World Cup 2006 Features
American spies active in Europe for World Cup
By Tony Czuczka and Klaus Marre Jun 1, 2006, 12:52 GMT
Washington - When the World Cup is at stake, spies can make a difference.
Not the cloak-and-dagger kind, but players who can gauge other countries' stars from league games, know what it's like to play in a soccer-obsessed country, even speak the host nation's language.
Among the teams looking to its Germany-based scouts is the United States, which has three 'Germans.' About half of the squad plays with US clubs, thousands of kilometres from the big names and richest leagues, so those with foreign exposure are doubly important.
'It's crazy,' US defender Steve Cherundolo said of the all- consuming World Cup buildup in Germany, where he plays for Hanover 96. 'Every little piece of the World Cup is being scrutinized.'
US veterans like goalkeeper Kasey Keller, who has spent 15 years in Europe, and defender Gregg Berhalter, just promoted to the Bundesliga with Energie Cottbus, say team-mates and coaches are seeking their advice.
'You can feel that buzz coming,' Borussia Moenchengladbach's Keller said in a recent telephone interview. 'We're trying to make things a bit more comfortable.'
The foreign-based players don't always get their way. Keller told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa he tried in vain to persuade US coaches to set up the team's World Cup base near the western German castle he calls home.
With a chuckle, he admits having entirely personal reasons. But team officials chose the northern city of Hamburg instead.
Playing in Germany also means valuable exposure to the media, who pick apart every move with an expertise often unknown in the US, and familiarity with the stadiums - and the electric atmosphere inside.
'I think the crowds, the in-the-stadium atmosphere is the best of any place,' Keller said. 'The Germans - when they go to a game, it's a big, big event.'
But Keller said he believes German fans will leave their political passions outside the stadium when they come to watch the US, which faces Czech Republic, Italy and Ghana in group play.
'I'm not treated strange in Germany because they opposed the war in Iraq,' Keller said.
Being on location helps players know 'what to expect from the crowd,' Berhalter says. Several others in the US squad have a feel for German home turf, including playmaker and former Wolfsburg midfielder Claudio Reyna.
Cherundolo is well-placed, too. As recently as May 2, he faced Czechs Jan Koller and Tomas Rosicky as well as Ghana striker Matthew Amoah, all in one Bundesliga game with Borussia Dortmund. And Czech midfielder Jiri Stajner is a Hanover teammate.
Cherundolo has a fix on the Czechs: Their team spirit is solid.
'From talking to some of the players in their team, they all get along really well,' he said during the US pre-World Cup training camp in peaceful North Carolina.
But, he points out, preparing for a World Cup only goes so far.
'You can tell somebody 100 times what it's going to be like, what you shouldn't do and should do, but everybody is going to have to experience it for themselves,' Cherundolo said.© 2006 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur