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Global Goal: World Cup

June 17, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: The United States team in the World Cup of soccer: Kwame Holman has our update.

ANNOUNCER: Cuts it back. Here’s McBride. Scores!

KWAME HOLMAN: For the U.S. World Cup team, today’s 2-0 victory over Mexico was historic, sending the Americans to the round of eight teams, the farthest a U.S. Men’s team has gone in the tournament since it began in 1930. American women won the cup in 1999. Last week, the U.S. men nearly missed the opportunity to advance. Before today, they’d won only game. They only qualified to move on because another team lost.

But, given the chance, the U.S. men won a spirited and physical match against the favored Mexican team, a frequent opponent in regional matches. Mexico controlled the ball for long stretches, but couldn’t score on the American goalie. The game, in Yokohama, Japan, got under way at 2:30 in the morning, East Coast time. American fans stayed up through the night to savor the win and its meaning.

MAN: The USA wants it. It’s great for the country with everything that’s happened, 9/11, everything. This is just good for the country, good for U.S. soccer.

KWAME HOLMAN: The four-week World Cup tournament started at the end of may. 32 countries sent teams to venues in Japan and South Korea. By the end, the entire tournament will have been watched by a cumulative audience estimated at 50 billion– numbers unparalleled in sport. The sport’s dominance can be seen even in Afghanistan, where watching the World Cup was banned under the Taliban, and recently citizens lined up to purchase televisions and satellite dishes in order to see the games.

Ray Hudson coaches Washington, D.C.’s professional major league soccer team, D.C. United. Hudson grew up playing the game in soccer’s birthplace, Great Britain.

RAY HUDSON, Coach, D.C. United Soccer Team: Well, for me and the entire soccer population on Planet Earth, this is the Olympics– all the Super Bowls that’s ever been played, all the World Series– all rolled into one for a four-week extravaganza. It’s everything. It’s the world’s greatest athletic stage for the soccer players at a time where the nations of the world are so galvanized by the passion of their national fervor. It reduces all sorts of different cultures to a level playing field, and it elevates the little minnows up into the sharks. And anything can happen in the World Cup, and it can invigorate entire continents.

KWAME HOLMAN: In the U.S., people are watching World Cup matches live at the odd-hours dictated by the time difference with Asia. At Summer’s Bar in Arlington, Virginia, an overflow crowd gathered before 7:00 A.M. for the first-round meeting between historic rivals Argentina and England.

SIMON YEAMAN: I’ve been down here about 5:30, 5:00, 4:00 for the first England game. There’s no alcohol being served, so that’s a bit strange for a British guy.

KWAME HOLMAN: Marina Simon is an Argentinean working in the U.S.

MARINA SIMON: The whole country woke up very early to see this game, and this was very important because right now, Argentina is quite screwed up. It’s like we have many, many problems– economical problems– and people are just really sad, so there is a lot of hope in this World Cup — you know, something to feel happy about, something to feel proud about. I really… maybe another time, I wouldn’t be so “yes, I want Argentina to win,” but this time I think that we really need it.

KWAME HOLMAN: But Argentina would lose this day, and eventually be eliminated in the first round– an especially painful outcome for a team once considered a favorite to make it to the finals. Passions also were strong at some of Washington, D.C.’s foreign embassies. Last Wednesday, the South African embassy staff was in early to cheer on their team.

VICKY MAHARAJ, Press Secretary, South African Embassy: Sport has played a major role in unifying the nation, and if you look at the South African country playing, it’s a very mixed team. Black, white– all races– and everyone is behind the sport, so it has a unifying factor. And the more… the better the team performs, the more unifying it becomes for the nation.

KWAME HOLMAN: Major league soccer Coach Hudson says, in a different way, soccer also is transforming its newest converts– American-born youngsters.

RAY HUDSON: The immigrant population have known this for years, and decades and decades, but the American kid now is saying, “this is what I want to do. I’m active. I want the ball. I want to be always the quarterback.” Well, that’s what soccer gives the kids, and I think that’s what’s the American community at large and the children at the recreational level are buying into. It’s just going to take a while for the mom and pops to get it.

KWAME HOLMAN: What is it that Americans don’t get, by and large, about this sport that is so passionately felt by others?

RAY HUDSON: I think it’s a very, very good question forming, and it’s not able to be answered in such a very – one way — I think the American mentality to sports is such that, you know, they want the snap. They want to know what’s happening at a specific five-second interval, whether it’s the pitch or the snap of the football, and that’s the American mentality towards sports. And with soccer, it’s a much more fluid-moving game. It’s a much more elongated time of theatrics. It’s not splitting the timeouts or any of that.

And that’s the way the rest of the world is always identified — with Americans, by and large, that populous that’s watching, don’t quite get it and I come back again to the children. We are getting it. It’s just you cannot force the sand through the time glass, you know. It’s going to take time, but we are getting there. This game isn’t going away. It’s only got one way to go and that’s right up.

KWAME HOLMAN: The quarter finals of the World Cup begin Thursday. On Friday, the U.S. will face Germany.