Up To Speed On The World Cup In 30 Minutes

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Lionel Messi and Diego Mardona i

Argentina's head coach Diego Maradona talks with Lionel Messi at the completion of a team training session on June 10, 2010 in Pretoria, South Africa. Chris McGrath/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Chris McGrath/Getty Images
Lionel Messi and Diego Mardona

Argentina's head coach Diego Maradona talks with Lionel Messi at the completion of a team training session on June 10, 2010 in Pretoria, South Africa.

Chris McGrath/Getty Images

The 2010 World Cup features the globe's best players like Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney.

Which country may topple 2006 champion Italy?

Is there a chance of a hometown upset for South Africa, or a U.S. coup on the field?

Guests preview the tournament on World Cup eve.


Mark Starr, columnist for GlobalPost, and author of "The GlobalPost Insider's Guide To World Cup 2010"

John Carlin, author of Playing the Enemy, and "The Global Game" for Time magazine

Julia Kumari Drapkin, Argentina correspondent for GlobalPost


This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

Starting tomorrow, the world's most popular sport kicks off its biggest event. The 2010 World Cup gets underway in South Africa. The host country and 31 other nations qualified for an event which will hold much of the world enthralled for the next three weeks, and while soccer is not a major professional sport in this country, the sport continues to grow.

Last year, in a kind of practice tournament in South Africa, the U.S. team made a Cinderella run before losing in the final, and now the Americans have bought more World Cup tickets than any nationality other than South Africa.

Of course, most fans will follow the tournament from their sofas or from a local bar. We want you to call and tell us what preparations you've made to follow your favorites or to hiss your bitter rivals.

Our phone number is 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. Thats at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, a former food critic on his new life on food stamps. But first, the World Cup, and we begin with Mark Starr, a columnist for the international news site, GlobalPost, and the author of "The Insider's Guide To World Cup" at globalpost.com, and he joins us now from our bureau in New York. Nice to have you on the program with us today.

Mr. MARK STARR (Columnist, GlobalPost; Author, "The GlobalPost Insider's Guide To World Cup 2010"): My pleasure.

CONAN: Are you surprised that so many Americans are making the trip to South Africa?

Mr. STARR: I have to admit that they're making the trip, I'm a little surprised. That there's a renewed or growing interest in soccer, that doesn't surprise me at all. Every single kid who's 25 or under has played this game. They know more about its rules than they know about baseball.

There is a soccer culture developing; 63,000 people showed up in Philly for a send-off game for the American team. Soccer is arriving.

CONAN: You sound like a zealot here.

Mr. STARR: I'm passionate about it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STARR: I played it, I coached it, and I love it.

CONAN: Well, as we look ahead, those of us who are passionate about it and those of us who may be relatively new to it, as we look ahead to the next few weeks in South Africa, give us an idea of what we should look for.

Mr. STARR: Well, first of all, I think this is one of the greatest events for Americans who stayed home, because there are going to be 64 games live, and almost all of them are on work time, and you can watch them on TV or your computer without your boss knowing. And it doesn't even interfere with your evening plans.

So that's a terrific development. The fact that all the games are going to be broadcast live is a remarkable development, and what we hope for, from the Americans, is a long run because the interest from this country does relate to how successful the Americans are. And if they don't go through the first round, which lasts the first couple weeks, there will be disappointment, and some of the interest will fade.

CONAN: Each team is set in a group of four countries in that first round, and there's sort of a round robin with them.

Mr. STARR: Four countries, eight groups of four countries, two teams come out of each group, and then it becomes single elimination, sort of like NCAA March Madness.

It starts with a round of 16. It goes down to the final. And one thing, it lasts a full month.

CONAN: A full month?

Mr. STARR: A full month.

CONAN: And there's always one group called the Group of Death.

Mr. STARR: Absolutely. You know, last time, they said the Americans got in the Group of Death, but I don't think it's true. I don't think the Americans are good enough.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STARR: Once they're in it, it can't be the Group of Death. But the Group of Death, they're saying, is the group with Brazil, Portugal - both of whom are ranked in the top three - and Ivory Coast, which is probably the best team in Africa.

