World Cup begins to runneth over

Frenzy still has yet to take hold in U.S.

By The Mercury

In America, it’s baseball season. The Kansas City Royals have won nine of 13 games, and their 4-1 victory over the Cleveland Indians Wednesday night vaulted the team into second place in their division, just two games behind the Detroit Tigers.

While the Royals are teasing their long-suffering fans and while Americans in major cities are cheering for their respective baseball teams, the rest of the world is savoring soccer season. Make that football — or futbol — season, more precisely, World Cup season. The latter comes around every four years and drives most of the rest of the world into a frenzy. This year’s Cup, for those who haven’t been paying attention, begins today in Brazil when the host team plays Croatia. Brazil is as proud a soccer-playing nation as any on the planet, but if the television news is any indication, disgruntled millions of Brazilians seem as inclined to disrupt this international event as watch it.

One day, perhaps, the U.S. team will be a contender; after all, the women’s team has enjoyed success, even winning the Women’s World Cup in 1999. Not so the men’s team. Four years ago, the United States was eliminated by Ghana. If you don’t know where Ghana is, check Africa. Anyway, it so happens that the U.S. team opens World Cup play against Ghana at 4 p.m. Monday.

If you didn’t know the United States has trouble beating Ghana in World Cup play, you might also not know that the World Cup consists of 32 teams divided into eight groups. The U.S. team is in Group G, and folks who bet on the United States to emerge from the group (two of four teams advance) would probably win a tidy sum if that occurs.

We might not be the longest long shot in Cup play, which will last an entire month, but we’re close. Our group, dubbed the “Group of Death,” also includes Germany and Portugal, two of the sport’s perennial heavyweights. Suffice it to say the smart money is not on the United States.

Not that soccer in the United States isn’t getting better; it is. It’s also gaining popularity, as is evident on youth soccer fields all across America. We even have professional soccer, though it’s not yet as professional as the English Premier League. Still, Sporting KC, once known as the Wizards, happens to be defending MLS — for Major League Soccer — champs and regularly play before packed houses.

That’s more than the Royals have been able to say for a while.

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