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About soccer

The world governing body for football is the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), with headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland. FIFA organizes the World Cup and other international competitions, such as world youth and junior championships. FIFA recognizes six continental groupings, which organize the game in their regions. 

The World Cup is held every four years. Countries qualify for the finals over the previous two years through elimination groups in their continental zones. Thirty-two nations contest the finals. Of the 32 places, 15 are currently allocated to Europe, with 5 each to South America and Africa, 4 to Asia and Oceania together, and 3 to North and Central America. Oceania's champions have to play off with the fourth-place team from the Asian zone for the last place in the finals. These figures include the host and titleholding countries, who qualify automatically, in their respective zones. The World Cup finals take place over a period of about a month at several venues in the host country. In the first round, the qualifying nations are divided into eight groups of four, and each team plays all the other teams in its group. The top two teams in each group advance to the next round, which is a straight knock-out contest. Brazil are the only country to have appeared in every World Cup finals competition. They won their fourth trophy in 1994.

      Europe. The governing body for Europe is the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA). The European Championships are held every four years. More than 30 countries take part, eight qualifying for the finals. UEFA also organizes under-21 and youth competitions, and three major club competitions. The club competitions, which take place annually, are the European Cup, for champion clubs; the European Cup-Winners Cup, for national cup holders; and the UEFA Cup for other leading teams. They are run on a knock-out basis with home and away legs in each round except the finals of the European Cup and the Cup-Winners Cup. 

The four United Kingdom countries--England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland--have their own Football Associations and compete separately at both country and club level. 

South America has fewer footballing nations than Europe, but has won equal honours in international competition over the years owing mainly to the strength of Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay. Football in South America is run by the Confederacion Sudamericana de Futbol (CONMEBOL). The chief competitions are the South American Championship for countries, and the Copa de los Libertadores for clubs. 

Africa is the emerging continent in world football. The game there is run by the Confederation Africaine de Football (CAF). Twelve countries take part in the African Nations Cup, held once every four years. There are also international club championships. In international competitions African teams have produced encouraging performances against countries from the traditional strongholds of the game. The game is South Africa's most popular sport. In the early 1990's, the country's isolation from international sport ended. South Africa formed a national team and began competing against other countries. 

North and Central America. Mexico, twice World Cup hosts, have dominated this group, which includes the Caribbean countries. The governing body is the Confederacion Norte-Centro-Americana y del Caribe de Futbol (CONCACAF). In the United States, despite the traditional popularity of American football and several false starts at professional level, soccer has grown in popularity in the schools. The United States team qualified for the 1990 World Cup finals, and the United States hosted the 1994 World Cup finals. 

Asia. Football is a major sport in the Asian Games, held every four years. The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) also stages the four-yearly Asian Football Championships. The game is particularly popular in the Arab states and in Southeast Asia, China, and Japan. 

Oceania. The Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) is the smallest continental association, and is dominated by Australia and New Zealand. It has included countries such as Israel and Taiwan in its World Cup qualifying group, for political reasons. In Australia, soccer has to compete with the rugby codes and Australian Rules football, but several leagues flourish, supported largely by immigrant communities. Australia (1974), and New Zealand (1982), have played in World Cup finals.

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