COLUMBUS, Ohio – It is possible to have two favorite countries to root for in the World Cup, several international players on the Crew said.
Naturally, Duncan Oughton will be following New Zealand’s “All Whites,” even though he is still bitterly disappointed at not making its World Cup roster.
“I hope they do well,” he said. “We’ve got enough good players now that we could shock a team or two. Obviously, the goal is to get out of the group. I have faith in the boys. There’s some good players there.”
When asked who he favors in Saturday’s U.S.-England match, he said he has to support the Americans, especially because Crew teammates Frankie Hejduk, Chad Marshall and Robbie Rogers have donned the stars and stripes uniform, although though none of them made it South Africa.
“I’ll go with the U.S.,” Oughton said. “We’ve got guys on the [U.S.] team here. I want to support them. Growing up I would have said England, but now that I’ve been here a while, I’ve got to support my boys.”
The same sentiment was expressed by French midfielder Leandre Griffit. He arrived in the U.S. in February for a tryout with the Houston Dynamo. After being released, he came to Columbus and was signed on May 13.
While he considers Spain a favorite, “I’m going to be behind France and the U.S. because I am here. The World Cup has one or two surprise teams. Why not America? They won against Spain in the Confederations Cup [in 2009].”
Forward Guillermo Barros Schelotto (Argentina) and midfielder Emmanuel Ekpo (Nigeria) will also be following their countries and hope the U.S. succeeds, but no foreigner on the Crew has more of a rooting interest than defender Andy Iro.
The Liverpool native walked a delicate line when recently asked by MLSSoccer.com to predict a score of Saturday’s match. His official answer was “England, 3-1” but he initially gave a bigger margin before asking that it be retracted and not mentioned.
Nonetheless, he is firmly in the Three Lions’ corner.
“It could get ugly,” he said.
“I would obviously like it to be a closer game now that I’ve been in the U.S. a little while,” Iro added. “I do want them to do well. It would be good if they do well.”
Even with a loss to England, Iro feels the Yanks can get by Slovenia and Algeria to advance beyond the group stage but that it won’t be easy.
“I think they’ll get out,” he said. “Those Eastern Bloc teams are so organized. They’ve always got one player who lights it up. The African teams, I would expect them to be organized, too. It’s on their continent, they know the climate.”
As for his home country, well, it better go deep in the tournament.
“There’s more pressure on England than anyone. They haven’t won the World Cup since ’66,” Iro said. “I remember being back in England in 2002 when Beckham hurt his metatarsal just before the World Cup. Every day for a couple of weeks leading up the World Cup they’d post David Beckham’s foot on the front page in the biggest newspapers in England.”
He praises coach Fabio Capello but said it’s now or never for the core of England’s team.
“[Frank] Lampard’s getting old. [Steve] Gerrard is getting on. A lot of these guys four years from now are going to be done,” he said. “I know there’s a new breed but these guys have been together, for the most part, eight to 10 years.”
While Iro has not known a World Cup title for England in his lifetime Griffit experienced the host Frenchmen beating Brazil 3-0 in the 1998 final.
“It was one of the best games I have seen in my life,” he said. “The World Cup is so big in France. When France plays you don’t hear anything in the streets. Some people don’t work. They take one month off to watch the World Cup. It’s true.”