top of page

English Vocabulary for Watching Sports

In case you ever end up watching sports with English-speaking people, it's helpful to know some common sports-related vocabulary and collocations. In this article, I've mostly used soccer examples because it's truly an international sport. Good luck to your team!

Play a sport or game

With most sports we use the verb “play”, such as soccer, tennis, basketball, and baseball:

  • I used to play tennis when I was in high school.

We also use the verb “play” when the object is “game”:

  • Italy played a game yesterday and they’ll play another game tomorrow.

Play against a competitor

When you want to mention who you are competing against, use the verb “play” and the preposition “against”:

  • Brazil is playing against Colombia tomorrow.

Win a championship, title, or trophy

You can use “win” when the object is the specific reward, such as a specific title as world champion or a trophy like the Euro Cup:

  • Portugal won the Euro Cup (trophy) in 2016.

Win/Lose a game or tournament

When the object is one game or an overall tournament, you can describe the winner with the verb “win” and the loser with the verb “lose”:

  • France won the game / France won the World Cup tournament in 1998.

  • Sweden lost the game.

Beat/Lose to a competitor

When the object is the competitor, you can use the verb “beat” if the subject is the winner and the object is the loser, and oppositely, use the verb “lose to” if the subject is the loser and the object is the winner.

  • Mexico beat Russia.

  • Russia lost to Mexico.

Note that you cannot use the verb “win” with the competitor as the object, so “Mexico won Russia” is incorrect.


When two teams have the same score, so there is no winner or loser, you can use the verb “tie”. You can put both teams as the subject (with no object), or one team as the subject and the other team as the object.

  • England and Netherlands tied.

  • England tied Netherlands.

Make a play

When a player does something very impressive, you can say that the player made a great play.

  • Did you see the game last night? Ronaldo made an amazing play in extra time.

Score a goal

When a player kicks the ball into the net, we say that the player scores a goal.

  • Messi scored two goals against Germany.

Make a save

If the goalkeeper successfully stops a shot, we can say that the goalkeeper makes a save.

  • The goalkeeper for Venezuela made an incredible save!

Cheer for a team

If you have a favorite team, you can say that you “cheer for” that team.

  • I always cheer for Belgium in the Euro Cup.

Call a penalty

When you are describing the referee’s action, you can say that the referee calls a penalty.

  • I don’t know why the referee didn’t call a penalty on that play!

The favorite

When a team is more likely to win than the other team, we say that this team is “the favorite”. For example, if Brazil plays against Nigeria, you can say that “Brazil is the favorite”.

  • Italy is the favorite against Hungary.

The underdog

When a team is less likely to win than the other team, we say that this team is “the underdog”. In the same example with Brazil and Nigeria, you can say that “Nigeria is the underdog.”

  • Hungary is the underdog against Italy.


Choose the right word to complete each sentence:

win / won / lost to / beat / cheer for / play

scored / tied / underdog / favorite / save / call

  1. The goalkeeper for Brazil made a great _________ against the Mexican forward.

  2. Which team do you _________ during the World Cup?

  3. Turkey ________ Greece in the quarterfinal game. The score was 1 – 1.

  4. England has a stronger team than Ireland, so England is the _________ and Ireland is the __________.

  5. Mbappe _________ two goals against Portugal yesterday. (hint: it’s not “make”!)

  6. I remember that Germany _________ the World Cup in 1990.

  7. The referee didn't _________ a penalty because the player didn’t do anything wrong.

  8. Poland _________ Spain 3 – 0. All of the goals for Spain were in the second half.

  9. A player on Croatia made an excellent _______ and scored by kicking the ball while it was still in the air.

  10. Did Belgium _________ their game last night?

  11. I was surprised that Peru ________ Argentina. Argentina didn’t even score a goal.


  1. Save

  2. Cheer for

  3. Tied

  4. Favorite / Underdog

  5. Scored

  6. Won

  7. Call

  8. Lost to

  9. Play

  10. Win

  11. Beat


bottom of page