IRENE, South Africa - American soccer players have been on magazine covers and the nightly news shows in ever increasing numbers. The World Cup is receiving unprecedented promotion in the United States.
"For the last six months all we've seen is U.S.-England," Landon Donovan said Wednesday. "And so, if you were a casual sports fan at home, you might think that this was the World Cup final, U.S. vs. England."
But it's not. Saturday's much-hyped game is just the beginning.
It's the first competitive meeting between the nations since the 1-0 American upset in the first round of the 1950 World Cup. Fans in both nations seem to be fascinated with the opposing team.
Well, that's natural given how much the U.S. and England are alike. As Winston Churchill said: "Two nations divided by a common language."
"It's an unprecedented moment, partly because of who we're playing, partly because of where the game is in the United States. Frankly, partly because of the promotion on television in Spanish and English," U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati said. "So there will be a lot of people watching this game on Saturday, and it's one of those opportunities that we don't get very often."
And top American players such as Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard have become well known in the Premier League, as familiar in the colors of Everton and Fulham as they are in the red, white and blue.
Although all the buzz may be about Saturday's game in Rustenberg, U.S. players say are giving equal emphasis to their other two first-round games, against Slovenia on June 18 and vs. Algeria on June 23. The England game is primary only because it comes first.
Four years ago, the U.S. was routed 3-0 by the Czech Republic in its opener. Even with a 1-1 draw against Italy, the Americans still had a chance to advance. Only with a 2-1 defeat to the Ghana was the United States eliminated.
Players know that a team has a good chance to reach the knockout phase with four points and almost surely will with five. Players say they won't get too high or too low after the opener.
They think back to last year's Confederations Cup, when the U.S. started with a 3-1 loss to Italy and a 3-0 defeat against Brazil. To reach the semifinals, the Americans needed to beat Egypt by at least three goals while the world champion Italians lost to Brazil by at least three. The U.S. responded with a 3-0 victory, and Brazil won by the same score.
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