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Saturday Sports: The World Cup

Jun 23, 2018
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Even though the U.S. didn't qualify, the World Cup is underway - ole, ole, ole. And the crowd is chanting B.J. Leiderman still writes our theme music. And a group of NFL players reply to President Trump. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us. Morning, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: U.S. didn't make the World Cup this year for the first time since 1986 after being defeated by Trinidad and Tobago, a country so small every citizen in the country has to be on their national team. So are American's even watching the World Cup?

GOLDMAN: I am - but unfortunately, not many other Americans. It is being reported that Nielsen ratings show a 44-percent drop in TV viewership compared to the World Cup four years ago. Now, obviously, that's because of the U.S. absence. But also, time differences between the U.S. and Russia make it challenging to watch early in the morning or during the workday.

SIMON: Yeah. And what about - however, I mean, there's still a lot to watch - like, big names like Ronaldo, Messi, Neymar, right?

GOLDMAN: Oh, yeah. Yeah, I mean - well, let me tell you some of the other reasons to watch in case you want to know, Scott. The soccer's been good - exciting matches, decisive outcomes. Heading into today, out of 26 matches so far, only 4 ties or draws and no scoreless draws - thank God. You've got the drama of some of the favorites being in early trouble. Defending champion Germany lost its first match, has to win today to keep hope alive of moving on to the knockout stage. The runner-up in 2014, Argentina, is in big trouble. And as you mentioned, you've got the superstar watch going on, the debate over who's the best - Ronaldo, Messi, Neymar. So far, it's Ronaldo by a landslide.

SIMON: He's scored four goals - right? - in his two matches for Portugal...

GOLDMAN: Yeah.

SIMON: ...While Messi's still asleep, right?

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) All you need to know about the great and diminutive Lionel Messi - all 5 foot 7 of him - is how he looked before Thursday's match against Croatia, which turned out to be a blowout 3-0 win for Croatia. During the Argentina national anthem, Messi did not sing. Instead, he rubbed his brow and looked like what one writer described as a stressed-out student about to start an exam. He's not making anything happen offensively. His team certainly isn't helping him. And all the while, you've got the great Maradona sitting up in a stadium box watching all of this. He won the World Cup for Argentina. And here's Messi over a decade of soccer greatness...

SIMON: Yeah, with the hand-of-God goal as any British...

GOLDMAN: Well, of course, of course, but, you know, technicalities, Scott - you've got Messi's decade of soccer greatness with the great - with his great club Barcelona. He's the richest player in the world. But he hasn't been able to win one for his native country. Now, there's a sliver of hope. It starts with Argentina having to beat Nigeria on Tuesday. It's going to be a huge game for Messi and that soccer-mad nation.

SIMON: Tom...

GOLDMAN: Yes.

SIMON: You and I are both married to women from across the ocean. OK?

GOLDMAN: And lucky.

SIMON: And lucky - and nobody believes we're married to these particular women. Jane (ph), your wife, by the way, is in our control room today sobbing quietly - is from Britain. Caroline, my wife, is from France. (Speaking French). So what about a friendly wager between our families? OK, if England defeats France - or gets farther into the World Cup, we will owe you a (speaking French). Look it up. It's good, my friend.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) You know, I did. And it looks scrumptious. And I'm really hoping England wins now. OK, so I cannot match you in elegance, Scott. I mean, I don't own any pocket squares. I barely own pockets.

SIMON: (Laughter).

GOLDMAN: But I believe I can match you...

SIMON: I'll make the jokes here. Go ahead.

GOLDMAN: Sorry about that.

SIMON: Yeah. Yeah.

GOLDMAN: I can match you in outright deliciousness. I'm going to go with a pack of Cadbury chocolate rolls, Britain's version of the Ho Ho. And I'm going to offer up the family pack. So should France win - if they play each other...

SIMON: Ho Hos - Ho Hos - that's what I have to look forward to? British...

GOLDMAN: Ho Hos for the Simons - absolutely.

SIMON: British Ho Hos - oh, my word. Can we - we have 40 seconds left, right? Can I - OK. President Trump said instead of protesting, players ought to send him a list of names - people to pardon. Four NFL players replied very thoughtfully, didn't they?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. They wrote an op-ed in The New York Times, a respectful one, asking the president to do more than pardons. They wrote, he needs to help make bigger changes in the criminal justice system. It's hopefully a dialogue rather than the back-and-forth that's been going on with athletes and the president.

SIMON: NPR's Tom Goldman, thanks so much - talk to you soon.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUTS' "GHETTO IN PARADISE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.