Learn these phrases to fake soccer fandom and join any conversation about the World Cup
T his year’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar is the first edition to be held in winter. But despite the unusual scheduling, it’s still attracting huge interest from around the world.
Even in China, despite strict Covid-19 prevention policies and China’s national team failing to qualify for the quadrennial tournament (again), fans are still glued to their TV screens when matches are on. Social media is full of comments on this once-every-four-years event: memes about Argentina’s latest shocking loss, Cristiano Ronaldo’s good looks, and the lack of mask-wearing among the crowd. For those who don’t follow soccer, it’s easy to feel left out.
But don’t worry: as social animals, there’s always the option of faking it to gain acceptance from the tribe. With these simple tips below, you, too, can feign interest and find opportunity to join the soccer talk, even if you can’t tell Neymar from Bruno Fernandes, or struggle with the offside rule.
Be sorry for a team that has left; any team
The World Cup is always full of tears as teams who have waited four years for a chance at glory get eliminated, and tears are a bonding experience. Even if you are not a real fan, it’s not hard to post a heartfelt farewell message on social media. Try this strategy when it comes to the elimination stage. For example:
Germany left in such a disappointing fashion, but I can always wait until the day you come back in glory. You will never walk alone!
You can also show sympathy to a heartbroken superstar:
I’m so sorry for Messi! But he doesn’t need to prove how outstanding he is, the world already knows!
Bask in nostalgia
Chances are, you don’t know how to analyze the minutiae of the match, so talking about the players is a good choice. And retired legends are the safest if you can’t be bothered to keep up with the results:
When I first began to watch soccer, France was still Zidane’s team. How time flies！
If you have to talk about the game, start with a big upset
While breaking down the match may prove too great a challenge, when it comes to a big upset, the result speaks for itself. All you need to do is to scan the headlines and express surprise such as when Argentina, ranked third in the world by FIFA, lost to Saudi Arabia (51st) this week:
Argentina lost to Saudi Arabia? I can’t believe it!
Absentees are always safe
In China, many soccer fans root for European or South American team, since the last time the PRC national team was at the World Cup was 20 years ago (and few fans wish China’s East Asian rivals well). When choose a foreign team as your favorite, why not pick one that’s absent from the World Cup? It’s a perfect excuse for why you’re ignorant about the game:
I am a fan of Italy, so I didn’t pay too much attention to the tournament this year.
Conveniently (and surprisingly, given their normally strong performances in international competition), Italy failed to make both the 2022 and 2018 tournaments, so this excuse is long-lasting.
Criticize the referee—carefully
If there is any controversy about a refereeing decision, keep your contributions ambiguous, since you are not an expert:
It’s a pity that the referee has become the focus of the match.
Talk about news off the pitch
The World Cup is not all about the 90-minute games. You can find conversation topics in every corner. After all, this World Cup is special in many aspects: It’s the most expensive World Cup in history, the first to be held in winter, the fist to be hosted by a Middle Eastern country, and the venues will not sell alcohol. Choose anything that interests you:
Apparently Qatar spent 229 billion dollars on this World Cup. It’s crazy! Can they make their investment back?
I was so moved when I saw the Iranian players refuse to sing their national anthem to support women in their country.
When in doubt, make fun of the Chinese team
In China, the men’s national football team is a nationwide laughingstock (unlike the women’s team). At this World Cup, Chinese fans are even more depressed, as their rivals Japan won a shock victory against Germany, and other Asian nations also performed surprisingly well. It’s rather mean, but if you’re at a loss for an intelligent sport comment, it’s always acceptable to just sigh:
Look at our Asian neighbors! If only I can see the Chinese team make it to the World Cup before I die.
Perhaps there’s a silver lining though, as a popular joke online now compares China to the once-great Argentina:
Wait! Saudi Arabia beat Argentina, and China once tied with Saudi Arabia. Doesn’t that mean that, mathematically, China can beat Argentina too?
If you are among true fans, though, tread carefully, because they’ll still probably see right through you. Maybe honesty is the best policy: If you want to join the soccer talk but you’re not a fan, start with simple questions:
I don’t know much about soccer, can you explain why that goal was offside for me?
An earlier version of this article appeared during the 2018 World Cup. Find it here.