50 Reasons Why World Football Is the Best and Biggest Sport in the World

Jo-Ryan SalazarSenior Analyst IDecember 16, 2010

50 Reasons Why World Football Is the Best and Biggest Sport in the World

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    SEVILLE, SPAIN - DECEMBER 15: Nuri Sahin of Borussia Dortmund (C), Didier Zokora of Sevilla FC (L) and Federico Fazio of Sevilla FC duel for a high ball during the UEFA Europa League group J match between Sevilla and Borussia Dortmund at Estadio Ramon San
    David Ramos/Getty Images

    Here in the States, we are blessed to have a plethora of sports to turn to. American football. Baseball. Basketball. Ice Hockey. Auto racing. Golf. Tennis. But what about soccer, the most popular sport in the world?

    Hmm. It deserves a little love, right?

    So, I've come up with 50—count 'em, 50—reasons why association football is the best and biggest sport in the world. And believe me when I say it: IT IS. Now, I could have gone all gung ho here and came up with 100, mind, but I could only come up with 50.

    So, here they are.

50. It's the Most-Played Sport in the World

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    AFGHANISTAN, KABUL - OCTOBER 29:  An Afghan man reacts during a friendly match between the Afghan women's national football team and a team from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) women's team at the ISAF headquarters in Kabul on
    Majid Saeedi/Getty Images

    Just about every country in the world plays soccer. Whether it's in South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, Oceania, Australia...you will see 11 players kick the ball around against another group of 11 towards a goal.

    It's not difficult to set up, and even in the forgotten corners in the world, a match can be seen. It is THAT relevant.

49. The Pub Culture

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    MIAMI - JUNE 23:  Freddy Hurtado (L) and Wilfredo Hurtado (C) and others celebrate the winning goal for the USA soccer team while watching the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Group C match between USA and Algeria on television at Churchill's pub on June
    Joe Raedle/Getty Images

    Ah, who can forget the pub culture?

    Before a match and after a match, fans of both teams gather for a drink or two, and maybe a quick bite, at watering holes near the stadium. You can hear singing, shouting, imbibing and loads of laughter to go along.

    It's a healthy example of camaraderie between loyal supporters and adds another dimension to the mystique of a soccer match.

48. Pitch Invasions and Celebrations

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    ROCHDALE, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 05:  Scott McManus of FC United of Manchester is mobbed by supporters after victory over Rochdale in the FA Cup 1st Round match sponsored by e-on at Spotland Stadium on November 5, 2010 in Rochdale, England.  (Photo by Alex Li
    Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    Whenever a club wins a crucial game in its history, its fans celebrate on to the pitch with its players. It could be from avoiding relegation, or it could come from scoring the biggest upset in its history.

    You don't even need to be at the game live to notice the stewards trying desperately to maintain order. Let the fans celebrate a crowning achievement. It's been a while in the making.

47. Soccer Moms and Soccer Dads

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    WOLLONGONG, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 11: James Donachie of the Roar and Peter Simonski of Sydney contest possession during the round 13 Youth League match between Sydney FC and the Brisbane Roar at WIN Stadium on December 11, 2010 in Wollongong, Australia.  (
    Mark Nolan/Getty Images

    If it weren't for the popularity of football, the phrase "soccer mom" would not be in style to this day. The phrase soccer mom broadly refers to a middle-class suburban woman who spends a significant amount of her time transporting her school-age children to their sporting events or other activities.

    The phrase soccer mom derives from the literal, specific description of a mother who transports and watches her children play soccer. It was also used in names of organizations of mothers who raised money to support their children's soccer teams.

    Speaking of youth sports, the popularity of soccer as a youth sport can be see in in the proliferation of youth academies set up by various professional clubs around the world and stateside through organizations like AYSO.

46. Household Names

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    NEW YORK - AUGUST 01:  Soccer Legend Pele (C) and former team mates Dennis Tueart (L) and Carlos Alberto Torres (R)  pose for a photograph before the announcement of the return of the World Renowned New York Cosmos at Flushing Meadows Corona Park on Augus
    Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

    Even if you are not a soccer fan, household names like Pele and David Beckham are strong enough to make you say, "I've heard of them, even though I don't follow soccer."

    But those are just two household names that will be highlighted in this list of reasons why the world game is great. I could put more names of players that helped make the Beautiful Game popular...but I could only fit 50 reasons.

45. The Rise of the Women's Game

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    BRIDGEVIEW, IL - NOVEMBER 27: Members of the United States including (L-R) Christie Rampone #3, Nicole Barnhart #18, Rachel Buehler #4, Abby Wambach #17 and Amy LePeilbet #6 celebrate a win over Italy during a Women's World Cup Qualifying match at Toyota
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Association football is the most prominent team sport for women in a few countries, and one of the few women's team sports with professional leagues.

    Women's football is growing. While Women's Professional Soccer is going through its growing pains here in the States, there are leagues in South America, Europe, Asia and Australia that are tapping into the potential of female footballing talent. And there are some pretty good national teams—from the USA, to Germany, to Norway, to Brazil, to China and even North Korea and Mexico.

    This list will highlight three famous female footballers that have helped make football the most popular sport in the world.

