Folks back home less than overwhelmed by historic achievement

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Not for the first time, the report on CNN failed to provide the full story.

Not for the first time, the report on CNN failed to provide the full story.

With the national side reaching the last eight in the World Cup finals for the first time since 1930 the cable channel realised the event was clearly newsworthy – but it was not quite sure how newsworthy.

So it compromised. Placing the news well down the schedule – beneath the 30th anniversary of the Watergate break-in and Tiger Woods' victory in the US Open – the anchor awkwardly read some prepared piece that referred to a "missed penalty call" before cutting to some footage of a small number of delirious and apparently inebriated US fans watching the 2-0 victory over Mexico and spluttering nonsense. "This is great for the USA especially after 9/11," said one, unable to resist a reference to the attacks of 11 September.

But while the delirium of a small but devoted band of fans is genuine, the national side's best showing in 72 years is having little impact on the wider sports-viewing public addicted to basketball, baseball and American football. Soccer is still a game for "the ladies".

President Bush showed an unusually accurate grasp of the situation when he telephoned the team's manager, Bruce Arena, before yesterday's victory and told him: "The country is proud of the team. People that don't know anything about soccer, like me, are excited and pulling for you."

He revealed he had spoken to the Mexican leader, President Vicente Fox, and each had wished the other the best of luck. "I just hung up the phone a little earlier with the president of Mexico," Bush told Arena. "I didn't declare victory yet, but I feel confident."

The President's comments about the national pride of people who could not explain the offside rule if they watched a million World Cups underline the unsatisfactory nature of supporting football in the US: the fans cheer loudly, they will stay late to watch the game but you know that, to the vast majority of the red-white-and-blue flag-waving crowds, it does not really matter.

Contrast the situation in Mexico. Having suffered three US invasions and lost half its territory to its wealthy northern neighbour, it was ready for payback. "This is war!" announced a headline in the Mexico City newspaper Reforma, calling the countries "neighbours and bitter rivals". Perhaps the Americans realise that it's all only a game.