With the start of the World Cup less than a week away, the eyes of much of the global football community are upon… the United States.
Almost half of the 32-team tournament field is using the US as a way station in order to get acclimated for the football samba celebration in Brazil and they will have played a total of 20 tune-ups on American soil.
As the delegation of defending World Cup champion Spain is billing it: the US is the “Last Stop”. On Saturday, Spain will be playing El Salvador at FedEx Field in Maryland, right 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 the Washington’s large Salvadoran community, thus making for a good game-day atmosphere.
Spain faces Chile and Australia in World Cup Group B along with the Netherlands, the opponents in their 2010 World Cup final triumph. They 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 on Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
Many enthusiastic fans gathered outside the team’s hotel to seek a glimpse or an autograph. So much for the notion that European football royalty can travel unnoticed in the US…
Spain will travel to Brazil as the no. 1 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 (vs. Bolivia) on Friday.