44. Birgit Prinz

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    HELSINKI, FINLAND - SEPTEMBER 10:  Fara Williams of England attempts to tackle Birgit Prinz of Germany during the UEFA Women's Euro 2009 Final match between England and Germany at the Helsinki Olympic Stadium on September 10, 2009 in Helsinki, Finland.  (
    Ian Walton/Getty Images

    Birgit Prinz is Germany's most decorated female football. An ace at finishing, she is the FIFA Women's World Cup all-time leading scorer with 14 goals.

    Prinz has scored 126 goals in 205 appearances for Die Nationalelf and was named FIFA World Player of the Year from 2003-2005.

    Watch for Prinz to make an impact at next year's FIFA Women's World Cup.

43. Argentina's Primera División

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    BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA - FEBRUARY 10:  Oscar Ahumada of River Plate is challenged by Matias Miramontes of Gimnasia de Jujuy during the Primera Division closing season match between River Plate and Gimnasia de Jujuy at the Estadio Monumental on February 1
    Julian Finney/Getty Images

    Here's the first of a number of national leagues that have shaped the popularity of football around the world. When you think of Argentina's Primera División, the first two clubs that come to mind are Boca Juniors and River Plate. Two clubs that have earned distinct reputations in their own right.

    But there are other important clubs in this league that have proven to be strong and bring added excitement—San Lorenzo, Racing Club de Avellaneda, Vélez Sársfield, Newell's Old Boys, Estudiantes de La Plata and Independiente, among others.

    Argentina's Primera División. Another reason why football is the best and biggest sport in the world.

42. Brazil's Série A and State Championships

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    5 Nov 2000:  Roma (left) of Flamengo and Jorginho of Fluminense in action during the Havelange Cup (Brazil National Championship) match  between Flamengo and Fluminense played at the Maracan Stadium, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Mandatory Credit: Allsport UK/A
    Getty Images/Getty Images

    There are many great clubs that come out of Brazil—São Paulo, Santos, Flamengo, Fluminense, Vasco da Gama, Internacional, Palmeiras, Corinthians...

    But it's not just the top national tournament that is all the rage down in Brazil. There are the state tournaments that many of these teams take part in. There's the Paulista in São Paulo, the Gaúcho in Rio Grande do Sul and the Carioca in Rio de Janeiro, among the most notable.

41. The Copa America

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    South America's most prestigious competition is also the world's oldest national football team competition.

    The Copa América is one of the world's most widely viewed sporting events. The 2007 edition had an estimated television audience of 530 million people in Latin America and a worldwide cumulative audience of four billion people from 185 countries. 

    Not too dang shabby. Oh yeah, and this tournament is dominated by Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil, who have won this thing 14, 14, and eight times respectively.

    Well-known national sides win well-known international championships. That's why the Copa America is on this list.

40. It's an Olympic Sport

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    BEIJING - AUGUST 23:  Argentina celebrate winning the Men's Gold Medal football match between Nigeria and Argentina at the National Stadium on Day 15 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on August 23, 2008 in Beijing, China.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Imag
    Stu Forster/Getty Images

    And it's been that way for quite some time. Soccer has been included in every Olympiad except 1896 and 1932 as a men's competition sport. Women's football was added to the official programme in 1996.

    The most accomplished country in Olympic football has been Hungary, with three golds, a silver and a bronze. The USA also won medals at this event, too—1904, St. Louis, with a silver and bronze. (Of course, Canada won gold in that event, but that's a different story.)

    The USA have dominated the women's competition, with three golds and a silver.

39. FIFA Women's World Cup

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    PASADENA, CA - JULY 10:  Brandi Chastain of Team USA celebrates during the Women's World Cup against Team China at The Rose Bowl on July 10, 1999 in Pasadena, California. Team USA won 5-4. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Well, this is a no-brainer. It's the showcase event in women's football, for goodness sakes! How can you omit this from being a reason why soccer is the best and biggest? Simple. You can't.

    Even if you were just a mere whippersnapper, you would have at least heard of Brandi Chastain placing herself in the annals of the event's history by celebrating a simple converted spot kick. A crowd of 90,185 came down to the Rose Bowl for that classic showdown. You cannot say this does not have any relevance to the big picture.

38. Even Paraplegics Can Play the Game!

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    Yes, there are variants of football for those with disabilities.

    Football 5-a-side is an adaptation of football for athletes with visual impairments including blindness. The sport, governed by the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA), is played with modified FIFA rules. The field of play is smaller and is surrounded by boards. Teams are reduced to five players, including the goalkeeper, per team. Teams may also use one guide, who is positioned off the field of play, to assist in directing players. The ball is equipped with a noise-making device to allow players to locate it by sound. Matches consist of two 25-minute halves, with a 10-minute break at halftime.

    Football 7-a-side is an adaptation of association football for athletes with cerebral palsy and other neurological disorders, including stroke and traumatic brain injury. The sport is governed by the Cerebral Palsy International Sports and Recreation Association (CP-ISRA). The sport is played with modified FIFA rules. Among the modifications are a reduced field of play, a reduction in the number of players, elimination of the offside rule and permission for one-handed throw-ins. Matches consist of two 30-minute halves, with a 15-minute halftime break.