The fourth team that unlucked into that group is North Korea, playing in its first World Cup in more than 40 years, and I think a lot of people will be happy to see North Korea go out fast.

CONAN: North Korea, as I understand, plays an unconventional type of game.

Mr. STARR: Well, you know, the problem is we know very little about the North Korean team. We saw them in the qualifying rounds, but they could have completely changed.

The most unique thing about North Korea is that their fans are the only ones who aren't going to be able to see it live.

CONAN: Really?

Mr. STARR: It will not be broadcast at home until Dear Leader approves of the results.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STARR: And then, you know, there'll be highlights or full games. But they don't want to show the North Koreans if they're going to lose.

CONAN: I do understand a couple of the North Korean players play professionally in Europe.

Mr. STARR: North Koreans, mostly in Russia and a few in Japan. One of the coups for North Korea is they have a player who is of Japanese descent but was born in South Korea who crossed the political divide to play for North Korea. So that's a propaganda victory for the North Koreans.

CONAN: Let's get some callers in on the conversation. Our guest is Mark Starr, a columnist for international news site GlobalPost and, as you've heard, an advocate for the great game of soccer, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. We'll start with Jackie(ph), Jackie with us from Madison.

JACKIE (Caller): Good afternoon. I love this program, and I love soccer more.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JACKIE: I am English, but I am also American. I live in Wisconsin. And what have I done for this? I have rescheduled everything. I downloaded the FIFA calendar from FIFA.com onto my Blackberry and onto my desktop. And in fact, on Wednesday, I was at my Rotary meeting, and they scheduled an event that I am supposed to participate in for July the 11th.

So I explained that it's the World Cup finals, and several people said what is that, which shocked me. And then I explained, and they said, well, we could have it on in the background.

CONAN: In the background.

JACKIE: I said no, no, no, no, no, this isn't background entertainment. This isn't football. This is soccer. So I had to respectfully decline their invitation to participate.

CONAN: I have to ask you what you're going to do on Saturday. You're English, you're American, and the United States plays England on Saturday.

JACKIE: I know, it's terrible. And, well, my husband's going out because he doesn't care anyway, and I think I'm going to be jumping from one end of the sofa to the other to have my two different shirts on.

And I really thought I could be really balanced about it, but the fact is, I really, really, really want England to win. I'll be mortified if we don't. But I hope that America gets through because I think it'll be a lot more fun for me watching the World Cup here in the United States if I have neighbors and friends that I can banter with and enjoy it with.

CONAN: Mark Starr...

JACKIE: And I really hope for the benefit of American football in general or American soccer in general, that America really performs well, has a great tournament and they lose about three-nil to England on Saturday but from there, they pick up their game and do well.

CONAN: Mark Starr, can you handicap England's chances, not just against the U.S., but in the tournament for Jackie?

Mr. STARR: Well, the English are always over-optimistic. We know that.

JACKIE: We know we're not going to win it.

Mr. STARR: They you know, England and the United States have only met once before in the World Cup, 60 years ago. And everybody complains who doesn't like soccer about the lack of goals, but of course, that makes for momentous upsets and David-versus-Goliath moments.

And in soccer, at least we get to play David for a change, and 60 years ago, the United States beat England one-nothing, and they have been upset about that ever since. What people don't...

JACKIE: You know, on Guy Fawkes Night, we set fire to an effigy of Guy Fawkes, every November the 5th, and that was an incident that happened in the 1400s. So it takes a while.

CONAN: We remember Yorktown, too, you know, and other things like that. So Jackie, we wish you a happy month.

JACKIE: Okay, thank you, have a good program.

CONAN: Thanks very much. Joining us now by phone from Johannesburg, South Africa, is John Carlin. He wrote a piece in this week's Time magazine called "The Global Game." He's also the author of "Playing the Enemy," about the 1995 Rugby World Cup, on which the movie "Invictus" was based. It's nice to have you with us today.

Mr. JOHN CARLIN (Author, "Playing the Enemy," "The Global Game"): Very good to be here.

