Revving Up for the World Cup The upcoming FIFA World Cup soccer tournament will feature the best teams the world has to offer -- and arguable the most devoted fans of any global sporting event. The quadrennial tournament's championship game will be played in Berlin on July 9.
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Revving Up for the World Cup

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Revving Up for the World Cup

Revving Up for the World Cup

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

The playoffs in the NBA or the NHL are the big sport stories in this country. But for the rest of the world, the World Cup of men's soccer is the big thing. Next month in Germany, the 32 qualifying nations will join the month long football extravaganza which is expected to generate a worldwide viewing audience measured in the billions.

Our resident soccer fan, sportswriter Stefan Fatsis of The Wall Street Journal, joins us. Welcome back, Stefan.

STEFAN FATSIS: Hey, Robert.

SIEGEL: And you don't exactly feel the anticipation here in the U.S. but I have a strong feeling that you're going to tell me that it's everywhere, it exists.

FATSIS: It is. It is. Not just among U.S. companies that are spending millions of dollars to sponsor and advertise at the World Cup. There is, I swear, this quiet mass of fans who are monitoring progress of the U.S. team and other national teams. The website BigSoccer.com has a countdown clock ticking away right now and it's 27 days and then the hours and then the minutes and then the seconds. And that's until the opening match between hosts German and Costa Rica in Munich on June 9 at 6 p.m. local time. And every game by the way will be broadcast live in the United States including the final in Berlin on July 9.

SIEGEL: Now, let's begin on a properly chauvinistic note here and talk about the American team. They've qualified for the tournament for the fifth straight time and they've begun gathering in Cary, North Carolina, this week for training. What do we think is going to happen to the U.S. team this time?

FATSIS: It's a great team. This is a World Cup roster. It will split between players who are based in Europe and players who play in the U.S. league, major league soccer. The team is considered more talented and much, much deeper than the squad that reached the quarter finals of the World Cup four years ago, where they had a very unlucky loss to Germany that would've put them into the semifinals, which would've been incredible.

Now the U.S. is ranked fourth in the world by the computer program at FIFA, soccer's governing body. Nobody takes those rankings at face value. Eighth to 15th in the world seems more like it for the U.S., and that really means that the U.S. can beat just about any team once, but they can't do it on a consistent basis and that, frankly, is just outlandish progress over the last decade for the Americans.

SIEGEL: So, quarter finals last time, can they do better this time?

FATSIS: Well there are to main issues going into the World Cup. The first is that the U.S. was drawn into what is the group of death in the first round. They're going to have to play the Czech Republic and Italy, both among the world's elite, along with Ghana and only two teams advance out of that into the knock out rounds. The second issue is whether the U.S. will have everybody in what soccer coaches like to call top form. And the U.S. needs that more than the established teams. They don't have as much depth as you're going to find at the bigger soccer countries.

SIEGEL: Now you mentioned Italy. Police today raided the office of the Italian Soccer Federation as part of a widening investigation there into allegations of corruption in Seria A (ph), the top Italian league. What's going on there?

FATSIS: Well, allegations that teams tried to influence the assignment of referees to particular games in the 2004, 2005 season. Prosecutors in Italy are saying that four clubs and dozens of soccer officials are under investigation. The entire board of the legendary team Uventis (ph) resigned last night. And just to give you an idea of how big a deal this is in Italy, trading in Uventis stock was briefly suspended this morning after prices plunged. This could be just the break the U.S. team needs when they play Italy.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Stefan.

FATSIS: Thanks, Robert.

SIEGEL: Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis, who talks with us about sports and the business of sports Fridays on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

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