With the start of the World Cup less than a week away (June 12), the eyes of much of the global football community are upon… the United States.
Almost half of the 32 teams taking part are using the US as a warm-up base, in order to get acclimatised for Brazil.
They will play a total of 20 friendly matches on American soil.
Defending World Cup champions Spain is billing it: the US is the “last stop”. On Saturday (June 7), Spain will be play El Salvador at FedEx Field in Maryland, just outside the US capital. The event is almost sold out, 50,000 spectators are expected.
El Salvador, who didn’t qualify for the World Cup, isn’t expected to offer the reigning champions a searching test, but they will be a big draw for Washington’s large Salvadoran community, thus making for a good game-day atmosphere.
Spain faces Chile and Australia in Group B along with the Netherlands, who they beat to win the 2010 World Cup. Spain will open their campaign against the Dutch on June 13.
“La Roja” arrived in Washington DC on Monday night, after arcing streams of water from fire trucks welcomed the Iberia flight to Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
Many enthusiastic fans gathered outside the team’s hotel to seek a glimpse of them or a grab an autograph. So much for the notion that European football royalty can travel unnoticed in the US.
Spain will travel to Brazil as the number one team in the FIFA rankings, according to the International Federation of Football Associations’ monthly standings, published on Thursday.
For the players, the stakes are as high as they could be.
“We are the current champions and we’ll probably have more eyes on us in Brazil,” veteran midfielder Xabi Alonso said. “It is a massive challenge, but we have to be up to the challenge.”
Some of Spain’s biggest European challengers for the title have chosen the US as launching pad for World Cup ambitions, as well.
England is based in Miami, Florida and will be playing Honduras on Saturday. Portugal uses the New York Jets’ practice facilities in New Jersey and will be playing Ireland at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, just outside of Manhattan on Tuesday. Also playing in New Jersey is Greece (versus Bolivia) on Friday.