Thursday, June 08, 2006

Le Cup Du Monde

Today marks the start of the World Cup - set your Tivos.

There's an interesting article on the US team and the abuse they've weathered around the world from other countries - it's eye-opening and outrageous.

Try playing with chants of "Osama bin Laden! Osama bin Laden!" raining down, the Americans say. Try getting ready for kickoff with uniformed militia guarding the field holding ready-to-fire machine guns. Try scoring a goal with rocks, batteries and bottles flying toward you. And try falling asleep the night before a match while fans drive by your team hotel, honking horns, setting off cherry bombs and blasting music.

It's all part of what U.S. soccer officials believe is one of the best-kept secrets in all of sports: The tough road their teams face to qualify for the World Cup through CONCACAF, the collection of 40 North American, Central American and Caribbean countries that comprise their FIFA qualifying group.

Part of it is gamesmanship, such as when Guatemala changed a venue 10 days before a match to a remote jungle village accessible only by a dangerous three-hour bus ride through the mountains. But part of it isn't.

"The anti-American sentiment is the biggest thing," said goalkeeper Tim Howard, who plays club soccer in England. "As Americans, we play the big brother role. People either resent that or appreciate it. They either thank you or hate you."

Over the last decade, at matches in Latin American countries such as Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Costa Rica, U.S. players have been pelted with everything from batteries and coins to screws and saliva. In one match, former coach Steve Sampson said his players were bombed with bags of urine and animal blood. In the mid-90s, defender Paul Caligiuri was treated for welts on his back after being sprayed with a chemical substance, presumably acid.

I don't think this requires much in the way of commentary. I'll be rooting for the US to make a strong showing in the Cup because I love my country, and because I'm proud of the men who've taken their talent and given it to our team. That trick Guatemala pulled is pretty impressive, though.

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