field they play on is roughly the size of an American football field.

WHAT ARE THE RULES?
Each soccer team has 11 players. The players can use any part of their bodies to hit the ball, except their hands or arms. Players generally use their feet and heads as they kick, dribble, and pass the ball toward the goal. One player on each team guards the goal and tries to prevent the other team from scoring. This player is the goalkeeper, or goalie. The goalkeeper is the only player allowed to touch the ball with the hands while the ball is in play.
The other players are divided into defenders, midfielders, and forwards. Defenders, also called fullbacks, try to stop the opposing team from reaching the goal with the ball. Forwards, also called strikers, do most of the scoring. Midfielders, or halfbacks, play defense but also try to score.

HOW LONG DOES A GAME LAST?
Most soccer games are 90 minutes long. They have two 45-minute halves divided by a short break, or halftime. Besides halftime, the action stops only when a team scores, a foul is committed, or a player is injured. The official who makes sure the rules are followed is called the referee. The referee can add extra time at the end of each half to make up for time lost during delays.

HOW OLD IS SOCCER?
People have played kicking games with balls since ancient times. The modern form of soccer came from Britain. It dates from the 1860s, when the rules were first written down.
By the late 1800s, British sailors, traders, and soldiers had carried the game all over the world. Professional soccer leagues soon appeared in many countries. Today, almost every country in Europe, North America, and South America has professional soccer leagues. So do many countries in Africa and Asia.
One country where soccer didn’t grow very fast was the United States. It wasn’t until the 1970s that many Americans began to follow it. After that, the sport took off. Today, millions of Americans play soccer in schools, colleges, and local leagues.

THE WORLD CUP
The World Cup is an international soccer tournament held every four years. There is one World Cup tournament for men and another one for women. The World Cup for men is the most popular sporting event in the world. More than a billion people around the world watch the men’s World Cup on television.
The 1994 men’s World Cup took place in the United States, as did the 1999 women’s World Cup. Both tournaments helped increase the popularity of soccer in the United States.

WHO ARE SOME FAMOUS SOCCER PLAYERS?
Many soccer fans consider the Brazilian forward named Pelé to be the best soccer player of all time. Pelé led Brazil to three World Cup titles, the last one in 1970. He won fame for his amazing ball control and powerful shots.
English player David Beckham is famous for his long, curving shots. An attacking midfielder, Beckham led the English national team to the quarterfinals in the 2002 World Cup.
Ronaldo, another Brazilian forward, is known for his great speed and scoring ability. In 2002, Ronaldo scored both goals in the World Cup final, giving Brazil the championship.
The American player Mia Hamm is considered one of the greatest female players ever. A forward, Hamm is the all-time leading scorer in international soccer. In 1999, she led the United States to the women’s World Cup title.

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