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World Cup - the long view

The U.S. performance yesterday was not as miserable as the Czechs' was brilliant. And only here in the States, where the hype machine was in full swing, was the result (if not the 3-0 scoreline) anything other than what was widely expected.

The U.S. was dealt a murderous draw when they, and not Mexico, were relegated to the pot of also-rans, despite beating Mexico in both the 2002 World Cup knockout stages and in this year's qualification. This was due to the washout in France '98. FIFA employs a seeding system (in contrast to their superfluous rankings) with an excessively long memory. It is a system which perpetuates the advantage of the old soccer powers, and one that the African nations as well as the U.S. should work to change.**

The task of the U.S. this year is now monumental. Italy looked solid in beating Ghana 2-0 and should take care of business on Saturday against the U.S. And Ghana attacked the Italians with a verve missing in the U.S. performance; beating them won't be a simple matter. I reckon the bookies will price a U.S. win in the final match at better than even money. So an early exit from the tournament looks quite likely at this point, but it would not be a disgrace. In 2002, defending champ France went home early (without a point!), along with pre-tournament favorites Argentina and Portugal. It happens to the best teams, as well as to a developing team like the U.S.

Despite the dismal forecast, I'll be watching anyway, hoping for a miracle against the Italians. And judging from this WSJ story, interest in the World Cup may be stronger than portrayed by American sportswriters:

More than half the TV monitors on some trading floors at Deutsche Bank AG's New York offices -- including the sets in some executive suites -- were tuned to the U.S. game yesterday, with periodic eruptions of emotion. (Mostly despair, as the U.S. team lost, 3-0.....) At J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., where TV screens have been split fairly evenly between financial news and World Cup games, employees displayed miniature national flags at their desks. ...

Some employers are taking pre-emptive measures to keep employees focused. Fifteen percent of companies said they were blocking Internet content related to this year's World Cup, according to St. Bernard Software Inc., a San Diego-based Internet security company, who surveyed more than 250 companies.

Others are pandering, purchasing pricy plasma sets and throwing parties to boost morale and get employees to come to work. McDonald's franchise owner Paul Cottrell upgraded the cable service for 10 of his 16 New Jersey franchises and installed hanging televisions in some dining and break areas. "It provides an incentive to say, 'We have it here, so don't even think about staying home,' " he says.

To prevent staff from ducking out during office hours, executives at InFocus Corp., a maker of projection equipment, decked the elevator banks and lobbies of their Wilsonville, Ore., headquarters with plasma TV sets broadcasting the games. "It means that they go in a bit earlier, can work normally and see the game as they go around the office," says chief marketing offer Scott Ballantyne.

The outlook for the U.S. team at this World Cup appears bleak, but these are signs, I think, that American interest in soccer continues to build.

**Note: Question to readers: does the system take any account of strength of schedule, or is it just where among the 32 teams you finish on points?
Answer from Nick in the comments: "no account is taken of strength of schedule."