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World Cup Round Of 16 Dominated By South American Teams


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

The knockout round of the World Cup - maybe want to make that the South American Cup, since so many of the teams left standing are from the home hemisphere.

Team USA is there, too, even after it lost to Germany on Thursday. We're joined now by Howard Bryant of espn.com and ESPN The Magazine. Howard, thanks for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott.


SIMON: (Laughing) Careful, I might bite.


SIMON: I think everyone wants to know about Luis Suarez. And he's been suspended for four games. He plays for Uruguay. He was - no, banned for four months. I'm sorry. And he...

BRYANT: I was going to say.

SIMON: ...Might need an orthodontist before he plays his next game. Is that severe enough?

BRYANT: Well, I don't think it's severe enough. And I think that American audiences - although we did see we did see - excuse me - we did see Mike Tyson tear off Evander Holyfield's ear. But I think that...

SIMON: Just a little piece of it, but go ahead.

BRYANT: Just a tiny piece of it, and he got it reattached anyway, right.

SIMON: Right.

BRYANT: The problem is that somebody likes Suarez, this is the third time he's done this. And for an American audience watching the World Cup, you're thinking, OK, you would be banned for the rest of your career. You might get banned for life for this.

I love the fact that Suarez, afterwards, said hey, it's soccer. What's the big deal? Grow up. Man up, man up. So it's obvious that he didn't take this very seriously and doesn't quite understand what this all about.

So he's gone for the tournament. I think that hurts Uruguay. But it is phenomenal to me that he has gotten away with this as many times as he has and FIFA has pretty much gotten - you know, let him get away with it. It's also phenomenal, too, to make FIFA look like a sympathetic character in all of this.

SIMON: Yeah, that's quite an achievement, isn't it?

BRYANT: Definitely.

SIMON: So many of the teams in this group of 16 - Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica - they're doing very well at home, aren't they?

BRYANT: Yeah, well it's a close to home thing. I remember when I covered the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, the Americans were so happy to finally have an Olympics that's somewhere in, you know, in the hemisphere, because the travel and everything else, you don't play very well.

But here, you're in Brazil. You've got Chile. You've got Mexico. You've got Uruguay. You know, you've got so many teams that are in the area. And I think that it shows.

I mean, last year - the last World Cup, in 2010, you had 10 teams. Actually, in South Africa you had six teams in the round of 16. When it was in Germany, you had 10. Here you've got six from Europe, as well.

So I feel like, you know, when you're close to home, you're going to play better. And also, in that environment, when it's so extreme with all 80,000 people screaming for you, obviously, having them scream your name helps you play a little bit better than when they're screaming for somebody else.

SIMON: Team USA in the round of 16 - second World Cup in a row. Does that mean U.S. soccer has finally arrived?

BRYANT: Well, I think it's significant. I think that, with a lot of people - and I'm one of them. I'm one of those people. I am a soccer - I'm a World Cup fan way more than I'm a soccer fan. I don't watch soccer every single match year around, from the Champion's League to the Premier League to MLS. I don't watch a lot of it. I'll watch the European Championships and I'll watch the World Cup, for the most part.

And I think that for American soccer, it really does matter, because this is the national stage. This is the world stage.

This is where - I remember my first real, real eye-opening soccer moment was when I was living in San Francisco and the World Cup was there in '94. And it was all over the country. And that was when things really, really took off.

And the women have obviously already had their moments. They're the soccer power in this country. For the men to pick it up, to go to back-to-back rounds of 16 is big.

And maybe, once again, the argument that no, American soccer's not great because our best athletes are playing basketball or playing football. These types of events make 8-, 9-, 10-year-olds want to stick with the sport. So it's not insignificant.

SIMON: But they're not. And it's good - I mean, it's good to see a great American athlete, Tim Howard, who until now was, you know, playing for Everton in Britain, would have been more like David Hasselhoff, more famous in Europe than at home. He's a great American athlete, and Americans know it now - goalie of the U.S. team.

BRYANT: Getting what he deserves, fun to watch. And I'm going to - I'm happy to see what they do against Belgium.

SIMON: Howard Bryant, thanks so much.

BRYANT: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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