    And there is Powerchair Football. This is a competitive team sport for people with disabilities who use power wheelchairs. The game is played in a gymnasium on a regulation basketball court. Two teams of four players use powerchairs equipped with footguards to attack, defend and spin-kick a 13-inch (330 mm) football in an attempt to score goals.

37. Thierry Henry

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    HARRISON, NJ - NOVEMBER 04: Thierry Henry #14 of the New York Red Bulls stands for the national anthem prior to the match against the San Jose Earthquakes during the second leg of the of the MLS playoffs at Red Bull Arena on November 4, 2010 in Harrison,
    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    New York Red Bull fans are getting used to him. Barcelona fans are used to life without him. But it will always be his days at Arsenal where Thierry Henry really shined.

    Henry scored 174 goals in 254 appearances with Arsenal and added 51 goals in 123 appearances for France. A player with exceptional pace and one-on-one capability, Henry is an accomplished footballer that has helped make the game of soccer the most popular sport on the planet.

36. Marta

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    ZURICH - SWITZERLAND Ð DECEMBER 21:  Brazil's Marta during a Press Conference for the FIFA 2009 Women's Player of the Year at the Kongresshaus on December 21, 2009 in Zurich, Switzerland.  (Photo by Pascal Muller/Getty Images)
    Pascal Muller/Getty Images

    Marta Vieira da Silva is Brazil's most prolific female football player. A striker with a clinical finish and touch, Marta is a three-time FIFA Women's Player of the Year and helped win championships for FC Gold Pride and Santos FC.

    Look for Marta to be a key component in the prospects for As Canarias in next year's FIFA Women's World Cup in Germany.

35. Ronaldinho

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    MILAN, ITALY - NOVEMBER 03: Ronaldinho of AC Milan in action during the UEFA Champions League group G match between AC Milan and Real Madrid at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on November 3, 2010 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Massimo Cebrelli/Getty Images)
    Massimo Cebrelli/Getty Images

    Ronaldinho is yet another Brazilian who has made his mark on the world stage and fostered the popularity of the Beautiful Game. As a winger for Barcelona, he scored 70 goals in 145 appearances and added 20 in 65 appearances for his current club, AC Milan. And as a member of the national team, Ronaldinho has notched 32 goals in 88 appearances for Brazil.

34. Offshoots, Offshoots, Offshoots

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    MUSCAT, OMAN - DECEMBER 15:   Mehran Morshedizadeh of Iran fights for the ball with Jalal Al Sinani of Oman in the Beach Soccer Semi Final between Oman and Iran at Al-Musannah Sports City during day eight of the 2nd Asian Beach Games Muscat 2010 on Decemb
    Robert Prezioso/Getty Images

    There are so many different offshoots of football that have fostered the popularity of this wonderful game.

    There's futsal, indoor soccer, beach soccer, street football and even the most unusual of variants like crab football (which is where players must walk like crabs to move the ball around) and swamp football (played in bogs).

    Isn't the beautiful game beautiful or what?

33. Multi-Stage Tournaments

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    GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - OCTOBER 24:  Anthony Stokes of Celtic attempts to move away from Maurice Edu of Rangers during the Clydesdale Bank Premier League match between Celtic and Rangers at Celtic Park on October 24, 2010 in Glasgow, Scotland.  (Photo by Cliv
    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    Latin America is famous (or infamous, depending on your fancy) for having these multi-stage tournaments, which add a little intrigue to the season. In places like Mexico and Argentina, there are Apertura (opening) and Clausura (closing) tournaments, and a relegation formula is used to determine who goes out and who stays.

    But it's not just consigned to the New World, mind you. Some parts of the Old World do this as well. Case in point: the Scottish Premier League.  After 33 games, when every club has played every other club three times, the division is split into two halves. Clubs play a further five matches, against the teams in their half of the division.

32. Diego Maradona

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    JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 27:  Diego Maradona head coach of Argentina looks on during the warm up ahead of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Round of Sixteen match between Argentina and Mexico at Soccer City Stadium on June 27, 2010 in Johannes
    Stanley Chou/Getty Images

    Call him a drug addict. Call him a manager who just can't manage. But regardless of what you call him, Diego Maradona's skills as a player will still resonate. In 494 appearances for seven different clubs, Maradona notched 258 goals while adding 34 in 91 appearances with the Argentine national team.

    He still has a cult following to this day, and that is why he is on this list of reasons why soccer is popular around the world.

31. Michel Platini

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    One of the best football players of his generation is also the president of one of the most affluent confederations of football in UEFA.

    In 432 appearances for AS Nancy, AS Saint-Étienne and Juventus, Michel Platini recorded 224 goals and also added 41 in 72 appearances for Les Bleus.

    In 2007, Platini was elected President of UEFA. He introduced new ideas to the confederation—the most notable being the 6+5 concept, which is six home international players and five foreign players—as well as caps on wages, transfer spending and foreign ownership of clubs.

    While some of these concepts have yet to be implemented, these are ideas coming from a player who has a knack for scoring—and a knack for making the Beautiful Game the most popular sport in the world.

