How Good Is World Cup Soccer, Really?


The internet is awash in soccer explainers for Americans, and naturally Vox has one of its own. What sets it apart is Joseph Stromberg’s acknowledgment of something sort of odd: “The World Cup is the pinnacle of soccer.”

That’s obviously true. But can anyone explain why? Soccer players spend the vast bulk of their time playing for clubs—Manchester United, Real Madrid, etc., all of which have fanatic followings. They spend only a tiny amount of time playing for their national team. That might not matter in an individual sport, but it surely matters in a team sport, where playing time together makes a big difference. So logic tells me that World Cup soccer, made up of teams that play together only occasionally and sporadically, ought be played at a lower level than club soccer. It’s basically second rate.

So here’s my question for serious soccer fans. Is World Cup play second rate? If not, why? If it’s actually just as good as top-level club play, how can that be possible given the limited playing time the players have together? Is it just a result of the relatively small number of World Cup teams, which means that only the top players play? Or what?

UPDATE: The consensus in comments is that, technically, World Cup play is indeed inferior to top-level club play. But of course, World Cup has a uniquely intense atmosphere and lots of nationalistic fervor, which makes it a great event even if the level of play isn’t quite at the top rank. Sounds reasonable to me.

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