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Association soccer is a team sport played between two teams of eleven players with a spherical leather ball. It was first played 19 December 1863 at the Limes Field, Mortlake, London in England. And presently, the beautiful game is played by more than 180 million players in over 200 countries and territories, making it the world's most popular sport. In addition, the FIFA World Cup™ is the most watched sporting event in the world and is held every four years. According to most soccer journalists and pundits, the English Premier League is seen as the most exciting top-flight soccer league in the world. Soccer players are literally one of the highest paid athletes in the sporting world.

Soccer governing bodies

Federation of International Football Association is the recognised international governing body of football (and associated games, such as futsal and beach soccer). The FIFA headquarters are located in Zürich, Switzerland. Six regional confederations are associated with FIFA; these are:

  • Asia: Asian Football Confederation (AFC)
  • Africa: Confederation of African Football (CAF)
  • Europe: Union of European Football Associations (UEFA)
  • North/Central America & Caribbean: Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF)
  • Oceania: Oceania Football Confederation (OFC)
  • South America: Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol/Confederação Sul-Americana de Futebol (South American Football Confederation; CONMEBOL).

International soccer competitions

The major international competition in football is the World Cup, organised by FIFA. This competition takes place every four years since 1930 with the exception of 1942 and 1946 tournaments, which were cancelled due to World War II.

Approximately 190–200 national teams compete in qualifying tournaments within the scope of continental confederations for a place in the finals. The finals tournament, which is held every four years, involves 32 national teams competing over a four-week period. The World Cup is the most prestigious association football tournament in the world as well as the most widely viewed and followed sporting event in the world, exceeding even the Olympic Games; the cumulative audience of all matches of the 2006 FIFA World Cup was estimated to be 26.29 billion with an estimated 715.1 million people watching the final match, a ninth of the entire population of the planet.

The current champion is Germany, which won its fourth title at the 2014 tournament in Brazil. FIFA Women's World Cup has been held every four years since 1991. Under the tournament's current format, national teams vie for 23 slots in a three-year qualification phase. (The host nation's team is automatically entered as the 24th slot.) The current champion is the United States, after winning their third title in the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup. After the World Cup, the most important international football competitions are the continental championships, which are organised by each continental confederation and contested between national teams. These are the European Championship (UEFA), the Copa América (CONMEBOL), African Cup of Nations (CAF), the Asian Cup (AFC), the CONCACAF Gold Cup (CONCACAF) and the OFC Nations Cup (OFC).

Domestic competitions

The governing bodies in each country operate league systems in a domestic season, normally comprising several divisions, in which the teams gain points throughout the season depending on results. Teams are placed into tables, placing them in order according to points accrued. Some countries' top divisions feature highly paid star players; in smaller countries and lower divisions, players may be part-timers with a second job or amateurs. The five top European leagues – the Bundesliga (Germany), Premier League (England), La Liga (Spain), Serie A (Italy), and Ligue 1 (France) – attract most of the world's best players and each of the leagues has a total wage cost in excess of £600 million/€763 million/US$1.185 billion.