30. UEFA European Football Championship

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    MADRID, SPAIN - JUNE 30:  Fernando Torres and Xavi Hernandez hold the trophy aloft as the Spanish team celebrate with fans at Plaza Colon after winning the UEFA EURO 2008 Final match between Germany and Spain 2008 on June 30, 2008 in Madrid, Spain.  (Phot
    Denis Doyle/Getty Images

    While CONMEBOL has the Copa America, UEFA has a similarly attractive tournament in the European Football Championship. Bleacher Report will provide you continuing coverage of the 2012 edition of this prestigious competition, which dates back to 1960.

29. Johan Cruyff

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    BARCELONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 22:  Head coach Johan Cruyff of Catalunya smiles during the international friendly match between Catalunya and Argentina at the Camp Nou stadium on December 22, 2009 in Barcelona, Spain. Catalunya won the match 4-2.  (Photo by
    Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

    One of the major wrinkles to soccer is the concept of "Total Football."  It is a system where a player who moves out of his position is replaced by another from his team, thus allowing the team to retain their intended organizational structure. In this fluid system no footballer is fixed in their intended outfield role; anyone can be successively an attacker, a midfielder and a defender.

    Johan Cryuff is an example of "Total Football." A player with technical ability, excellent speed and acceleration, timely dribbling and superior vision, the ball-handling ability from this flying Dutchman puts him on this list of reasons why soccer is the best Earth has to offer.

    And he can coach, too. Currently, Cruyff is the manager of the Catalonian national team.

28. The Brazilian National Teams

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    DERBY, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 11:  Ramires of Brazil in action during the International Friendly match between Brazil and Ukraine at Pride Park Stadium on October 11, 2010 in Derby, England.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
    Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

    Brazil, Brazil, Brazil, Oh, how those men of A Seleção can play.

    Brazil is a football factory and is the home of the five-time World Cup champions. Many legendary household names hail from Brazil—Pelé, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Roberto Carlos, Romario, Bebeto, Garrincha, Kaká, Zico, Zizinho, Arthur Friedenreich...the list goes on and on and on.

    And it's not just the men who can play...oh you best believe the women can too! Aside from Marta, there's Cristiane, another solid player, as well as Formiga, Francielle, Érika, Fabiana, Rosana, Renata Costa...

    Yes, those Brazilians can play. Simple as that. They help make the Beautiful Game Beautiful.

27. Mia Hamm

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    Perhaps the most storied female football player in history is Mia Hamm. As a collegiate player, she scores 103 goals in 95 appearances for North Carolina, then followed that up with 25 goals in 49 appearances for the Washington Freedom during their WUSA days.

    Oh, and Hamm scored 158 goals in 275 appearances for the US Women's National Team. So when you are a trailblazer like Mia Hamm, you will never be omitted from the list of the 50 reasons why soccer is the most popular sport in the world.

26. Promotion and Relegation

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 22:  Charlie Adam and the Blackpool team celebrate promotion during the Coca-Cola Championship Playoff Final between Blackpool and Cardiff City at Wembley Stadium on May 22, 2010 in London, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Gett
    Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

    Promotion and relegation is another reason why we love soccer. Who is good enough to stay at the top? Who is bad enough to take the step down? Many great managers and players have made and broke their legacies based on promotion and relegation, and that's no joke.

    Not only that, clubs have been affected financially to the point of literal administration due to the inability to perform, so it's always an intriguing aspect of promotion and relegation. Of course, there are leagues like the Hyundai A-League and MLS that do not have promotion and relegation in place as of yet, but they are in the diminutive.

25. Ronaldo

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    LISBON, PORTUGAL - NOVEMBER 28:  Ronaldo of AC Milan looks on from the substitutes bench before the kick off of the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Benfica and AC Milan at the Luz Stadium on November 28, 2007 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Pa
    Paul Gilham/Getty Images

    He may have picked up some excess baggage nowadays, but when Ronaldo was trim as trim can be, he was a star and a true ambassador of the world game.

    Ronaldo shined the brightest at Real Madrid, the fifth of seven clubs the Brazilian played for, where he scored 83 goals in 127 appearances. As a member of the national team, Ronaldo scored 62 goals in 97 appearances for Brazil.

    His current stint with Corinthians will last until 2011, at which this football great will finally hang up his boots.

24. Scouting: The Hunt for New Talent

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    MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 13:  Manchester United Manager Sir Alex Ferguson protests to Fourth Official Phil Dowd during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford on December 13, 2010 in Manchester, Englan
    Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    Looking for the freshest faces to arrive on the scene is the job of a football scout. Who will be the best great name to come out of nowhere and help lead their club to championship glory?

    The road to greatness begins with exposure to the game, no question. But the path begins to really open up when a young player's potential is on display with scouts searching far and wide.

    All of the faces you see on television, competing in tournaments like, say for example, the UEFA Champions League...they got their big breaks by getting the attention of scouts representing the clubs they would earn their first big paychecks with.

