Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of installments about the origins of soccer, it’s history and the 2010 World Cup.

Futbol in Latin America, soccer in the United States, fútbol in Spain, calccio in Italy, futebol in Brazil, gouzo in China… Whatever you want to call it, soccer is without a doubt the most popular sport in the world. But where did this sport come from?

Long ago there were ceremonial ball games now considered antecedents of modern soccer. The Mayans played pok ta pok and the taínos of Puerto Rico played el batey, where teams kicked rubber balls with their hips and other parts of the body.

In China they played a game called ts’uh Kuh that involved throwing a ball with the feet toward a small net. The Japanese played kemari, which involved keeping a ball up in the air.

However, it was in Europe — in Great Britain — where modern-day soccer was born. The first civil codes of the nineteenth century in Britain name a “football association,” characterized for its disorganization and violence.

The Italians, however, had more organized and less violent games such as calcio florentino, a very popular team sport in Italy that had a great impact in many British schools.

It was these schools in 1863 that founded “The Football Association,” unifying and making official the rules of modern-day soccer.

The British Empire exported the game throughout Europe to all of its colonies, spreading and popularizing it throughout the five continents.

With the first meeting of the International Football Association Board in 1886 and the founding of FIFA in 1904, the sport spread throughout the world. The World Cup of soccer began in 1930 and became the sporting event with the largest audience worldwide.

King of sports

Today, about 270 million people are involved, either directly or indirectly, in soccer. They play, train, are club or federation members, broadcast games, or are spectators of the sport.

And what is there to say of the fans? The Ultra Sur of el Real Madrid, the culés of F.C. Barcelona, the Italian tifosi, the English hooligans, the Argentinian barras bravas… soccer is a sport that unleashes passion all over the globe.

Despite a few radical fans, soccer unites more often than it divides, as was the case in the World Cup in France in 1998, when the United States went up against Iran, two countries in political combat yet united on the soccer field.

It’s a gregarious sport that requires a lot of both teams, encouraging camaraderie in the game.

It’s not the most popular game in the United States. It must compete with sports such as baseball, basketball and football. It wasn’t invented here and it is identified with Latin America. However, the passion that the rest of the world — Europe and especially England, the motherland of this country — have for soccer is recognized here.

An easy game to play

Soccer is a game that can be played on any surface, inside a perimeter of various dimensions, with or without shoes, with a ball made of leather, rubber or even cloth. The players’ height, weight, intelligence, social status and religious beliefs don’t matter.

An analysis made prior to the 1994 World Cup in the United States found that during a game of soccer, players perform movements similar to those in ballet, gymnastics and karate.

These physical demands make soccer one of the most complete sports. It requires coordination, speed, intelligence, peripheral vision and movements with or without a ball — at various speeds, depending on the game and the position of the player and the ball.

It is a comprehensive game that has become widely accepted even in the United States, where it is the most popular among children and young people.

Styles of play

Just as each national team has its own nickname — El Salvador’s la selecta, the Mexican el tri, the Spanish Red Fury, los albicelestes from Argentina, Brazil’s la canarinha, the azurri from Italy or The Clockwork Orange from the Netherlands — playing styles also vary from country to country.

Brazil, the country that has won the most World Cups (five), plays a head-on soccer game of constant offense, holding their own with players blessed with refined ball-handling skills.

The Brazilians sacrifice their defense for the midfield, playing toward the wings where players come and go with great speed while the forwards exhibit great control over the soccer ball.

Italy, the current world champion and the team with the second most World Cup wins, plays a meaner and more defensive game, clinging to its tradition of cattenaccio or “padlock,” waiting for it’s rivals without risking much to attacks.

Today one of the strongest European teams is Spain. The Spanish play a soccer very similar to the Brazilians, with long periods of ball-handling and exquisite technical skills.

The countries of Latin America play a lively and very technical style of soccer, and the United States plays a game that combines Hispanic technique and European speed.

In the next installment, we will talk about the International Federation of Association Football, the history of the World Cup and we will detail the qualifying rounds of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

The Rules. Since the English established the original rules of soccer in 1863, the game has evolved considerably. Essentially, you need a delineated playing field, two goals, two teams and a ball. With the exception of the goalie, players cannot use their hands, nor can they be past the line of defense of the opposing team when they don’t have the ball. The game consists of kicking the ball into the opposing team’s goal while defending your own and staying within the boundaries of the playing field. One referee and two line judges help the teams maintain the rules and boundaries.

US Youth Soccer is an educational non-profit organization with the objective of physical, mental, and emotional development of youth through soccer and throughout each level of competition. It encourages having fun while awaking in children a passion for soccer. Beginning with around 100,000 players in 1974, US Youth Soccer now has more than three million.