190 Countries Can't Be Wrong

The World Cup begins this week and will be followed intently around the globe -- except by the host nation

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THE CINDERELLAS. Some teams that have languished in soccer obscurity for years have suddenly flourished. Under the direction of Spanish coach Xavier Azkargorta, Bolivia, long the doormat of South American football, was undefeated in the qualifying rounds and even beat Brazil 2-0. The U.S. also has extravagant hopes -- the team won a stunning 2-0 upset victory over England last year. Unfortunately, the U.S lacks world-class stars, although goalie Tony Meola shows promise and midfielder John Harkes and striker Roy Wegerle have gained experience in England. The Americans have come a long way, but the team, which faces Switzerland in Detroit on Saturday, is unlikely to advance beyond the first round.

Just how important is the World Cup? For the citizens of most of the countries whose teams are playing in America, nothing else short of Armageddon really matters. Already, the debates over player selection and team preparation have been all-consuming. Brazilians spent weeks arguing about whether players would be allowed to have sex during the tournament. After Pele and Garrincha, heroes of previous Cups, announced that this activity had not harmed their performance, coach Parreira, who at first said spouses could not accompany the team to the U.S., recanted. All the players' needs, he said, including "sexual ones," would be tended to.

Perhaps after a few weeks of exposure to soccer mania at its most virulent, + Americans will begin to appreciate the game. But even if soccer fails to take hold in its last frontier, this year's World Cup will not suffer. We may not know a corner kick from a throw-in, but no one puts on a sports spectacle better than America.

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