23. Arts, Books, Films and All That

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    LONDON - DECEMBER 1:  Real Madrid and England footballer David Beckham promotes 'Really Bend It Like Beckham', his first official training skills DVD, at the Virgin Megastore, Oxford Street on December 1, 2004 in London. (Photo by MJ Kim/Getty Images)
    MJ Kim/Getty Images

    The popularity of football has been reflected in the arts, books and films. Books have been written dealing with the culture, such as violence, surrounding football, as well as detailed histories of events or rivalries. Many clubs have one or more fanzines.

    Numerous films have been made including Bend It Like Beckham and The Football Factory.

22. Ligue 1

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    MARSEILLE, FRANCE - DECEMBER 08: Gabriel Heinze of Marseille passes the ball during the UEFA Champions League Group F match between Marseille and Chelsea at the Stade Velodrome on December 8, 2010 in Marseille, France. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Image
    Michael Steele/Getty Images

    Europe is known for having solid club football. One of the five major European club football leagues is France's Ligue 1. Twenty of France's best battle for L'Hexagoal in a competition that dates back to 1932.

    Notable teams from Ligue 1 who are also competing this season include Marseille, Lyon, Lille, Paris Saint-Germain, Auxerre, Bordeaux and Saint-Étienne.

21. The FA Cup

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 15:  John Terry of Chelsea leads the celebrations with his team after winning the FA Cup sponsored by E.ON Final match between Chelsea and Portsmouth at Wembley Stadium on May 15, 2010 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/G
    Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

    Perhaps the most prolific domestic cup competition comes from England and the FA Cup—the oldest association football competition in the world. 

    The FA Cup was first contested in 1871. For the 2010-11 edition, broadcast by ITV and ESPN, a record 806 clubs took part.

20. Wembley Stadium

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    This is the theater of dreams, right here. One of soccer's grandest cathedrals that never fails to capture our imagination. Whether it was the old Wembley with its twin towers or the new Wembley with its iconic arch, this Venue of Legends is forever associated with greatness and with the world game.

    It's the magic which fans experience at Wembley Stadium that perpetuates a planet's love for soccer.

19. Franz Beckenbauer

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    MONACO - OCTOBER 11:  Franz Beckenbauer during the Golden Foot Awards ceremony at Fairmont Hotel on October 11, 2010 in Monaco, Monaco.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images for Golden Foot)
    Claudio Villa/Getty Images

    Der Kaiser. Need we say more? Okay, we will.

    Franz Beckenbauer is another historic ambassador to the game of football. (Notice that for this slideshow, I am intentionally using soccer and football interchangeably.) One of the best sweepers of the game, Beckenbauer scored 81 goals in 587 appearances for four different clubs.

    As a member of West Germany's national team, he added 14 goals in 103 appearance playing in defense. His accolades, reputation and legacy on both sides of the pond and elsewhere has earned him a place on this list.

18. The WAGs

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    We love football because of the teams. We love football because of the coaches. We love football because of the fans and the way the game is played. There is no denying that.

    But did you know we also love football (or sometimes not) because of the wives and girlfriends?

    There's Victoria Beckham, Yolanthe Cabau van Kasbergen, Amii Grove, Jessica Jordan, Katie Price, Luli Fernández, Vincenza Cacace, Nikoleta Lozanova, Pamela Diaz, Michaela Ochotská, Gina Pistol, Charlotte Mears, Radka Kocurova, Imogen Thomas, Vanessa Perroncel, Elena Bonzanni, Michela Quattrociocche, Danielle Lloyd, Natalie Suliman, Cheryl Cole, Abigail Clancy...

    I'm gonna stop here. You can figure out 100 more reasons why football is the world's most popular sport right here.

17. Bundesliga

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    MUNICH, GERMANY - AUGUST 20: Mario Mandzukic of Wolfsburg jumps for a header during the Bundesliga match between FC Bayern Muenchen and VfL Wolfsburg at Allianz Arena on August 20, 2010 in Munich, Germany.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    Ah, the Fußball-Bundesliga. Can't forget about this.

    The home of Bayern Munich, Schalke 04, FC Nuremburg, Eintracht Frankfurt, Hannover 96, Hamburger SV, Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund, among others. The Bundesliga is the most-attended league in all of Europe—and one of the most-attended in the world.

16. Manchester United

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    MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 13:  Wayne Rooney of Manchester United in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford on December 13, 2010 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Image
    Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    Manchester United. Say those two words and you've got a club that has captivated the hearts and minds of many people around the world. Many fans, from all corners, are in love with Sir Alex Ferguson and his ilk.

    You ask someone in Malaysia, "Hey, have you heard of Manchester United?" You'll get a yes. Ask the same question in Central Africa, you'll get a yes. Even in the Andes, you'll get a yes.

    Anywhere you go, all the people know who you are...so long as you are a part of Manchester United.

15. Serie A

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    BOLOGNA, ITALY - DECEMBER 12: Robinho of Milan in action during the Serie A match between Bologna and AC Milan at Stadio Renato Dall'Ara on December 12, 2010 in Bologna, Italy.  (Photo by Roberto Serra/Getty Images)
    Roberto Serra/Getty Images

    There are so many great clubs that have etched a name for themselves in Serie A. The most notable ones?