CONAN: And what's the mood like there in South Africa?

Mr. CARLIN: Oh, it's quite ecstatic. It's remarkable. Yesterday, the South African players went on a parade around the city in an open-top bus, causing extraordinary celebrations. It was I've never seen anything quite like it before the tournament's even begun.

I have suspicions that partly (unintelligible), I have a feeling that they're not going to have anything to celebrate after they've played. So they're getting the celebration in beforehand.

CONAN: Well, they the host country always kicks off the tournament. They play Mexico, I guess, tomorrow.

Mr. CARLIN: They play Mexico tomorrow, and I mean, incredible excitement. South Africa doesn't have any massive hopes of going very far in this competition. So if they were to win against Mexico tomorrow, I can absolutely guarantee that the celebrations all over South Africa will be as if they had actually won the World Cup.

CONAN: What about other teams, thought, from Africa?

Mr. CARLIN: Well, I think that there are a couple of teams that might do well, that might advance, but I'd be absolutely flabbergasted, in fact beyond flabbergasted if that's possible, if one of the African teams were actually to go ahead and win the World Cup.

CONAN: Who are best positioned? You wrote extensively about a player and I hope I'm not mispronouncing his name too badly - called Eto'o.

Mr. CARLIN: Yes, very good. Yes, Samuel Eto'o, he is the captain of Cameroon, and Cameroon is an interesting soccer nation because they were the first really to put African soccer on the global map.

They advanced to the quarter-final stage of a 1990 World Cup, and they came within a hair's breadth, actually, of beating England. They were two-one up with seven minutes to go, and England somehow clawed it back and managed to snatch a win.

And Cameroon have got a strong team. Samuel Eto'o, the guy around whom I built this Time magazine story, is a formidable performer who's been extremely successful in two of the very biggest clubs in the world, Barcelona and Inter-Milan. He's won practically everything there is to win in European soccer and scored an awful lot of goals along the way.

And Cameroon have also got a number of other European-based players. So they're going to be a force to contend with.

And I think the other team that's interesting is Ivory Coast. They're probably, on paper, the strongest team, but they've had an absolute raging calamity. Their captain and magnificent player called Didier Drogba, who plays for Chelsea in England, suffered a broken arm or a bone somewhere in the region of his elbow.

Apparently, he had some kind of magic surgery in France the other day, and there is some hope he might be fit in time, at least for the second game. But I think with Drogba not firing on all cylinders, Ivory Coast's chances are going to be somewhat diluted.

I would have been prepared to put a small bet on their making it to the semi-finals, and but I think beyond those two, I don't know, Ghana maybe, but also, they've had another extraordinary misfortune, in that their best player is out injured, and Nigeria ditto.

It's been a sort of curse on African teams before the World Cup's even started. So I don't know, it would be wonderful if one of them were to advance and get everybody really excited over the whole continent, but I wouldn't place too much I wouldn't bet my house on it, put it that way.

CONAN: Well, we just have a few seconds left. Obviously, this is a huge deal for South Africa, but really, for all of Africa.

Mr. CARLIN: Yes, absolutely. Look, I mean, I think it's important to bear in mind that South Africa is a very different country. There's no other country on the African continent that would actually be capable of hosting an event of this magnitude, but there is definitely a sense of reflective glory at the fact that this is being held in South Africa.

And when I spoke to the captain of Cameroon, Samuel Eto'o, he certainly had a tremendous sense of African pride in this. And there's a great hope that the competition will go off smoothly and well and that that will, in turn, like I say, reflect well on the entire continent and give the continent a new confidence and pride.

CONAN: John Carlin, thanks very much for your time, and have a good time.

Mr. CARLIN: Thank you very much.

CONAN: John Carlin wrote a piece in this week's Time magazine called "The Global Game." He's also the author of "Playing the Enemy," and he joined us by phone today from South Africa.

Mark Starr is still with us. We'd also like to hear from you. What preparations are you making for the World Cup? I'm Neal Conan. Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

It all begins less than 24 hours from now, the 2010 World Cup, but for the first time, the games will be held in Africa. Today, we're talking about what to watch for and what to expect from the 32 teams who are qualified to play.

