U.S. Soccer Team Gets 'Tough' Draw In World Cup's First Round

The World Cup soccer extravaganza being held in Brazil opens in June. And the U.S. team faces a number of challenges. It will face some of the world's best teams and will be doing this in the middle of the Amazon.

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The U.S. soccer team got one of the toughest draws in the World Cup. The worst of the worst, as its head coach said. When they get to Brazil not only will they be playing in the opening round with some of the most talented teams in the world, but they'll be facing those teams in less than hospitable surroundings, namely the Amazon; it's hot and humid and thousands of miles away from where the U.S. team will be based.

Sam Schramski reports.

SAM SCHRAMSKI, BYLINE: Manaus is the gateway to the Brazilian rainforest. And it looks the part with its damp concrete buildings clinging to the banks of a tributary that feeds into the mighty Amazon. Despite its history and importance though, Manaus isn't the most likely place for a World Cup soccer match. At least, that is, if you consider playing in blistering, muggy conditions under an equatorial sun to be less than ideal.

It's not too surprising then that the coach of England's soccer team, Roy Hodgson, wasn't pleased about the prospect of playing in the city's new 44,000-plus occupancy Arena Amazonia. He spoke to the BBC before last year's team selection ceremony took place.

ROY HODGSON: Although I've got to say that all the coaches I've spoken to, we all agree that, you know, Manaus is not an ideal place to play football because it is in the middle of the rainforest and it's in the middle of the Amazonian jungle, and the temperatures and the humidity there are much, much greater than elsewhere in the country.

SCHRAMSKI: The U.S. team didn't seem too pleased either when they got the news that they'd be playing in Manaus, but U.S. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann assured Manauaras that his side was excited to play in their city.

Manaus is a river city and reflects the ups and downs, ebbs and flows of Brazilian history and economics. It was once made extremely wealthy by a rubber boom before and during World War II. And all that rubber money led to high culture. It wasn't uncommon to see the city referenced as the Paris of the Tropics, complete with a 19th century opera house.


SCHRAMSKI: These days Arena Amazonia is the grandiose building project everyone's talking about. And its run into its own difficulties. Two laborers, one working directly on top of the stadium structure, have died so far. One of the deaths occurred just last week. According to most independent assessments, the stadium is also going to cost a staggering $265 million to build. This doesn't take into account cost overruns due to delayed construction.

Moises Henrique de Sousa, who works as a runner communicating with different sectors of construction on the ground, notes how much pace has picked up.

MOISES HENRIQUE DE SOUSA: (Through Translator) The hardest part of the work is the rush. There is no stopping. We are on a tight schedule, and it needs to be finished by the deadline. This is what the hardest part is.

SCHRAMSKI: There are questions about what will happen to Arena Amazonia once it's finished. At the best of times, local soccer teams in Manaus only bring in a few thousand fans. Already the term white elephant is being bandied about. And the locals are wondering what it's all for.


RENATO DA SILVA: (Foreign language spoken)

SCHRAMSKI: Renato da Silva is a street vendor along a very busy road here. All non-FIFA approved merchants are being forced to leave the stadium's vicinity for the duration of the Cup, and maybe even afterward.

SILVA: (Through Translator) For now they called everyone and said that they will take us out of here, of this intersection. This is our intersection. There are many breadwinners and people in need. They will take us out of here and we don't even know where they will place us. The regulators came and told us that. And we wanted at least something; an improvement for us, for the street vendors.

SCHRAMSKI: The stadium didn't come to benefit us, Da Silva says.

For NPR News, I'm Sam Schramski in Manaus, Brazil.


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