The United States soccer team did very well in the World Cup Championship in South Korea and Japan last month. This surprised many Americans. I'm Sarah Long. And I'm Steve Ember. Soccer in the United States is our report today on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.
Nobody was more surprised than the American public at the success of its soccer team in the World Cup championship. Often success takes a great deal of time to develop in international soccer—or football as it is known to all non-Americans. Also, there are many ways to measure success in a competition that is also the world's most watched event.
Many Americans do not realize that, early in the competition, many of the best teams in the world do not win all their games. In reality, most teams hope to score the same number of goals as their opponent, which is called playing to a tie.
The two-thousand-two World Cup started with few people expecting the United States to do well. However, these low expectations already represent a success. The World Cup competition is actually the World Cup final. Teams that make the final have played in area competitions for three years to earn the right to play in the final.
This year, the United States finished third in the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Football Association competition. Their performance was just good enough to include them among teams in the World Cup final.
The head of the American team, Bruce Arena (ah-REE-nah) chose a mixture of older and younger players to be on the final team. The coach also included several members who play professionally in Europe. He mixed experienced players with younger players.
In their first game, the Americans surprised one of Europe's leading teams, Portugal, three-to-two. American John O'Brien made the first goal in only the fourth minute of the game.
Another young player, Landon Donovan, scored in the thirtieth minute.
Brian McBride made the final American goal in only the thirty-sixth minute of the first half.
The Portuguese team was shocked. They made a great offensive effort. Yet, Portugal made only one goal offensively. An American player accidentally scored the second Portuguese goal.
In the next game, South Korea was the opponent for the United States. Both sides made goals in the first half. The rest of the game, including extra time, was a defensive effort. The one-to-one tie left both teams with a good chance to continue in the competition.
Yet, in their next game, the Americans appeared to lose all chance of going on to the next level of the competition. The first part of the World Cup final matches teams playing in eight groups of four teams. The top two teams from each group continue in the competition. Each team that loses is out. Each team that wins moves on to play one of the winners. This is the second level or the "knock-out stage" of the competition.
Poland was America's last opponent in group D. Poland had lost both its games and could not move on. Yet, the United States played very poorly and lost three-to-one. It appeared that it would not reach the "knock-out stage" of the competition.
Then came another shocking result. Portugal lost to South Korea one-to-zero. Most experts had chosen Portugal to win group D. Portugal had one of the world's best players in Luis Figo (lou-EES FEE-go). Yet, Portugal's two losses meant that America would continue to the "knock-out stage."
Soccer is often called a game of luck. The Americans enjoyed some good luck by continuing to the next level of the competition. However, they made the best of what luck gave them.
The American team's next opponent was Mexico. The two North American nations had played each other several times. Mexico had also surprised the world by taking first place in group G, which included powerful Italy.
Mexico pressured the United States in the first minutes of the game. However, luck changed quickly and American team captain Claudio Reyna (CLOU-dee-oh RAY-nah) made a long run toward the Mexican goal. He passed the ball to Brian McBride who made a goal in only the eighth minute.
Mexico kept the ball for most of the game, pushing the ball forward offensively and trying to get the tying goal. But, a second American goal came just as suddenly as the first. Landon Donovan made the final goal of the game in the sixty-fifth minute.
The Americans held the ball only one-third of the time, but won the game two-to-zero. They had defeated a strong team from Mexico.
The victory over Mexico put the United States among the last eight teams remaining in the competition. This would be the team's best finish in the World Cup since nineteen-thirty. In that year, the United States was among the final four teams, losing only to Argentina.
However, the next opponent was Germany. The German team has a fine tradition in international soccer and has won the World Cup three times.
The United States played its best game of the World Cup against Germany. The team pressed the German defenders and tried to score quickly. Landon Donovan and team captain Claudio Reyna had good chances to make a goal in the first thirty minutes.
However, German player Michael Ballack (BAL-ahk) scored the only goal of the game in the thirty-ninth minute. The United States came very close to tying the score. But, German goal-keeper Oliver Kahn was too strong. Kahn would win the award for best goal-keeper of this year's World Cup. Experts agreed that the game between Germany and the United States was one of the best of the World Cup.
The two-thousand-two World Cup was a huge success for the United States. Yet, the last two World Cups have been successes as well. The United States has made the final field of teams for every World Cup since Nineteen-Ninety. Traditional soccer powers France and England have not done that. Only one team, Brazil, has played in all the World Cup Final competitions.
For Americans, this World Cup will be remembered as a great success. And for the first time, sports experts in America may finally understand the key to success in World Cup competition. It is being able to succeed beyond everyone's expectations.
Many sports experts say that the American public has never shown much interest in soccer. However, experts say this is only true of older Americans. They never played soccer when they were children. They did not grow up with the sport as people in other countries have. Sports like American football, baseball and basketball have always been more popular in the United States than soccer.
The International Federation of Football Association, or FIFA (FEE-fuh), keeps records of soccer activities around the world. FIFA says the United States has more official soccer players than any other nation in the world — almost eighteen-million.
The United States Soccer Federation also says about eighteen-million people today play soccer in the United States. But those who play are very young. Seventy-eight percent are under the age of eighteen.
Sports experts say these children are making the sport more popular in the United States. The experts say soccer has become popular with children because almost anyone can play. There are teams for girls, boys, older children and young adults. Many Americans are becoming interested in soccer because their children play. This has produced a new American expression, "soccer mom." This is a mother who spends a lot of time driving her children to soccer games and watching them compete.
The United States Soccer Federation says it is helping children improve their playing skills. It provides special training for young players at soccer camps during the summer.
Federation officials say the United States may one day have a World Cup champion team, but it will be sometime in the future. Soccer fans in the United States will have to wait until young soccer players grow up playing the world's most popular sport.
This program was written by Mario Ritter. It was produced by George Grow. I'm Sarah Long.
VOICE TWO And I'm Steve Ember. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.