The World Cup starts on Thursday — these photos from around the world show why soccer is the world's most beloved game
- Soccer is the world's most popular and beloved sport, and it's played in virtually every corner of the world.
- Ahead of the 2018 World Cup, Reuters sent photographers around the globe to document the variety of ways people manage to play soccer.
- Soccer lovers play in the dirt, sand, and even snow, and the narrowest of city streets won't stop them from playing "the beautiful game."
The 2018 World Cup kicks off on Thursday, and soccer fans around the world are eagerly counting down the hours.
Of course, soccer's popularity extends far beyond the 32 countries that qualified for the World Cup this year. Soccer is by far the most popular sport in the world, with an estimated 4 billion fans on all six inhabited continents.
Reuters sent photographers to dozens of countries in May and June to document soccer as it's played around the world — on dirt fields in Chile, the chaotic streets of Kolkata, India, and even a floating field in Thailand.
Here are 18 photos that show why soccer is the world's most popular game.
Soccer is the most popular sport in the world. You'll find people playing it everywhere you go, from massive stadiums in Brazil to a quiet street inside the Casbah fortress of Algiers, Algeria.
This year's World Cup, which kicks off on Thursday, is being held in Russia. These children in the village of Yelizarovo have already caught World Cup fever.
Soccer can be played on any surface, from the streets of Kolkata, India, where children play barefoot …
REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri
… to a dirt field in Lagos, Nigeria …
… and a sandy beach along the Mekong River in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Even snow is suitable for a quick game — just ask these ski instructors in Sestriere, Italy.
Soccer players can turn anything into a field, like this roof of a parking garage in Jakarta, Indonesia …
… and this floating field in the fishing village of Ko Panyi, Thailand.
Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun
No playing space is too narrow for a game, as these children on the streets of downtown Havana, Cuba, demonstrate.
Part of the reason for soccer's popularity is that you barely need equipment to play. These elementary-school students in Dambai, Ghana, use two trees to mark the goalposts.
Soccer is played on all six inhabited continents. The "beautiful game" has reached far-flung locations including Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia …
… the Botataung Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar …
… and Vranduk, Bosnia and Herzegovina, where children play inside a 14th-century fortress.
In places like Santiago, Chile, soccer is closer to a religion than a game.
On the opposite side of the globe, soccer is also the most popular sport in Kathmandu, Nepal.
The majority of countries have never seen their national team play in a World Cup. But the sport remains the passion of fans everywhere, as these children in Bamako, Mali, can attest.
You don't even need a full team to play. Here, two boys from south London do some target practice after school.
Meanwhile, these two brothers from Vienna, Austria, are content to play in their backyard.