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football, association (soccer) Arguably the most popular worldwide sport. It involves two teams of 11 players who attempt to force a round ball into their opponents' goal. It is played on a rectangular pitch of maximum size 120×90m (390×300ft), minimum 90×45m (300×150ft). The goals, two uprights surmounted by a crossbar, are 7.32m×2.44m (8ft×24ft) wide. Only the goalkeeper may handle the ball, and then only in the penalty area of the goal he is defending. The other players may play the ball in any direction with any other part of the body, essentially it is kicked or headed. A game is played over two 45-minute periods and controlled by a referee. Modern football rules were formulated in 19th-century England, and the Football Association (FA) was founded in 1863. The FA Cup, established in 1872, is the world's oldest knockout football competition. The introduction of professionalism in 1885 led to the foundation (1888) of the Football League Championship. Football soon spread beyond Britain and, in 1904, Fédération internationale de football association (FIFA) was formed to control the sport at world level. Football has been played at the Olympic Games since 1908. The first of the four-yearly World Cup competitions was held in 1930. In Europe, the winners of each national league annually compete in the European Champions League (established 1955). Recent years have seen a significant increase in commercial sponsorship and television coverage. In 1992, the English FA changed the ‘four-divisions’ structure of the Football League, primarily to raise the commercial profile of leading clubs. This structure consisted of a ‘Premier League’ of the top 20 clubs as a separate entity within the FA, and the First, Second and Third Divisions of the Football League.
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