The World Cup starts on June 12.
Over the next four weeks you may find yourself in a bar or a large group of people, and you may feel the social pressure to say something coherent about the game you are watching.
Even if you’ve never seen a soccer game before, there is hope. Most conversations about sports are an exchange of well-worn phrases and cliches, and soccer is no different.
Here are 16 terms that you can drop casually in conversation, impress some folks, and then recede back into your soccer-less universe without anyone noticing.
1. Panenka — A penalty kick that’s chipped slowly right down the middle after the goalie dives to either side. Typically employed by suave attacking midfielders from Mediterranean nations. A Panenka is the ultimate expression of self-belief, and literally the only thing that can redeem a penalty shootout.
2. Azzurri — The nickname for Italy’s national team. Never underestimate the well-timed use of a nickname in a foreign tongue. Some others: Les Bleus (France), La Roja (Spain), El Tri (Mexico), Socceroos (Australia), Oranje (Netherlands), the Black Stars (Ghana), and, amazingly, the Indomitable Lions (Cameroon).
3. #USMNT — An abbreviation for “United States men’s national team.” It’s the Internet’s preferred nickname/hashtag/shorthand for the U.S. World Cup team. Throw a #USMNT at the end of a timely World Cup tweet and your opinion will be taken 5% more seriously.
4. Howler — Most popularly used when a goalie commits an error that results in a goal that wouldn’t have otherwise been scored, drawing real-life LOLs (howls in the olden days) from the crowd. Robert Green committed a howler in England’s opening game against the U.S. in 2010, letting a half-hearted Clint Dempsey shot from distance squirt off his hands.
5. Parking the bus — The act of defending with all 11 players and not really trying to go forward to score, figuratively taking a bus and parking it directly in front of goal. Second-tier teams will do this against juggernauts like Brazil and Spain in order to earn a 0-0 draw. Teams that are leading late in games will do this to hold on to a result. Greece will do this at all times because it is, maddeningly, how they have been successful for a decade.
6. Dos a cero — Spanish for “2-0,” the mystical final score in a freakish number of USMNT wins over Mexico in the last 15 years. The U.S. beat Mexico 2-0 in qualifying for the 2002, 2006, 2010, and 2014 World Cups. They also beat Mexico 2-0 in the knockout stages of the 2002 World Cup — the biggest game the two rivals have ever played. The phrase has now extended beyond Mexico, so feel free to use it when the U.S. beats Brazil 2-0 in the final at the Maracana.
7. Tiki-taka (pronounced “ticky-tacka”) — A style of play, most popularly employed by Spain, that’s based on short passing and keeping possession. Players will dink passes around the field in small triangles, eventually coaxing the defence out of position and tapping in a goal from a few yards out. When Spain is losing, say that tiki-taka is dead. When Spain is winning, say that tiki-taka is an inherently superior style that every team should adopt.
8. False 9 — A formation that doesn’t include a traditional striker. Spain won Euro 2012 while using a false 9. This year, Germany, which only brought one nominal striker to Brazil, will likely try to do the same thing. The “9” in “false 9” refers to the absent striker, who traditionally wears the No. 9 shirt.
9. Dual national — A player that was eligible to play for two or more countries. Modern international soccer is a recruiting game. The USMNT has five German-Americans, an Icelandic-American, a Norwegian-American, and others who could have played for places like Haiti and Mexico. Diego Costa, a Brazilian-born striker who chose to play for Spain after living there for five years, may be the most hated man in Brazil.
10. Set piece — Any situation where a team has a goal-scoring opportunity on a stoppage in play — corner kicks, free kicks, and maybe some throw-ins near the box. Scoring a goal in soccer is one of the most difficult tasks in any sport. It takes creativity, organisation, skill, and luck. The set piece is the great equaliser. A team can be getting dominated, only to earn a corner kick on a wacky deflection, fling a cross into the box, and have it skim off a body and into the back of the net for a 1-0 lead.
11. Hold-up play — A forward’s ability to receive a pass from long range with a defender at his back and retain possession. Strikers are ultimately judged by goals and goals alone. But if you want to prove yourself as a nuanced soccer watcher, go ahead and mention that a player’s hold up play has been excellent even though he hasn’t scored. It sounds smart and no one will question you on it.
12. Against the run of play — When a team scores a goal (or wins a free kick, corner kick, etc.) after getting dominated for most of the game. Soccer is a game where a team can totally and completely dismantle an opponent without scoring. If the team that’s getting dismantled manages to muster a counterattack and score a goal out of thin air, the goal comes against the run of play.
13. Super sub — A star player who comes off the bench because his team is so ridiculously good. Typically applies to attacking players. Only the most adventurous among you will use this because it requires a rough knowledge of which players are good. But if you see the camera cut to an ominous shot of a hyper-focused player from Brazil, Spain, Argentina, or Germany waiting to come into the game, and the announcer’s voice rises an octave in anticipation, you’ve probably got a super sub on your hands.
14. Golazo — An amazing goal. A goal that materialises out of nowhere from 30 yards out. A goal that bangs into the roof of the net from an impossible angle. A goal that swerves violently past a helpless, inanimate goalkeeper. You’ll know it when you see it.
15. In form — Describes a player who has been playing well recently. “Form” is something a player is either “in” (playing well) or “out of” (playing poorly). This significantly affects how commentators talk about a team (“Neymar has been out of form for Barcelona, are Brazil doomed?!?”), but the the funny thing about form is that you can fall out of it at any moment, and fall into it just as easily.
16. Final third — The last one-third of the field. The area immediately surrounding your opponent’s box, where the level of skill and technique necessary to break down the defence increases, and games are won and lost. If your team lost and you’re walking out of the bar despondent, lament the lack of “execution in the final third.” Use those precise words, and then slink off quietly.
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