WASHINGTON – The 2010 FIFA World Cup has taken Washington, D.C., by storm, with a long list of hot spots and viewing parties on offer for the capital city's eclectic population and many international communities.
That passion is pulsing just as strongly in the D.C. United locker room, where members of the team were randomly assigned participating countries to follow at the outset of the tournament and are now watching to see if their adopted squad will go home early, or progress deep into the knockout rounds.
United's practice schedule has even been adjusted to allow players and staff to watch the United States national team in action, and most of the side will be watching attentively when the U.S. play their final group stage match against Algeria on Wednesday.
But another midweek game also has special meaning for two D.C. stars. Serbia and Australia will face off later on Wednesday, and while United teammates Dejan Jakovic and Danny Allsopp have refrained from teasing or talking trash this week, they're nonetheless eager to see how their respective birthplaces fare in the pivotal Group D clash.
"We actually played today in 7-v-7 and we said, 'Let's put our differences aside,'" said Jakovic with a chuckle after United's training session on Tuesday.
Jakovic plays for the national side of Canada, his adopted home, but he was born in the former Yugoslavia, and he spent time at Serbian powerhouse Red Star Belgrade before joining United. His family retains a strong connection to the motherland.
Jakovic predicts a Serbian victory but recognizes the danger posed by a Socceroos side with their backs against the wall after a 4-0 loss to Germany and a desperate 1-1 draw with Ghana.
"Ghana and Australia tied, so that set this match up perfectly—you win, and you go through, you don't—you go home," said the 24-year-old defender. "We played very well against Germany. Hopefully we get out with three points [against Australia]. It's going to be tough, though."
Group D could go in any number of directions depending on Wednesday's results, though the Socceroos are in the toughest spot due to their negative goal differential and the absence of several suspended mainstays.
Having earned three caps for Australia, Allsopp has played alongside many of his country's World Cup stars—and while he recognizes the long odds, he believes Serbia have reason for caution, recalling the Aussies' vanquishing of another former Yugoslav republic at Germany 2006.
"It's a big game for us, and I think with the way we played against Croatia in the last World Cup they'll be a bit nervous," he said. "Obviously they've got a very good side and it's going to be another difficult match for Australia, and we've got a couple of suspensions as well.
"But there's always a fighting spirit with us, so hopefully we can get a good result."
Australia's history of receiving emigrants from the Balkan nations adds further intrigue to the meeting—by way of example, a grandfather of Allsopp's wife is Serbian—so hundreds of millions of interested fans will be watching the match across at least four continents.
Yet regardless of who escapes Group D on Wednesday, Jakovic isn't letting his ancestral allegiance interfere with his prediction of this summer's eventual world champions.
"I'm still sticking with Argentina," he explained. "That was my pick before the tournament started and I'm going to go with them. But you never know with this World Cup, there's been a lot of upsets."
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