US celebrates with wave of apathy

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The Independent Football

Could this finally be the start of something big? The tiny and, thus far, utterly ignored minority of Americans who follow the national football (sorry 'soccer') team is just daring to think so, after the USA's massive upset defeat of Portugal.

Could this finally be the start of something big? The tiny and, thus far, utterly ignored minority of Americans who follow the national football (sorry 'soccer') team is just daring to think so, after the USA's massive upset defeat of Portugal.

To find this minority, however, was not easy. It may have been the USA's biggest day in the World Cup since the 1-0 win over England in 1950, when Clement Atlee was Prime Minister, but to find the enthusiasm that grips the rest of the globe you had to go to one of the few dozen big city sports bars that showed the game, at the admittedly ungodly local hour of 5am on the East Coast (2am on the West Coast).

"This is a huge upset, to start the World Cup that way, I'm so excited," said one devoted supporter, Daniel, as he left Nevada Smith's bar in New York.

But the excitement, even after the well-deserved 3-2 win over one of the most fancied dark horses in Korea and Japan, was hard to detect elsehere. "I'm not a fan but I like watching kids do it," said the weatherman on CNN, as the cable network tried to whip up a bit of enthusiasm after the win. In doing so he put his finger spot on the problem.

In the USA, football is still mainly associated with little children and the ladies (they boast the womens' world champions). Hardly a soul has heard of the likes of Brad Friedel or Brian McBride, the scorer of what proved the decisive goal. The maximum salary in struggling Major League Soccer is just $270,000, or £185,000, barely 10 days' wages for David Beckham. Real American men still reserve their passions for the steroid-fuelled, organised thuggery known as the National Football League.

USA-Portugal did not not feature on the major networks. If you wanted to watch, you had to go to a bar, or switch on either the back-up cable sports channel ESPN2 or Univision -- the Spanish language channel where the commmentator screams "G-O-O-O-L, G-O-O-O-L, G-O-O-O-L" every time someone scores (Germany's 8-0 rout of Saudi Arabia was one of the more deafening TV experiences of recent years).

And unless the USA goes all (or at least most of) the way, the World Cup will remain a sideshow to the really important things in sport. Tonight, it's game two of the Stanley Cup ice hockey finals between the Detroit Red Wings and the Carolina Hurricanes; last night the all-conquering LA Lakers, under master coach Phil Jackson, began their bid for a hat-trick of NBA championships.

Both events are guaranteed prime time TV coverage and newspaper space of which their World Cup team has, thus far, only dreamed. Just maybe, though, what happened yesterday in a faraway place will change all that.

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