A brief history of modern soccer: Or, how to understand the World Cup

If you want to sound like a smart soccer fan, here's your word: gegenpressing. If you don't want to alienate your friends and loved ones, then perhaps peel back the accent and just go with: pressing or even counter-pressing.

Whatever language you land on, the broader concept is the defining feature of the modern version of the world's most popular sport. For the majority of the sport's history, the most important player was the No. 10 -- the attacking midfielder who would be positioned at the top of the penalty area, between the opposition defensive and midfield lines, and play balls into the penalty area or score the goals himself. These are the geniuses, the artists, the players who'd frequently be referred to in magical terms: Pele, Maradona, Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldinho all wore 10.

Eventually, though, as clubs became modernized, started raking in hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue, and thus grew their coaching and analysis staffs, they got really good at destroying the magic. In response to the dominance of the No.10, coaches simply began to pack extra players into the areas where the attacking midfielders once flourished. The position is now all but extinct.

What followed was a brief period where most of the best teams in the world were reactive and destructive. Jorge Valdano, a teammate of Maradona on the World Cup-winning Argentina side in 1986, famously described a match between English sides Liverpool and Chelsea as such: "Put a s--- hanging from a stick in the middle of this passionate, crazy stadium and there are people who will tell you it's a work of art. It's not: it's a s--- hanging from a stick".

Thankfully, that, uh, "era" was quickly overtaken by the "Pressing Era. The best teams now push all their defenders high up the field and try to win the ball back in the attacking third. While there was no space at the top of box for the creative geniuses anymore, these teams created all kinds of new spaces for themselves by swarming their opponents as soon as they lost the ball, winning it back, and attacking the gaps in the now-unsettled defense. "No playmaker in the world can be as good as a good counter-pressing situation," according to Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp.

The major stylistic lever -- the pre-planned strategy that most affects what you see in a given game on a given Saturday -- is the press: how aggressive both teams are in trying to win the ball back, and how successful they are at doing so.

Got it? OK, now forget it all, because the first step toward understanding what you're about to see in Qatar is accepting that it's going to look very different from the soccer you might've seen over the past four years.