U.S.-England: World Cup Draw and Drama


Can the Yanks make it three in a row?

You know, we already claimed that little 18th century skirmish for the colonies and have the Americans’ 1-0 victory over England in the 1950 World Cup in Brazil in our pocket. Now, we have the upcoming June 12 opener in Group C of the 2010 FIFA tourney in South Africa in our sights.

If Lord Cornwallis ordered “The World Turned Upside Down” to be played in Yorktown in 1781 and the match 59 years ago was referred to as the “Miracle on Grass,” then how about “Boot Becks” for next year’s encounter. Perhaps New Mexico defender Elizabeth Lambert can make a special appearance and yank Beckham by the feathers of the curious coif he sported during the Dec. 4 World Cup draw.

There was also the awkward rapport between South African host Charlize Theron, with “The Drawmaster.” Looking stunning in her red dress, Theron was double-bussed by FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke on the telecast before he seemed struck by stage fright. Maybe that’s not surprising considering that Jed Drake, ESPN senior vice president and executive producer for event production, said there would be more than 200 million watching the event around the globe — most of them on ESPN, he joking during the programmer’s media day for the draw in Bristol. Or perhaps Valke just realized that he was standing next to the woman who took home an Oscar for her portrayal of Aileen Carol Wuornos in Monster. For her Friday performance, Theron should be nominated for an Emmy for playing the role of the everyman/everywoman uninitiated about FIFA groups, pots and venue balls.

All kidding aside, it was a good day for ESPN, which played home to a bevy of domestic and international reporters on its campus in Connecticut, and Univision, the Spanish-language rights-holder to the 2010 World Cup.

In Bristol, ESPN has at least one shuttle bus painted up in World Cup colors, erected a countdown clock to when the action starts in South Africa on June 11 and adorned a wall with the colors of the 32 nations competing in the globe’s biggest sporting event.

There was certainly flag-waving of sorts as journalists worked on their stories, when the groups were completed and the U.S. had also been mixed in with Algeria and Slovenia, rather than as ESPN executive vice president of content John Skipper said later, with Ivory Coast, Portugal and/or France. As ESPN futbol analyst and former U.S. national team captain John Harkes said, it will be a disappointment if the U.S. doesn’t move past the group stage.

But it’s the opening match with the motherland that carries all the heat at the moment. Akin to NASCAR coming out of the gate with its biggest race, the Daytona 500, the U.S.-England match at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday June 12, will no doubt give the giant programmer a huge Nielsen lift to start. Indeed, this figures to be the most-watched English-language match of the tourney on this soil, save for if the U.S. can make a sustained run or the final.

For Univision, its favored side, El Tricolores, will open the tourney against South Africa on June 11, which will prove to be Viernes Gigante. Having to overcome the double-whammy of the host nation and home continent advantage, Mexico then will have to contend with Uruguay and France in order to escape Group A.

Group G, meanwhile, is widely considered the “Group of Death,” featuring Brazil, Portugal, Ivory Coast and North Korea. According to the Soccer Power Index, it has three of the top nine teams in the world, whereas no other group has a trio in the top 18.

It’s also the Group of ESPN Deportes. ESPN, as part of its deal with FIFA, forged back in October 2005, just days after Skipper assumed his then newly created position as content czar, has rights in the States to all languages, except Spanish. To that end, broadband service ESPN360 plans to serve up World Cup matches in a multitude of tongues, while Spanish-language service ESPN Deportes will televise 40 live matches in Portuguese, including Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal taking on Brazil on June 25.

One can expect that match to blow by Deportes’ Nov. 30 telecast of La Liga Clasico. Barcelona’s 1-0 victory over Real Madrid at Camp Nou Stadium yielded a 10.9 rating, 512,000 Hispanic homes and 765,000 Latino viewers, making it the biggest audience on Spanish-language telecast for a European soccer telecast.