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What To Expect In Sunday's U.S.-Portugal World Cup Match


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Time for sports.


SIMON: By the way, B.J. Leiderman wrote our theme music. And we're talking about the World Cup in Brazil, where the huge field of nations gets smaller with each and every match. Following the action in the Arena da Amazonia is our man in Manaus, NPR's Tom Goldman. Tom, thanks so much for being with us.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: It's a pleasure. Good morning from Manaus.

SIMON: Well, I'm going to talk about this distinct, unique place. This is a large city carved out in an improbable place. And even more than Sao Paulo and Rio in that glorious country, Brazil, this is a city that holds some of the extremes of Brazil. Just talk about it, if you can.

GOLDMAN: You have contrasts, for sure, Scott. You know, you have - at the very end of things, you have the opulence of this brand-new 40,000-seat stadium built for the World Cup costing roughly $300 million. And you have extreme poverty, which we saw up-close yesterday. We were in an area where an estimated 6,000 people live in anywhere from a foot to six feet of water from flooding this time of year from the Amazon and, in this case, one of its tributaries.

And these people are basically living in a plank city. They move around in their homes, move around to other homes on about two- to three-foot-wide planks on top of slack water that's filled with garbage and disease. We saw a dog go to the bathroom in the standing water. We talked to a woman who was so poor, she couldn't afford any more boards that would've created a second floor in her home so she'd be higher above the water. And you know, people get sick from this, especially kids.

We've been seeing these protests and demonstrations in Brazil for the last year about money going to the World Cup and not to social needs for Brazilians. And this was a pretty stark illustration of some of those needs.

SIMON: And what's it like to play soccer there? Manaus is in the middle of a rain forest, after all.

GOLDMAN: Hot, humid, very taxing. You know, we were questioning - although, never question the U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann 'cause he's been great - but they only flew up from Sao Paulo, where they've been training, yesterday. And you wonder, maybe you need to be here a few days to get acclimated. I know we have been here for four or five days, Scott. I know we'd be ready to go in the game. I don't know about the U.S. team. (Laughing).

SIMON: Germany versus Ghana, today, has implications for the U.S., too, right?

GOLDMAN: It does. Yeah. And, you know, Scott, as much as we hate ties - and we do hate ties, don't we? - not the kind you wear on your neck - that's probably the best result today. That would give Germany and Ghana both a point. And in the race to secure the most points, in order to be one of the top two teams in each group to advance, Germany would have a total of four points. With a win tomorrow, the U.S. could leap to the top of the group with six points. U.S. would have four total if it ties with Portugal, and with one final group stage game against Germany this coming Thursday.

SIMON: And, of course, that big match against Portugal is tomorrow. Portugal wore year in and year out. One of the great teams in the world, but they often don't bring their best game to the cup, do they?

GOLDMAN: You know, they don't. You know, they have a history of underachieving at the World Cup, including, you know, 2002, when they lost to the United States, which they really shouldn't. They were a powerhouse team that year. This year, with that bad loss to Germany - four-nil in the first game - topped off by one of their top players, Pepe, losing his head and getting a red card, meaning he's out of the game. So they do have that history. It is a must-win game for Portugal, though, tomorrow. And the U.S. will have to do what it can to contain the man many say is the best in the world right now, Cristiano Ronaldo.

SIMON: He's certainly the cutest, according to an informal...

GOLDMAN: (Laughing).

SIMON: ...Informal poll of our staffers. You know, the U.S. team would play a lot better if they just, you know, used their hands.

GOLDMAN: You know, I've been wondering about that, Scott. Why don't these guys do that?

SIMON: This is America, darn it.

GOLDMAN: That's a topic...

SIMON: Use your hands in there.

GOLDMAN: I know. Topic for another conversation.

SIMON: NPR's Tom Goldman. Thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.