Newly purchased soccer goals at Sacred Heart Parish, where Fr. Ricardo Martin is the pastor. (Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Martin)

Here we call it soccer, but it is called football, or fútbol, everywhere else. Every four years, the soccer universe stops and focuses on the most followed sports event on Earth.

To give you an idea, it is estimated that 99.2 million people watched the Los Angeles Rams beat the Cincinnati Bengals in the last Super Bowl. In comparison, the 2018 World Cup Final, when France defeated Croatia, was watched by 1.2 billion people. FIFA, the international body that organizes the World Cup, estimates that 5 billion people will tune in to watch a game at any time during the tournament. While soccer may not be that popular on this side of the world, all North American countries — the United States, Canada and Mexico — have qualified for the final stage of the competition.

There are a few novelties in this the 22nd edition of the World Cup. It will be played for the first time in the Middle East, in Qatar. The choice of host country was controversial, to say the least. The country is governed by the Al Thani dynasty. Only 225,000 of its 1.7 million inhabitants are citizens, with a majority being migrant workers. It is estimated that 7,000 of these workers died during the construction of seven stadiums, a new airport and a whole new city around one of these stadiums. Until now, a host country would be known for its soccer tradition — totally nonexistent in Qatar 10 years ago, explaining why seven out of eight soccer stadiums had to be built from scratch. Summer temperatures are so hot in Qatar that for the first time in history the tournament will be played during the Western Hemisphere’s winter — from Nov. 20 to Dec. 18 — in an unprecedented halt of all national and continental competitions. Even with the change of dates, the stadiums will be massively air conditioned to bring the temperatures down from the 100-degree weather outdoors — a massive expense.

Thirty-two teams have qualified from the different regions of the world. There will be a group stage organized in eight groups of four. All first and second teams will move to the knockout phase, from the round of 16 until the final to determine the winner. Unusual for American sports followers, the World Cup also has a consolation game to determine the third and fourth positions.

Many contend that the World Cup, and soccer in general, like many other sports, has lost its mystique due to the influence of money. The World Cup is a gigantic business enterprise. But at the end of the day, it is still two teams made up of 11 highly competitive players, with a unique combination of strength, skill and strategy.

Every soccer game is a drama that threads over the great storylines of any World Cup. Will it be a World Cup in which offensive strategies and skill will overcome defensive schemes and the most physically well-prepared teams? Will it be more about the teams built cohesively or about those built around super-stars? Will the winner be one of the traditional favorites or one of the newcomers to soccer aristocracy? Will the more successful team use a 4-3-3 strategy (four defenders, three mid-fielders, three strikers) or maybe a 4-4-2 strategy or the ultra defensive line of five defenders?

Will France be able to break with the “Curse of the Champions,” which dictates that the previous winner does not make it past the initial group stage? Young superstar player Mbappé is the leader of a team who will try to break the curse. Or will Argentina prevail, with veteran Messi playing his last tournament, leading a team that wants to bring back the glory days when the team was led by the amazing Diego Armando Maradona? Or will it be Germany, which does not seem to be one of the favorites this time around, but whose physical and practical style always seem to be amongst the winners? Opposing the unrelenting German style, Neymar will lead Brazil with a style of soccer based on beautiful skills — but often less than strong defensive prowess.

There always is a question about the teams from countries with less of a soccer pedigree, like the powerful African teams of Ghana, Senegal, Congo or Cameroon. Or the Asian countries, with the automatically qualified host country of Qatar, and South Korea, Iran, Japan and Saudi Arabia. Or Spain, my home country, winners in 2010, which presents a candidacy based on a very cohesive team, to the point that the star of the team is really its coach, legendary Spanish player Luis Enrique Martínez. Or what about the youngest team in the tournament, the United States national team led by 24-year-old soccer prodigy Christian Pulisic?

Do not let the complicated rules of offside hinder your enjoyment of the game, or the fact that unlike American football or baseball, soccer players do move all over the place. Or the possibility — in this context only in the group stage — that teams may actually tie. Enjoy the athleticism and skills, the beauty of the goal, the intricacies of the tactics that the broadcasters will surely explain to us.

What does the World Cup say about humanity? It is still a business, and maybe sports is not as important or serious as many other things. But every four years, the whole world, people of all creeds, races and walks of life will focus their common attention on this competition, which unites us as very few things can. In a world that feels increasingly divided, a simple but beautiful game will bring about some sense of unity. That ought to be a good thing.

And let the best — hopefully Spain or the United States — win.