U.S. gets tough draw in 2006 World Cup

By Alun Thomas


   'It's soccer....soccer stinks!' So said one time Zephyr bufoon himself Tony Kornheiser on ESPN's 'Pardon The Interruption' regarding the draw for the 2006 World Cup to be held in Germany in June and July next summer. A typically ingnorant reaction from the US sporting media towards a game which others like the stain that is Jim Rome take so much pleasure in bashing. Korheiser didn't care that the rest of the world were watching in their millions, he didn't even care that the USA were handed a position in one of the most difficult groups in the competition. Why would he? The Heisman Trophy was to be held the next day, that's all that matters! His blatant dismissal of the sport wasn't as aggravating as I thought, as it is so common you become numb to it. The rest of the world obviously cared about the World Cup draw. 400 million of them. What does that say?


   For the United States the draw was the difficult road they had hoped to avoid. Paired with European powerhouses Italy and the Czech Republic, they must have thought it was 1990 all over again when they were grouped with the same sides, with the exception of other group members Ghana, making their first appearance at a World Cup. Was it really 16 years ago since a young US side lost all three games at Italia 90, looking dazed and confused in the process? I watched the highlights of those games hundreds of times, the young fresh faced Yanks appearing more like schoolboys chasing a ball in a pack than real professionals, which of course in 1990 they were not. I doubt they will be as outclassed in 2006 as they were in 1990 by the Italians (despite only losing 1-0 to the hosts in Rome) and Czechs, but the test will be stern.


  It is important that the US at least progress to the second round. That means upheaving one of their European foes. It is possible, as proved in 2002 against Portugal. If the US fail to qualify from the group stages the game will take an even more backwards step in this country. Mind you even if the US won the tournament nobody would care still, only the most ardent of soccer fans. It's just that type of nation, one that has it's adopted sports and clearly soccer isn't one of them. Just as in New Zealand where I was born, rugby is the top sport while soccer is derided mercilessly. It's foolish to expect people to suddenly say, 'you know what, I don't like the NFL anymore, I'm a soccer fan now'. At the same time I've come to this country and bought into the popular US sports as well as sticking with soccer, so why can't sport fans here do the same?


   People don't understand that the World Cup truly binds the world itself together. Take Australia, in their first cup since 1974, being grouped with Croatia, a country who has a stronghold of immigrants in Australia. That wil be an emotional game for millions in that nation because of the ties to both nations. However the expansion of the World Cup to 32 teams in 1998 does mean a glut of lesser worthy countires stangling the competition. I doubt many will be holding out for Angola versus Iran or Saudi Arabia playing Tunisia. But every team deserves a chance, this is why it is an event that benefits the world. You could never make a tool like Kornheiser understand the significance of the event, to him a three game set between the Kansas Royals and Detroit Tigers with both teams sitting at 41-89 would be more exciting.


   I'm not as rabid myself for the event as I was maybe 12 years ago, but during that magic month I will have my eyes glued to the screen. The days of a magical figure like Pele, Cryuff, Maradona or Beardsley might be gone, but it's always thrilling to see England blow it or the Italians bow out in ignominy as they always do. And here's hoping the US push their luck just to shove it up the noses of the arrogant media in the US. As for Kornheiser himself? I'll plant a tool right in his belly and laugh.