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Talk Like You Care About the FIFA World Cup

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!

Déguó yǐ yì zhǒng lìng rén shīwàng de fāngshì líkāi le, dànshì wǒ huì yìzhí děngdào nǐmen yínghuí róngyào de nà yì tiān. Nǐmen yǒngyuǎn bú huì dúxíng!

德国以一种令人失望的方式离开了,但是我会一直等到你们赢回荣耀的那一天。你们永远不会独行!

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!

Xīnténg Méixī! Dànshì tā zǎoyǐ bù xūyào zhèngmíng zìjǐ, quán shìjiè dōu yǐjīng zhīdào tā de yōuxiù!

心疼梅西!但是他早已不需要证明自己,全世界都已经知道他的优秀!

Chinese soccer terms includes memes about Messi and Argentina

“I’m Messi, this is the last time I’ll dupe you out of money” reads a meme online, referencing the fact that many sports betters expected Messi’s team, Argentina, to beat Saudi Arabia. (Screenshot from Douyin)

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!

Wǒ gāng kāishǐ kàn qiú de shíhou Fǎguóduì háishì Qídánèi dāngjiā ne, zhēn shì shíguāng fēishì!

我刚开始看球的时候法国队还是齐达内当家呢,真是时光飞逝!

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!

Āgēntíng jūrán shū gěi le Shātè? Zhēn shì nányǐ zhìxìn!

阿根廷居然输给了沙特?真是难以置信!

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.

Wǒ shì Yìdàlì qiúmí, suǒyǐ zhè jiè shìjièbēi dōu méi zěnme guānzhù.

我是意大利球迷,所以这届世界杯都没怎么关注。

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.

Kàndào cáipàn chéngwéi bǐsài de jiāodiǎn zhēn shì shífēn lìng rén yíhàn.

看到裁判成为比赛的焦点真是十分令人遗憾。

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?

Jùshuō Kǎtǎ’ěr wèi zhè jiè shìjièbēi huāle liǎngqiān èrbǎi jiǔshí yì měiyuán. Zhēn shì tài tǔhǎo le! Tāmen néng zhuànhuí běnr ma?

据说卡塔尔为这届世界杯花了两千二百九十亿美元。真是太土豪了!他们能赚回本儿吗?

I was so moved when I saw the Iranian players refuse to sing their national anthem to support women in their country.

Kàndào Yīlǎng de qiúyuán wèile shēngyuán běn guó fùnǚ ér jùjué chàng guógē, wǒ hěn shòu gǎndòng.

看到伊朗的球员为了声援本国妇女而拒绝唱国歌,我很受感动。

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.

Kànkàn wǒmen de Yàzhōu línjumen ba! Wǒ zhè bèizi pàshì dōu jiànbudào Zhōngguóduì tījìn shìjièbēi le.

看看我们的亚洲邻居们吧!我这辈子怕是都见不到中国队踢进世界杯了。

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?

Děng yíxià! Shātè yíngle Āgēntíng, ér Zhōngguóduì céngjīng he Shātè dǎpíng. Cóng shùxué céngmiàn jiǎng, Zhōngguó shì bu shì yě kěyǐ zhànshèng Āgēntíng?

等一下!沙特赢了阿根廷,而中国队曾经和沙特打平。从数学层面讲,中国是不是也可以战胜阿根廷?

A meme about Argentina's loss to Saudi Arabia during the 2022 World Cup

An online meme jokes that China is better than Argentina, and Chinese player Wu Lei is better than Messi (Screenshot from Douyin)

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?

Wǒ duì zúqiú bú tài dǒng, nǐ néng bāng wǒ jiěshì yíxià nàge jìnqiú wèi shénme yuèwèi le ma?

我对足球不太懂,你能帮我解释一下那个进球为什么越位了吗?

An earlier version of this article appeared during the 2018 World Cup. Find it here.

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author

Sun Jiahui is a freelance writer and former editor at The World of Chinese. She writes about Chinese language, society and culture, and is especially passionate about sharing stories of China's ancient past with a wider audience. She has been writing for TWOC for over six years, and pens the Choice Chengyu column.

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