North American fans predict US triumph at the WCup

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — While many soccer fans expect Brazil to win the World Cup for a record sixth time, almost half of the North Americans surveyed predict an unexpected triumph for the United States.

Bookmakers rate Brazil and Spain as the favorites to win the title at Soccer City on July 11, with a worldwide survey released Tuesday showing that 34 percent of people are backing the South Americans.

But Nielsen Media Research said 46 percent of North Americans believe that the United States is going to shock the soccer world and take home the trophy.

The Americans are in form and beat European champion Spain last year but, other than the first tournament in 1930, have made it past the first round only once in a World Cup outside the United States.

That helps explain why, when everyone else's votes are included, the U.S. slips back to share second place with former champions Argentina, England and Germany — taking just 9 percent of the global vote.

It could be that the online survey, which quizzed 27,000 people, backs up the accusations of parochialism often thrown at Americans by soccer fans.

"It is the fastest growing sport in the U.S. and Beckham isn't there now but he made an impact while he was there," said Toni Petra, the regional director for Nielsen Audience Measurement. "They know something about the game and have bought into it and the kids play it, but how much do they know? How much do they know about other countries compared to the average European?"

A separate study by Nielsen, which also provides TV viewing figures in the United States, suggested that while 34 percent of Americans consider themselves soccer fans, only 18 percent said they would follow the World Cup.

That's even after the men's national team surprised all observers by beating Spain to reach last year's Confederations Cup final in South Africa.

Such apparent disinterest contradicts the trend elsewhere, with figures showing that the World Cup attracts plenty of non-fans.

Worldwide, 34 percent of people say they are soccer fans but 51 percent will still follow the World Cup. The trend is even more pronounced in China, where the numbers are 19 percent and 60 percent, respectively.

"You've got this great sport but there's no way that North American or Asian fans are following the European Cup," Petra said. "It's just about being aware that Spain did win the European Championship."

Nielsen selected its respondents randomly for a base demographically representative of the population in each of the countries covered.

"It doesn't surprise me, these wild predictions," Petra said. "You wouldn't see the same responses in a survey of soccer fans. They'd be a lot more knowledgeable."