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South Africa World Cup 101: How does the tournament work?

Eight groups of four national teams compete in the first two weeks of the South Africa World Cup. The two best teams from each group advance to the second round, at which point the tournament is a basic single elimination bracket of the top 16 teams.

South Africa's Siphiwe Tshabalala (R) kicks the ball past Mexico's Ricardo Osorio during the 2010 World Cup opening match at Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg June 11, 2010.

REUTERS/Eddie Keogh

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The South Africa World Cup has actually been going on for years now.

The June 11-July 11 tournament is the culmination of rigorous qualifying tournaments that took place in each continent over the course of the past three years.

Each of the world’s nations had a shot. Many fought dearly. But only 32 teams made it to South Africa to compete in what is called the World Cup finals.

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FIFA uses a system to create eight groups that are designed to be both geographically balanced and filled with roughly equally strong groups.

For example, Group A is made up of South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay, and France. Group B: Argentina, Korea, Nigeria, Greece.

The eight Groups of four teams will compete in the first two weeks of the Cup, with each team playing the other three members of its group once in a “round robin” mini-tournament.

The two best teams from each group advance to the second round, at which point the tournament is a single elimination bracket for the top 16 teams, similar to college basketball’s Sweet 16 or any major tennis tournament. If you lose, you go home.

How exactly will the group stage be settled?

Well, if you win a game, you are awarded three points. If you tie, you get one point. If you lose, you get zero points. The two teams with the most points from each group advance.

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