We want to hear from you. Where will you be watching? What team do you root for? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. Thats at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Our guest is Mark Starr, a columnist for the international news site GlobalPost, who wrote "The Insider's Guide To World Cup" at globalpost.com, and we have a couple of emails here.

This is from Molly(ph) in Portland, Oregon: My boyfriend and I have rearranged our schedules to catch as many matches as we can. We're betting on Chile and Brazil respectively. I think soccer will become more and more popular in the U.S. as my generation, who grew up playing soccer as kids, comes to the fore. I hope we get to host in 2018.

This from Sidu(ph) in Cincinnati: I have watched every World Cup since 1982. I will DVR all 64 games this year. I was born in January, 1973, but as far as I'm concerned, my age is 10, 10 World Cups old. That's what it means to me. I'm predicting a shocking U.S. win.

And this from Brian(ph), also in Portland, Oregon: I just want to deliver a message for the government of South Africa. Shame on you. Shame for spending billions on hosting the World Cup while 80 percent of your population still lives in abject poverty. With huge issues like AIDS, child rape, substandard housing and so much more affecting millions in South Africa, spending the money you have to build stadiums and roads for tourists is disgusting.

And John Carlin excuse me, for Mark Starr, there's no question about it that South Africa has certainly spent a great deal of money to host these games.

Mr. STARR: Absolutely, but they see it as a showcase of their nation. When they hosted the Rugby World Cup that John Carlin wrote about so beautifully and became the movie "Invictus," that was a new nation. Now they want to show a decade later that they are a developed nation and that they can handle a bigger event, that they are not a nation simply of crime and disease and poverty and that they are a mature nation.

CONAN: Let's go next to Rahm(ph), Rahm with us from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

RAHM (Caller): Hi, Neal, I'm so glad to be talking to you, and I really love your show.

CONAN: Well thank you.

RAHM: Thank you so much for taking my call.

CONAN: Go ahead.

RAHM: And, well, this is the biggest event ever, I've got to say. This is I've been waiting for it. So I've got all my vacation scheduled so I can watch Brazil's games and some other games that will eventually play out, you know, during the (unintelligible).

CONAN: I can't tell from your accent, are you from Brazil?

RAHM: I am from Brazil, yeah.

CONAN: And how do you rate their chances this year? They are proponents of, well, it used to be called the beautiful game, but I understand they're stressing defense this year.

RAHM: Yeah, I think that Dunga really did the right thing, you know, with his new philosophy. It goes totally against, you know, what a lot of Brazilians always expected, you know, the art football. But the point here is, you know, football became so it's such a physical game, and the Europeans do have an advantage, and so do the Africans, you know.

And I think Dunga perceived that, and he really changed, you know, the mentality. But I still believe that there is art, you know, in the game, especially with the team that Brazil is taking to the World Cup.

CONAN: Mark Starr, Brazil always among the favorites.

Mr. STARR: Well, if I were forced to pick, Brazil may not play the beautiful game, the ones who play the beautiful game are Spain now, the other fashionable pick. But if I were forced to pick, I would pick Brazil because they have a history of traveling well.

No European team has ever won the World Cup outside of Europe. Brazil has won it in Chile, they won it in Mexico, they won it in the United States, they won it in Sweden, and they won it in Japan.

The Brazilian players, most of whom play in Europe, they know how to travel and to play after they've traveled.

CONAN: And Rahm, I guess that's music to your ears. Thanks very much for the call, good luck to you.

RAHM: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's go next to this is Matthias(ph), Matthias with us from Binghamton, New York.

MATTHIAS (Caller): How are we doing, Neal?

CONAN: Oh, we're doing well. You're on the air. Go ahead.

MATTHIAS: Great. So, I'm a 22-year-old Slovenian-American and grew up playing soccer, you know, from since I was six. And I'm so very excited for this, this year's match or matches because I remember four years ago getting up at five in the morning to watch the games, whatever ones they had on ESPN, and now they're carrying them all, which is great.