    Let's see...there's Juventus, Inter Milan, AC Milan, Roma, Lazio, Palermo and Napoli among others. Reputable brands, reputable football (if you forgive the hiccups by Juventus and Napoli in their history), a reputable league. Enough said.

14. Cristiano Ronaldo

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    ZARAGOZA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 12: Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid looks on during the La Liga match between Real Zaragoza and Real Madrid at La Romareda stadium on December 12, 2010 in Zaragoza, Spain. (Photo by Angel Martinez/Getty Images)
    Angel Martinez/Getty Images

    Cristiano Ronaldo...one of today's poster boys for the world game. Cool looks, cool flair, cool skills.

    Interestingly, his current club once featured another Ronaldo in the one whose career is drawing to a close on the other side of the Atlantic. Cristiano Ronaldo scored 84 goals in 196 appearances for Manchester United before chalking up 43 goals in 44 appearances (as of Dec. 4, 2010) for Real Madrid.

    And of course, when you have 10 million fans on Facebook...you probably will be on this list without any further weighing.

13. A Game of Skill and Tactics

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    SEVILLE, SPAIN - DECEMBER 15:  Lucas Barrios of Borussia Dortmund (2ndL) and Andres Palop of Sevilla FC (C) duel for a high ball during the UEFA Europa League group J match between Sevilla and Borussia Dortmund at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on December
    David Ramos/Getty Images

    Football is about skill and tactics. That's why we watch it. We watch it again and again and again.

    The crisp set pieces. The passing. The dribbling and dispossession. The variety of formations on the pitch. The marvel of a first touch, and the challenge for the ball that comes from a slide tackle.

    The attacks and counterattacks. The leaping ability to make saves as a goalkeeper and the pace that comes with the transition on the fly. Adjustments and readjustments. And of course, there's the contentious cards that come from the match official.

    It's all of this and others that make soccer the most popular sport on the planet.

12. Copa Libertadores

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    South America's marquee club competition is always a thrill to watch. 

    The Copa Libertadores attracts television audiences beyond the continent. The matches are broadcast in over 135 countries, with commentaries in more than 30 languages, and it is often considered as one of the most watched sports events on TV; Fox Sports en Latinoamérica, for example, reaches more than 25 million households in the American continent alone.

11. Fair Play

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    PERTH, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 05:  Players and officials pose to promote FIFA Fair Play during the round five A-League match between the Perth Glory and the Wellington Phoenix at nib Stadium on September 5, 2010 in Perth, Australia.  (Photo by Paul Kane/Ge
    Paul Kane/Getty Images

    Even though it can be argued the Executive Committee are a bunch of hypocrites for not applying this concept to them, the power of Fair Play is always emphasized.

    The generic concept of fair play is a fundamental part of the game of football. It represents the positive benefits of playing by the rules, using common sense and respecting fellow players, referees, opponents and fans.

    The Fair Play Campaign was conceived largely as an indirect result of the 1986 FIFA World Cup™ in Mexico, when the handball goal by Diego Maradona stimulated the admirable reaction of the England coach, Sir Bobby Robson. Since then, the campaign has had with the unconditional support of former FIFA President João Havelange and current President Joseph S. Blatter.

    Now if only the Executive Committee had done the right thing and applied this while giving away those 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cup bids...

10. The Matchday Atmosphere

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    MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 22: A general view ahead of the UEFA Champions League Final match between FC Bayern Muenchen and Inter Milan at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on May 22, 2010 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
    Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

    One word: Tifosi.

    You will see it. You will sense it. You will feel it. Heck, you might even take part in it. But that is just one facet of a matchday atmosphere.

    There is singing and jumping, chanting, flags waving in the air, the roar of the crowd as the ball goes in and a surge of adrenaline that comes from seeing the team you follow perform on the pitch. Once you go to one match, you'll want to go to another and another and another.

    It's that addicting.

9. David Beckham

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    NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 27:  David Beckham of the Galaxy Shoots for goal during the friendly match between the Newcastle Jets and the LA Galaxy at EnergyAustralia Stadium on November 27, 2010 in Newcastle, Australia.  (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Gett
    Brendon Thorne/Getty Images

    Yessir. Not much really has to be said as to why David Beckham is a reason why football is the biggest and best. He is another ambassador to the game, this midfielder who currently is with the Los Angeles Galaxy. Self-explanatory stuff.

    It was his work with Manchester United that put his over the top, with 62 goals in 265 appearances. And he also had a stint at Real Madrid, with 13 goals in 116 appearances, along with 17 goals in 115 appearances for England.

    Beckham's philanthropic work and other contributing endeavors off the pitch have added to his legacy, thus placing him on this Top 50 list.

8. La Liga

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    ZARAGOZA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 12:  Mezut Ozil of Real Madrid celebrates with his team mates Cristiano Ronaldo (R), Pepe (C) and Angel di Maria after scoring Real's opening goal during the La Liga match between Real Zaragoza and Real Madrid at La Romareda sta
    Angel Martinez/Getty Images

    There are a lot of great clubs that come from La Liga. Real Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Atlético Madrid and Athletic Bilbao are a few shining examples, with Real Madrid and Barcelona being the strongest.

