In less than four weeks, fans throughout the world will be rooting for their favorite teams to advance in the World Cup. Many fans forget about one other big rooting party: The television networks. The quality of a match can make or break a network's profitability for the World Cup. Without further ado, here are eight matches (not in the play-in round) television networks around the world would love to see .
A Spain-Portugal match-up in the second round has everything a network would love to see. First of all, the match has plenty of star power. Fans throughout the world know Christiano Ronaldo, Fernando Torres, and Xavi among other players. Both teams are ranked in the top five in the world, and if this match-up occurs (it should if Portugal beats out the Ivory Coast and Brazil, and Spain are the leaders of their groups), a potential finalist will be eliminated early. A friendly rivalry between Spain and Portugal doesn't hurt either.
With the loss of Michael Ballack, Germany has the chance to be upset by the United States in the second round. This match could be the defining moment for American Soccer. The United States has an easy draw in the first round, and should escape the play-in round. A win can solidify the improvement of American soccer, but a loss can leave the United States Soccer Federation very frustrated. Both the United States and Germany have loyal soccer fans and should get good ratings in both Europe and North America.
After Italy won the World Cup in 2006, the world is curious to see if the defending champions are poised for a repeat. Lead by one of the top goalies in the world, Gianluigi "Gigi" Buffon, the Italians are ranked fourth in the world and have the talent to repeat. They should be worried about the formidable Netherlands though. The team is third in the world and features Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie, two upcoming superstars. Expect this to be a really close match: something the networks love.
If the cards fall correctly, fans can see two of the best players in the world, Wayne Rooney and Lionel Messi, battle it out with their respective teams for a spot in the semifinals. Both England and Argentina have strong championship hopes and perhaps even stronger teams. Besides Rooney, England has Lampard, Cole, and Gerrad. Some say this is England's strongest squad in years. Argentina is lead by Messi,who was ranked the number one player in the world by ESPN Soccernet.
This game is a win-win for the television networks. If Brazil wins, the networks still get to show games for one of the most popular teams. Brazil has some of the most supportive fans and an extremely large fan base. If Brazil loses to Cameroon, the networks would be able to advertise Cameroon as the feel-good story of the World Cup. A Cameroon upset would be difficult, but not impossible. The team is lead by Samuel Eto'o, one of the best African players in the game, and has a surprisingly good supporting cast. Brazil will always be dangerous with players including Kaka, Fabiano, and Lucio.
I know I have already used England in a quarterfinal match already, but the team's seeding is too compelling to ignore again. If England is the first seed in Group C, it can play France in a quarterfinal match. In 2006, France lost in the World Cup finals to Italy and this World Cup will most likely be Thierry Henry's last. The team came so close last time and desperately wants to win their first in twelve years. England hasn't won a cup since 1966, and if it beats France, it may have its best chance in years. Theirry Henry and Wayne Rooney are known throughout the world, even by non-soccer fans, and the world will tune in to possibly watch Henry's last World Cup match.
Imagine Lionell Messi, the top player in the World, playing against Spain, the country where he plays soccer in. Imagine 13 of ESPN Soccernet's top 50 players playing on the same field. The possibilities are endless for a Spain Argentina semi-final match, and could generate huge ratings for the Networks. As the tournament gets closer and closer to the finals, the intensity will begin to heat up. This game may be decided by which team makes more mistakes, not which team is necessarily better. It should be extremely intriguing.
The FIFA World Cup trophy is perhaps the most prized possession in the world. No matter who plays in the world cup finals, the networks will generate huge ratings. In 2006, over 700 million people tuned in worldwide to watch Italy beat (and head-butted) France. That is seven times the number of people who watch the Super Bowl, probably the second or third most watched sporting event worldwide. Depending on the match-up, ratings can be close to one billion people, something unheard of in television.