So I've got them all lined up on the DVR, and all my buddies are ready to go, so...

CONAN: So people mentioned in the emails they're getting ready for the DVR. Does the DVR account for injury time, the three minutes or so they usually tack on at the end of the game?

MATTHIAS: I do believe so, and if not, we're going to be quite disappointed because that's sometimes the most exciting part of the game.

CONAN: It is sometimes well, it's sometimes the most dramatic moments of the game. I hope they're flexible enough to account for that, it doesn't turn off in the middle of the game.

MATTHIAS: Well, we'll hope for it and America and Slovenia through this first round, here we go.

CONAN: All right, Matthias, thanks very much for the call, appreciate it. Let's see if we can go next to this is Gabriel(ph), Gabriel with us from Orlando.

GABRIEL (Caller): Hey, how are you doing, Neal?

CONAN: Very well, thank you.

GABRIEL: Hey, so I just first, I had something else to say, but then I got that person that wrote in and said about shame on South Africa. I think, you know, you know what they say about people with certain parts of the anatomy and opinions, everybody's got one.

My family has lived there hang on a second. Yeah, my family has lived there, and I'm Honduran-American, actually. I was born in America, but I grew up in Honduras, and I've lived in a lot of third world countries. And I think it's real sad that people, you know, don't let these sub-developed countries get out of their stagnant economies, you know.

CONAN: And will you be following the games here?

GABRIEL: I'm actually going to the World Cup.

CONAN: Oh, you're on your way to South Africa?

GABRIEL: I leave on Sunday. I'm quite excited.

CONAN: And is Honduras among the teams playing this year?

GABRIEL: Yes, we are. We are we have the misfortune of being in the same group as Spain, but nevertheless, I'll be there cheering on no matter what the score is, you know. We haven't been there since the year before I was born, '82, so (unintelligible).

CONAN: Mark Starr, what are Honduras's chances?

Mr. STARR: Well, Honduras should be very thankful to the United States because Honduras is going because in the final second of qualifying, the United States scored a goal against Costa Rica that knocked Costa Rica out and sent Honduras through. And one more...

GABRIEL: We beat Costa Rica four-to-one, or four-nothing.

Mr. STARR: But you weren't going unless the United States scored that goal. One other point because the Slovenian gentleman who called, everybody's focused on the U.S. playing England in the first game, but the really big game is the U.S.-Slovenia, the second game, because that will determine which is the second country to go through to the second round.

CONAN: And what's the fourth team in that particular...?

Mr. STARR: Algeria.

CONAN: Algeria. And again, all of these games are being broadcast on ESPN, so...

Mr. STARR: Except the opener against England is on ABC.

CONAN: Well, its partner, so Gabriel, thanks very much. Good luck to Honduras.

GABRIEL: No problem. Thank you very much.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Joining us now by phone from Buenos Aires, Argentina, is Julia Kumari Drapkin. She's the Argentina correspondent for GlobalPost, and nice of you to be with us today.

Ms. JULIA KUMARI DRAPKIN (Argentina Correspondent, GlobalPost): Thank you, Neal. Hi.

CONAN: Hi. And Argentina is always - again, like Brazil, its great rival, among the favorites.

Ms. DRAPKIN: Yes, absolutely. It has an incredibly talented lineup including, you know, Tevez, Milito, Aguero and actually what is, you know, the greatest player right now, Lionel Messi.

He's FIFA's, you know, top player, and he's an incredible talent. We're everyone's very, very excited to watch him.

CONAN: We have a clip here from an interview you did with an Argentinean, Francisco Ferrari(ph) in Chauspey(ph), and he suggests that perhaps there's a little bit of ambivalence in Argentina about Messi, of course, plays in Europe.

Mr. FRANCISCO FERRARI(ph): Well, Messi's like a little genius. I like how he plays, but, okay, it's like when you see him I hate him actually because when you see him, like, playing for Barcelona, he's like the best guy in the world, right? He's like he will die for Barcelona. He goes to play for Argentina, and he's, like, taking care of himself. It's like this is much more important than Barcelona. It's your country. It's like who cares if you lose a leg? You're playing for Argentina like it's a workout, you know.