    La Liga is one of the most popular professional sports leagues in the world, with an average attendance of 29,029 for league matches in the 2007–08 season. This is the eighth highest of any domestic professional sports league in the world and the third highest of any professional association football league. La Liga is currently ranked the second strongest league in Europe according to UEFA's league coefficient, based on recent European performances.

7. National Rivalries

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 17:  Kieran Gibbs of England evades Samir Nasri of France during the international friendly match between England and France at Wembley Stadium on November 17, 2010 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
    Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

    Rivalries, rivalries, rivalries. There are so many great football rivalries between clubs and countries that it really makes the world game The World Game.

    It's countless, and they go back decades, even centuries. Here's some for you...

    • The Arabian Gulf Derby – Bahrain vs Saudi Arabia
    • The World's Derby (Il Derby Mondiale) – Italy vs Brazil
    • The Battle of the South Americans (La batalla de los sudamericanos) – Brazil vs Argentina
    • Iraq vs Iran
    • Scotland vs England
    • France vs Italy
    • Wales vs England
    • Republic of Ireland vs England
    • England vs Germany
    • Russia vs Ukraine
    • Czech republic vs Slovakia
    • Iberian Derby (El derbi ibérico , O Derbi ibérico) – Portugal vs Spain
    • Northern Ireland vs Republic of Ireland
    • Netherlands vs Germany
    • Korea Republic vs Japan
    • Low Countries Derby – Belgium vs Netherlands
    • Argentina vs England
    • Río de La Plata Derby (El clásico rioplatense) – Argentina vs Uruguay
    • Tricolour Derby/The Yellow War (El clásico tricolor / La Guerra Amarilla) – Ecuador vs Colombia
    • Los Andes Derby (El clásico de Los Andes) – Peru vs Ecuador
    • Pacific Ocean Derby – Peru vs Chile
    • Simón Bolívar Derby – Venezuela vs Colombia
    • North American Derby: Mexico vs United States
    • North African / Arab Derby – Algeria vs Egypt
    • Korean Derby – Korea Republic vs Korea DPR
    • Scandinavian Brotherhood Derby – Denmark vs Norway vs Sweden
    • Littlebrother vs Bigbrother Scandinavian Derby - Denmark vs Sweden
    • Turkish Derby Turkey vs Azerbaijan
    • Turkey vs Germany
    • Central America Derby Honduras vs Costa Rica
    • Center of America Derby Guatemala vs Costa Rica
    • Football War – El Salvador vs Honduras
    • Middle America Derby – Mexico vs Honduras
    • Aegean Derby – Turkey vs Greece
    • Balkan Derby – Croatia vs Serbia
    • Bosnian War – Bosnia Herzegovina vs Serbia

6. The Local and In-League Club Derbies

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    MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 13:  Tomas Rosicky of Arsenal is pursued by Nani of Manchester United during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford on December 13, 2010 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Ale
    Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    But it's the local and in-league club derbies that are always a fun affair as well. From Manchester United vs. Arsenal...to Real Madrid vs. FC Barcelona...to inter-city derbies like AC Milan vs. Inter Milan, Boca vs. River, Lazio vs. Roma, Flamengo vs. Fluminense.

    The list goes on and on and on.

    Every country and every league has a derby that will divide friends against friends, husbands against wives, neighbors against neighbors. These club rivalries add spice, flavor and richness to this wonderful thing we call football.

5. It's a Religion

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    MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 22:  Bayern Muenchen fans enjoy the atmosphere ahead of the UEFA Champions League Final match between FC Bayern Muenchen and Inter Milan at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on May 22, 2010 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty
    Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

    There are rituals that fans go through when attending a soccer game.

    • ritual pre-match, match and post-match traditions,
    • ritualised group responses to cues such as on-pitch events, etc.
    • group chanting, singing, dancing.
    • the widespread use of symbols: team colours and logos take on a special importance and insulting these symbols is a grevious insult to the whole side. Wearing them marks the wearer as an adherent of a certain group and divides the world, almost cult-like, into "us" and "them."
    • idol-worship of heroes which is associated with relics: balls, shirts, numbers, etc. associated with players and events are highly valued.
    • pilgrimages: some fans will fly to another country to see a match live or travel in large groups to far-away places, caravaning, to see events.
    • deep emotional involvement, ecstatic participation which can go in various directions: cathartic, fun, violent, etc.

    Note that some of these things go off the deep end, but as you should know, in a lot of places...football is a religion.

4. Pelé

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    NEW YORK - AUGUST 01:  Soccer Legend Pele announces the return of the New York Cosmos at Flushing Meadows Corona Park on August 1, 2010 in New York City.  (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for the New York Cosmos)
    Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

    Ah yes, Pelé. Also known as Edson Arantes do Nascimento. One of the greatest football players, disciples, ambassadors, emissaries...you name it, he's done it.

    1,087 goals in 1,120 appearances for Santos combined with 37 goals in 64 appearances for the New York Cosmos and 77 goals in 92 appearances for Brazil. Yikes.

    This is a man that has done so much to make football popular around the world. Let's hope that his dream is realized and the Cosmos are back for another run, this time in MLS...

