Fox drew 15.38 million viewers for Friday’s United States-England World Cup match, the second-largest TV audience for a U.S. men’s World Cup game. Only the Americans’ round-of-16 extra-time loss to Belgium in 2014 had more viewers, with 16.94 million watching on ESPN.
The largest English-language television audience for soccer in the United States was the 25.4 million who tuned in to the 2015 Women’s World Cup final on Fox.
Such a big audience in the second game of the group stage in Qatar bodes well for Fox and U.S. Soccer, both of which need to make use of the World Cup spotlight. Capturing casual fans during the tournament is crucial to growing soccer, especially with the tournament coming to the United States in four years.
“I talked before the World Cup about how seriously the team, the staff has taken this responsibility to gain momentum in the sport in America,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said. “We want to capture the public's attention. We want to perform at a high level. We want to give them something to be proud of. And nights like tonight help.”
Added midfielder Yunus Musah: “I know the audience back home supports us so much. And as you can see, in the U.S. football is growing a lot. It’s nice to inspire future generations.”
Matt Turner, who Friday became just the fifth U.S. goalkeeper to post a shutout in the World Cup, said he was drawn to the game by watching the tournament as a kid.
“This is the tournament that made me fall in love with football, with soccer,” said Turner, who didn’t take up the sport until he was 14 and became a goalkeeper only because the starter at that position was injured. “That particular thing about it bringing people together is why I really loved it. It was so much different than any other sport that I had been around.”
Yet despite Friday’s big TV numbers, Turner doesn’t believe people in the United States really will start paying attention to the team until the Americans reach the knockout stages, which won’t happen unless they beat Iran on Tuesday.
“I don't think it matters what we do until we get out of the group,” he said.
Japan’s players and fans making a clean sweep
Japanese fans got a lot of love on social media when photos began circulating of them cleaning Khalifa International Stadium after their team’s 2-1 win over Germany. And the attention surprised the Japanese.
“For Japanese people, this is just the normal thing to do,” said coach Hajime Moriyasu, whose team not only left its dressing room spotless but also left a thank you note behind. “You have to leave a place cleaner than it was before. That’s the education we have been taught. That’s the basic culture we have.”
Alberto Zaccheroni, an Italian who coached Japan from 2010 to 2014, said he has seen that in action.
“Everywhere in the world, players take their kit off and leave it on the floor in the changing room. Then the cleaning staff come and collect it,” he said. “Not the Japanese players. They put all the shorts on top of the other, all the pairs of socks and all the jerseys.”
A spokesman for the Japanese federation said it is supplying 8,000 trash bags to assist fans with their cleaning. On the outside of the bags, in Arabic, Japanese and English, are thank you messages.
Banner in Serbian locker room draws complaints
Politics continued to be a focus in Qatar, this time with the Serbian team under scrutiny after hanging a banner challenging the independence of neighboring Kosovo in the team’s locker room before Thursday’s 2-0 loss to Brazil.
The banner showed a map of Serbia that included the territory of Kosovo and the slogan, “We Do Not Surrender.” Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008.
Photos showed the banner draped over the lockers of Milos Veljkovic and Andrija Zivkovic. The soccer federation of Kosovo, which did not qualify for the World Cup, complained to FIFA about the banner.
There is a section of the FIFA disciplinary code that prohibits “offensive gestures, signs of language” and “using sports events for demonstration of a non-sporting nature.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.