Who To Watch (North Korea?!) In The World Cup

The madness begins in South Africa Friday when the 2010 Soccer World Cup opens. Over the course of a month, teams from 32 countries will vie for the title of "World's Greatest." Host Liane Hansen speaks with Alan Black and David Henry Sterry, authors of The Glorious World Cup: A Fanatics Guide.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

The madness begins in South Africa Friday, when the 2010 Soccer World Cup opens. Over the course of a month, teams from 32 countries will vie for the title of world's greatest. Here to handicap the competition and tell us all we need to know to enjoy watching it are Alan Black and David Henry Sterry, authors of "The Glorious World Cup: A Fanatic's Guide." Alan joins us from member station KQED in San Francisco. Hi, Alan.

Mr. ALAN BLACK (Co-Author, "The Glorious World Cup: A Fanatic's Guide"): Hello.

HANSEN: And David is in our bureau in New York. Welcome to you, David.

Mr. DAVID HENRY STERRY (Co-Author, "The Glorious World Cup: A Fanatic's Guide"): Thank you so much for having us on.

HANSEN: The best place to start for us, I think, is to talk about this country's chances. The U.S. faces England next Saturday in our opening match. How good are the Americans?

Mr. STERRY: Well, traditionally, America has basically had two shots at winning the World Cup, and those were slim and none. But we finally have some great athletes who've been playing soccer their whole lives. Last year, in South Africa, they had the Confederations Cup. And America, they didn't just beat Spain, they walloped them. And they almost beat Brazil in the final.

So, if you're an American soccer fanatic like we are, you believe in your deep, secret heart that we actually have a chance the soccer gods smile upon us.

HANSEN: Alan Black, how good are the Brits?

Mr. BLACK: Well, the Brits, that will depend on whether or not they bring their spine to the game.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BLACK: Part of the English disease sometimes can be spinelessness, so it depend on whether it's been inserted into their backbone, so we'll see.

HANSEN: Oh yeah. The last time, I mean, the last time the U.S. faced off against England was 1950, is that right?

Mr. STERRY: Sixty years ago to the day.

HANSEN: In the World Cup, yeah.

Mr. STERRY: Yes.

HANSEN: And it was a stunner, I'm told.

Mr. STERRY: It was. England was considered the greatest team in the world at that point and America was basically a bunch of really, really good amateurs, and they won, one to nothing. It was the greatest American sports upset that you never heard of.

HANSEN: Alan, as someone who is not that familiar with football, what we call soccer, can you tell us how the competition works, because it's not single elimination initially, right?

Mr. BLACK: No. There are 32 teams and in the first round of the tournament they are divided into groups of four. And the top two teams in each group will then go on to the second round of the tournament, which is called the round of 16. And after the round of 16, it's an elimination contest. So, you win, you go on; you lose, you go home.

HANSEN: Alan, what would you say are some of the other early matches to watch?

Mr. BLACK: Some of the games Germany are playing I think are going to be interesting. They're playing against Ghana, and there is a bit of a grudge there that emerged recently when the German captain had his ankle broken by one of the Ghana players. So, if you're looking for some kind of revenge factor, then I would certainly tune into that game.

There are plenty of other great games coming up. And North Korea - that's the team I'm supporting, by the way, in the World Cup. They bring a total opposite approach to everybody else in the World Cup. And there's a current fetish in soccer to have attacking football and everything to be desire to score a goal, but North Korea plays total defense. And so, by being completely opposite, they're hoping that they can have some kind of a contrarian view that will bring them to glory.

HANSEN: Well, you know, in this country, we have a certain madness in the month of March, the NCAA college basketball tournaments. And there's always, you know, this basketball team, they call them the Cinderella team. It sneaks its way into the finals. David, is there a possible glass slipper wearer or actually several in this World Cup?

Mr. STERRY: Yes, absolutely. Ivory Coast is, I think, going to make some real noise in the tournament. I'm also rooting for Cameroon, in part because I love to say that name: Cameroon.

HANSEN: I thought you liked to say the word goal. I mean...

Mr. STERRY: But I do, oh, come on, that's not like that's love. Come on.

HANSEN: Alan Black, on Sunday, July 11th, who will be left standing?

Mr. BLACK: I think, should things go well for Argentina, they are likely to be there. They're a complex team. They have fabulous players but they have the incendiary Diego Maradona as their coach. So, it will depend on whether Diego brings his relaxed persona or his crazed, post-cocaine madness.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BLACK: As a dark horse, I would say I'm looking at Serbia, which has got an interesting, strong technical team.

HANSEN: David, what are your picks for July 11th?

Mr. STERRY: I would love to see, as I say, Ivory Coast. And usually Brazil, of course, they've got all those great one-named stars - Kaka, Robinho, Luisao -they're such fun to just say. You know, Portugal has a shot. They have some wonderful players. Spain is heavily favored. I don't think Spain is going to make it because of the fragile psyche of their country.

HANSEN: All right. You heard it here first, folks. Alan Black and David Sterry are the authors of "The Glorious World Cup: A Fanatic's Guide." Thanks to both of you.

Mr. BLACK: Thank you so much.

Mr. STERRY: Thank you so much, and go USA.

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