CONAN: So Messi would die for Barcelona but will not give his all for Argentina.

Ms. DRAPKIN: Yeah, it's part of the narrative here. It's a great drama. I mean, everyone really, they really want to claim Messi as their own. They want Messi to be, you know, Argentine. But they just don't relate to him. They don't identify with him.

You know, Messi spent the majority of his life in Europe playing for Europe. And when he plays for Argentina, he hasn't really, you know, made his name here yet. And they just don't feel like they can claim him.

They watch him play, and his style of play is, you know, he's incredibly talented, but he doesn't play with all of his heart when he puts on the Argentine jersey.

There's a joke that they say, you know, well, what's the quickest way to stop Messi in Spain? And they say, well, you know, put him in an Argentine jersey.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DRAPKIN: He just hasn't shown, you know, proven himself when he plays on the national team. So they're kind of nervous. They really love the other players, who have all played in, you know, in Argentine clubs, and of course, then there's this, you know, dynamic.

They're comparing Maradona, the coach of the national team, who is legend, a soccer legend, you know, he holds the title of Player of the Century with Pele. You know, he's just embodies everything that Argentines value when it comes to soccer.

They want to see Messi play with all of his heart and put all of his, you know, passion into the game, you know, throw himself at the ball, you know, and not think about tomorrow, and they just don't see that style of play when Messi is on the field.

CONAN: Of course, Maradona played not just with all of his heart but at least once famously with an illegal hand.

Ms. DRAPKIN: The hand of God. It was in the 1986 game against Britain. And it was a monumental game. He followed it up with an incredible dribble down the field, like passing everybody and scoring the most beautiful goal of the century. And that game actually landed Maradona in the hearts of everybody Argentine because it was against, you know, Britain not along after they had been fighting the Falklands War. And their - you know, the national pride and self-esteem was at an all-time low. And this game, like, against Britain with Maradona playing the way they did just put, you know, Maradona in the stratosphere. He is deified here. He is on the front page of all the newspapers. All the time, he has - just kind of occupies this place in everyone's heart as this guy they love.

But at the same time, they love to hate him, too, because he's so unpredictable. I mean, a lot of people question the choice to have him be the coach of the Argentine national team, a lot of speculation as to why he is the coach of the national team. But he doesn't have - he doesn't really have that much experience coaching. And he's probably the Achilles heel in some people's minds when it comes to our World Cup chances here, having incredibly talented roster, and Maradona has the opportunity to, you know, to really solidify his reputation as soccer god if we...

CONAN: If he's capable of anymore elevation, I guess this would do it for him. Mark Starr, are the Argentineans well set?

Mr. STARR: Well, you know, Maradona is - she's been discreet here. I mean, he's a lunatic.

Ms. DRAPKIN: Yeah.

Mr. STARR: And there are many people who, while they complain about Messi not playing with the heart of Maradona, they think Maradona as a coach doesn't want Messi to threaten his stature as the greatest player in Argentine history, and that he doesn't want him to succeed. That's how crazy it is in Argentina. They have all the...

Ms. DRAPKIN: There is a lot of speculation.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STARR: They have all the talent in the world but they still finish fourth in South American qualifying and nobody can figure out how that's possible. Maradona is an inexperienced coach, and that's a terrible thing to be in a World Cup.

CONAN: Well, Julia Kumari Drapkin, I'm sure you are going to be watching the games along with everybody else there in Argentina. Thank you very much for your time today.

Ms. DRAPKIN: Thank you.

CONAN: Julia Kumari Drapkin, Argentina correspondent for GlobalPost with us today on the phone from Buenos Aires. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's go next to Michele(ph), Michele with us from Fort Rucker, Alabama.

MICHELE (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, Michele. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.

MICHELE: Fantastic. Well, I'm originally from South Africa. I now live in Alabama. And I'm going to be watching all the games very closely. I'm just so excited that South Africa has a chance to showcase the beauty and the wonderful cultural diversity that it offers. And hopefully, to the American public, its going to open up a lot of people's minds and they're going to hopefully want to travel there in the future.