3. Premier League

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    In the United States of America, you have your choice of leagues to choose from. There's Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, the National Basketball Association, NASCAR, the PGA and Major League Soccer, among others.

    In Europe, you have a wide variety of football leagues to follow (and a wider variety of leagues in other sports as well), but the one that sticks out...the Premier League.

    Yes, the Premier League. The home of stalwarts like Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Everton, Aston Villa, Tottenham Hotsput, Manchester City...stateside, the Premier League is more popular than MLS, and that is no joke.

    Promoted as "The Greatest Show On Earth," the Premier League is the world's most popular and most watched sporting league, followed worldwide by over half a billion people in 202 countries, often on networks owned and/or controlled by NewsCorp, which owns BSkyB and thus the primary UK and Ireland TV rights.

    In the United States, coverage is shared between Fox Soccer Channel, Fox Soccer Plus and ESPN; NewsCorp sometimes buys pitch-side advertising boards with the Fox Soccer Channel logo replacing that of Sky. In Canada, Sportsnet owns the Premier League rights for three years from the 2010–11 season. In Australia, Fox Sports, shows the games with a Viewers' Choice option for up to five live games and up to nine games live on any given game week.

    The Premier League is particularly popular in Asia, where it is the most widely distributed sports programme. In India, the matches are broadcast live on ESPN and Star Sports. In the People's Republic of China, data from 2003 suggested that matches were attracting television audiences between 100 million and 360 million, more than any other foreign sport. However, when the Chinese rights to Premier League matches were sold to a subscription channel in 2007, the number of viewers proved to be in the tens of thousands.

    Due to its popularity in Asia, the league has held four preseason tournaments there, the only Premier League affiliated tournaments ever to have been held outside England. The Premier League Asia Trophy has been played in Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong and China and involves three Premier League clubs playing against a local team from the host nation—often the national side.

    So, as you can see, there is a pretty understandable reason why they are this high on the list.

2. UEFA Champions League

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    MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 22:  Jose Mourinho the Inter Milan coach holds the trophy aloft after winning the UEFA Champions League Final match between FC Bayern Muenchen and Inter Milan at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on May 22, 2010 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo b
    Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

    "Die Meister, Die Besten, Les grandes Équipes, The Champions!"

    So sing the men and women of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields chorus, belting out that iconic anthem that represents the heart and soul one of the most popular club competitions in the world.

    As you know, the UEFA Champions League (usually referred to as simply the Champions League or historically as the European Cup) is an annual association football cup competition organised by UEFA since 1955 for the top football clubs in Europe. The final of the competition is the most watched annual sporting event worldwide, drawing just over 100 million television viewers.

    No surprise that this tournament is here on the list.

1. FIFA World Cup

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    JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - JULY 11:  The World Cup presented on the pitch ahead of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Final match between Netherlands and Spain at Soccer City Stadium on July 11, 2010 in Johannesburg, South Africa.  (Photo by Clive Ros
    Clive Rose/Getty Images

    Ohhhh yeah. You just knew I had to save the best for last, right? R..iiii...ght.

    The FIFA World Cup may be THE reason you not only convert to the game, but you follow it. With a passion. Every country competes in this tournament—from the qualifying, to the finals.

    This is association football's showcase event. Check this out: the World Cup was first televised in 1954. The 2010 FIFA World Cup was expected to be the most-watched television event in history. Hundreds of broadcasters, representing about 70 countries, transmitted the Cup to a TV audience that FIFA officials expect to exceed a cumulative 26 billion people, an average of approximately 400 million viewers per match.

    FIFA estimated that around 700 million viewers would watch the World Cup final. New forms of digital media have also allowed viewers to watch coverage through alternative means. "With games airing live on cell phones and computers, the World Cup will get more online coverage than any major sporting event yet," said Jake Coyle of the Associated Press.

    In the United States, ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 averaged a 2.1 rating, 2,288,000 households and 3,261,000 viewers for the 64 World Cup games. The rating was up 31 percent from a 1.6 in 2006, while households increased 32 percent from 1,735,000, and viewers rose from 2,316,000. The increases had been higher while the US remained in the tournament. Through the first 50 games, the rating was up 48 percent, households increased 54 percent, and viewers rose 60 percent. Univision averaged 2,624,000 viewers for the tournament, up 17 percent and 1,625,000 households, an increase of 11 percent.

    An executive of the Nielsen Company, a leading audience research firm in the US, described the aggregate numbers for both networks' coverage of the USA-Ghana match as "phenomenal." Live World Cup streaming on ESPN3.com pulled in some of the largest audiences in history, as 7.4 million unique viewers tuned in for matches.

    In total, ESPN3.com generated 942 million minutes of viewing or more than two hours per unique viewer. All 64 live matches were viewed by an average of 114,000 persons per minute. Most impressive were the numbers for the Spain-Germany semifinal, which was viewed by 355,000 people per minute, making it ESPN3.com’s largest average audience ever.

    It grips countries, cities, people and yourself. That's the power of the beautiful game. It's fun to play and fun to watch. And the FIFA World Cup is the No. 1 reason why soccer is the best and biggest sport on the planet.


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