Colombia and Brazil fans sing and dance in front of the Itaquerao Stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil on Tuesday. The inaugural match between Brazil and Croatia will be played in the country's largest city today. The stadium's roof is not fully finished. Photo: AP

New York - This year’s World Cup will play out on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and messaging apps like WhatsApp as it progresses in stadiums from São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro.

Nearly 40 percent of Facebook’s 1.28 billion users are fans of soccer and it is adding new features to help fans follow the event, which starts today in Brazil and ends on July 13.

Facebook users will be able to keep track of their favourite teams and players in a special section, called “Trending World Cup”, which will be available on the web, as well as mobile devices. It is also launching a page called FacebookRef, where fans can see commentary about the matches from “The Ref”, Facebook’s official tournament commentator.

Social media activity during big sporting events has soared in recent years. In 2010, when the last World Cup took place in Johannesburg, Facebook had just 500 million users. Now there are just that many fans (people who have “liked” a team or a player) on the site, the company says.

Facebook has recently focused on making its mobile app usable on simple phones that use slower data speeds since many of its newest users are in developing countries.

As a result, Rebecca van Dyck, its head of consumer marketing, said the World Cup hub would also be available on so-called “feature phones”. It would be a “little less graphical” than what was shown on smartphones and on the web, she said, but would include the same information.

Facebook is working on becoming a place for more real-time, public conversations about big events – a la Twitter. Such events attract big advertising dollars, though the company is not saying how much money it expects to make from World Cup-related ads.

Not to be outdone, Twitter is offering fans the facility to follow teams or players and use the hashtags #WorldCup to tweet about the matches, and follow official accounts.

According to Fifa, which organises the tournament, an estimated 909.6 million viewers watched at least one minute of the final 2010 game when Spain beat the Netherlands. – Sapa-AP

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