CONAN: You're in Fort Rucker. Do you fly helicopters?

MICHELE: My husband does. Actually, it's going to be quite funny tomorrow because he is Mexican and I'm South African, and so it's going to be a very interesting match to watch.

CONAN: It is going to be interesting. I suggest you do it in two different places.

MICHELE: I think so, too.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Good luck to you, Michele.

MICHELE: Thanks so much. Bye.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Email question from Kim(ph) in Orinda, California. I've seen ads of the World Cup on BART, our train system here in the Bay Area. It depicts South African football players with 66 in big numbers behind them. What does the 66 mean in the ads? Do you know, Mark?

Mr. STARR: I'm embarrassed. I do not know.

CONAN: All right. Well, we'll try to work that out for you and get back to you with an answer on that if we can. This is from Constanza(ph) in Wellington, Florida. I'm an absolute soccer fan. I've been waiting for this World Cup for four years. I was born in Colombia, but my team is Argentina. And I will be rooting for them with everything I have. Vamos, Argentina.

And William(ph) in Durham, North Carolina: The Triangle Adult Soccer League is hosting their first adult soccer tournament this weekend. They had to work hard on the schedule to make sure they did not schedule any games to be held during the U.S.-England game Saturday afternoon. Our team, over 50-year-old Visigoths, will have several of our team members visiting pubs in the area to determine where we will gather to enjoy the U.S. win between our games on Saturday.

Let's see if we can go next to Christian(ph), Christian with us from St. Cloud, Minnesota.

CHRISTIAN (Caller): Hi.


CHRISTIAN: Yeah. I'm celebrating in what I think is the appropriate fashion. I have a number of friends who aren't quite as soccer-excited as I am, and so I've planned a whole month's menu for them to come. And we have a different themed dish for each game.

CONAN: You have a different dish for each game? Like what?

CHRISTIAN: Well, for example, tomorrow Mexico is the first game, so we're having huevos rancheros because here in St. Cloud it's going to be 9 a.m.

CONAN: Uh-huh.

CHRISTIAN: And then we have crepes at 1:30 for France. And we're actually going out to a British pub to watch England versus USA. And then on Sunday, we've got a German-themed meal and Serbian cheese pie for the 9 a.m. game and, of course, drinks and whatnot to match.

CONAN: So I can see that this is going to be a long month for you.

CHRISTIAN: It is going to be a long month but, you know, as everyone else has been saying, I've been waiting four years for it, so it's going to make it well worth the wait.

CONAN: I have to ask, Mark - thanks very much for the call, Christian, and good luck with you and your liver. Mark, where are you going to be watching the games?

Mr. STARR: I think I'm going to Christian's house.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STARR: That sounds good to me. You know, one of the things that people don't always understand, there are only 32 countries in the World Cup, and everybody doesn't have a country there. But everybody has a country they can root against. The Czechs aren't there but they can root against Slovakia. All the Scandinavian countries that aren't there can root against Denmark. It isn't just rooting for, there's a lot of schadenfreude in this thing.

CONAN: We mentioned earlier, the games are being broadcast on ESPN, but Dana(ph) in Philadelphia emailed to remind me that I have to mention the excitement that Americans can tune in to the Spanish television, Univision Telemundo, in the United States - far more colorful play-by-play and when the strikers make a goal, watch out Berke(ph), look out for this: goal.

It's just an approximation. Its much better than that.

Mr. STARR: It would be wonderful if we get to hear it a few times in the American game for the Americans.

CONAN: Before we let you go, Mark, whos your final four?

Mr. STARR: My final four: Spain, Brazil, Netherlands, Germany.

CONAN: Spain, Brazil, Netherlands, Germany. All right. Thats interesting. Mark, have a great time.

Mr. STARR: Thank you. I cant wait. Its going to be a wonderful month.

CONAN: Mark Starr is a columnist for the international news site GlobalPost and wrote the Insiders Guide to the World Cup. You can find a link to that at our website. And he joined us today from our bureau in New York.

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