Why are soccer players so hot? There's a scientific reason

For many, the World Cup represents the best in soccer, religiously watched for amazing saves and incredible goals. For non-sports fans, there's a more primal reason to watch: all the smoking hot players.

Some might mourn the elimination of Portugal because they'll miss seeing Cristiano Ronaldo's dazzling goals. While others will miss him hitching up his shorts and showing off his toned thighs.

England's striker Harry Kane boasts some serious skills — he's one of the leading scorers of the tournament — and serious good looks. Sweden's midfielder Jimmy Durmaz has been playing professionally for over 10 years. Off the field, he stuns with his smoldering eyes. (He's also spoken out against racist chants during games.)

What is it about soccer players?

"It is quite likely that elite soccer players are more attractive than the general population … They are young men who work out a lot, spend a lot of time outside and who are generally healthy," Erik Postma, an evolutionary biologist at the Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter, told TODAY via email. "Furthermore, fame, wealth and success make you more attractive."

Sure, but other professional athletes are rich and famous too, so it has to be more than that.

Evolutionarily, women were attracted to males because they thought they'd be good mates, research indicates. Strong jaws, washboard abs, muscular arms and legs once meant that a man would be a good provider, making him a more desirable partner.

"[A]t least some of the things that make for a good soccer player (strong, fast and healthy) also make for a good husband and father," said Postma.

Soccer players like Japan's Shinji Kagawa have lean, well-defined muscles with almost no body fat. Long legs, powerful thighs and lean body are combined with high endurance levels.

"When it comes to male attractiveness, there is a lot of emphasis on strength. However … It might have been particularly important to have a high endurance performance," said Postma, who studied the attractiveness of Tour de France athletes. His research found that people thought cyclists with better endurance were hotter.

Soccer certainly requires endurance with players running about 10 miles during a game, noted Dr. David Geier, a sports medicine expert and orthopedic surgeon in Charleston, South Carolina. They have strong thighs and calf muscles to jump and change direction quickly.

"You basically have to run whenever needed for 90 minutes. I would venture that many people in society [couldn't do that]," Geier said.

Interestingly, not all positions are created equally. People believe different positions require different skills, which makes a player more or less attractive. Research has found that people find forwards in both hockey and soccer hotter than defenders. Though fans of Shakira's partner, Spain's Gerard Piqué, would likely disagree with those findings: He may play defense, but he's just as attractive as any other player.

World Cup wonders

From Mohamed Salah to Luis Suárez, soccer players are considered complete athletes, with high endurance, strong thighs, speed ... And their amazing attractiveness: The bodies of soccer players are close to Western ideals of beauty.

"If you look back at (sculptures) of the Greek gods, (soccer players') bodies look very similar," Postma said. "[They're] much more in line with our traditional impression of beauty and what an ideal body can look like."

What makes soccer players more attractive than other athletes? Football, basketball, baseball and hockey players demand such unusual body types, drawing athletes from a smaller population.

"Those guys are enormous compared to soccer players," Geier said.

There's also a psychological connection. Soccer players don't wear helmets so it's much easier to see them reacting dramatically after a great play. The hugging, kissing and emotional swagger also makes them sexier.

Uruguay's Edinson Cavani often tears off his shirt to celebrate while Brazil's Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior is known for his dramatic flops (he's also not afraid to lose his shirt).

"Being able to see their emotions and reactions on the field, I think [that adds to their attraction]," Geier says. "You get a better sense of who they are."

Seeing who they are also allows us to see their symmetrical faces. Kendra Schmid, associate professor in biostatics at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, has studied what makes faces attractive, using the golden ratio, a number believed to lead to the most beautiful shapes or buildings. When it comes to faces, it means the features are appropriately spaced, the eyes, for example, are the width of one eye apart.

While watching the World Cup, she noticed that many players have attractive geometric features: Their upper lips seem proportionate, their ear length equals nose length and the face divides in an equal third. In other words, the formula for hotness.

"I have noticed many of the soccer players do exhibit some of these proportions," she said.