ESPN 2010 FIFA World Cup Conference Call Replay with Executive Producer Jed Drake and Studio Analysts Steve McManaman and Alexi Lalas

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ESPN 2010 FIFA World Cup Conference Call Replay with Executive Producer Jed Drake and Studio Analysts Steve McManaman and Alexi Lalas

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On Thursday, June 24, ESPN conducted a media conference call with executive producer Jed Drake and studio analysts Steve McManaman and Alexi Lalas to discuss its coverage of the tournament (June 11 – July 11), U.S. Team’s advancement to Saturday’s round of 16 match against Ghana (ABC at 2 p.m. ET) and other 2010 FIFA World Cup storylines from South Africa.  Select comments:

On what ESPN would do differently if given full production control (vs. world feed)…

Drake: “I’m not sure that I would do anything differently. I think the world feed coverage that HBS has provided us here has been arguably the best world feed that I’ve ever seen.  This is the same group that did 2006 and they brought in people who really understand the sport, that being their camera people and directors…Their primary responsibility is to document the event and that means that the special shots and storylines that are more towards individual styles has to be wiped off the slate.  These guys do have to document the event and I really do believe they’ve done an exceptional job.”

On the U.S. performance in the World Cup and how the drama on the field has captured the American audience…

Drake: “As Ian Darke (play-by-play announcer) said at the conclusion of yesterday’s (U.S.) game, you wouldn’t dare write this script.  It’s remarkable the level of drama in each match. The calls that have been made by officials have obviously heightened that…It’s the ultimate trail ride these guys are giving us. There hasn’t been an easy match, obviously.  Yesterday I said, wouldn’t it be nice if we got out to a three goal lead in the first half and coast into this thing, but in hindsight, if you can stomach the drama it is the ultimate thrill ride.”

On the importance of US team winning their group…

McManaman: “It’s a huge deal that they won their group. As much as the World Cup is a very difficult tournament, they’ve avoided Germany and they’ve got an inexperienced team with Ghana. If they go on to beat Ghana, they are going to play either Uruguay or South Korea, avoiding Argentina…It’s vitally important that they top the group…In the world, I think American team is highly respected.  They’re fit, they’re strong, and they’re well-organized. Even though they’ve let in some early goals, the fact that they’ve fought back shows that they (U.S.) are a team to be reckoned with.”

On the U.S. vs. Ghana match Saturday (ABC at 2 p.m. ET)…

McManaman: “It is a very young Ghanaian team. Physically very strong and quick, but slightly inexperienced…I certainly think there are reasons and ways to exploit their defense and no doubt Bob Bradley and the team is sitting down analyzing last night’s (Ghana) game saying, look, this is what they do, this is where they come out.  Equally defensively, the U.S. have to be organized.  The Ghanaians will make chances and they will make more chances and they will make more chances than the Algerians did yesterday.”

Lalas: “I think if the U.S. gets into a physical battle with Ghana they will come out on the losing end.  This is a game where the compactness and the tactical part of the U.S. and that experience that they have in terms of the individuals and the team is going to win the day.  As far as defense is concerned, when you change your back four, it takes time to understand how to work together…it will be interesting to see what Bob does defensively to cope with that.  When you talk about tactics it all starts with your back four …This is a wonderful opportunity for the U.S. to combine all those things I talked about and ultimately to win the game in terms of their tactical proficiency.”

On how luck and team resolve factor into winning a match…

McManaman: “I think it’s a bit of both.  Certainly last night’s (U.S.) game, you could see the effort they were putting in and you knew they would play to the final whistle.  They’ve got a very good record of scoring goals late in the game, so you always knew they would try and try. Likewise, I think the way they got a little bit of luck at the end of the game because Algeria needed to win the game as well, they needed to score.  If you see the goal, the Landon Donovan goal, the Algerian team attacked in numbers.  You can see they took a chance, they gambled.  They put too many people forward, trying to score the winning goal; therefore they were outnumbered in the back, 4-2.  A lot of credit goes to Tim Howard’s quick thinking.  His save from the goal…As much as the Americans have certainly earned their right to go through and qualify and be top of the group, I certainly think with every team, if you’re going to win this competition, if you’re going to go far in this competition, you certainly need a tiny bit of luck.”

Lalas: “Every team needs a little bit of luck whether you’re Brazil or the United States…Mentally, this (U.S.) team believes they can beat anybody and win under any circumstances.  A uniquely American type of trait in all of our sports and I think that’s been there many, many years, they’ve just been able to couple that now with experienced individuals…Physical fitness of US players – it’s all fine and well to talk about what you want to do but to have the tools to do it.  Ultimately the tools are your mind and your body…This is a very physically fit team. To have four guys bomb up the field for 70 yards and finish that off is a testament to Bob Bradley and his staff…This is a game that requires physical stamina.  Their ability to come back, some of it is in part, because they have the physical capabilities and capacity to get better and get stronger as other teams fade as the game goes on.  I don’t think it’s a surprise to the team themselves or the coaching staff.”

On the most compelling storylines from the World Cup…

McManaman: “The fact that France is knocked out and Italy quickly followed.  Four years ago these were the finalists.  These were the best teams in the world. Yet four years later, they are effectively one of the poorest nations certainly futbol wise.  Likewise, when you look at the teams like New Zealand – minnows in this competition – Australia – have all done themselves proud…The futbol nations are all getting a little bit closer and that’s fantastic to see.  We’ve got wonderful players out there who are always going to be the best, but put them against a well organized, well-constructed team and they can get results.  That’s a credit to the smaller nations.

Lalas: “Dominance of South America – in terms of what they’ve done here and how it relates often to the incredibly arduous qualification process they have…At a time when we’re questioning what it means to players and big players to play for their national team, South American teams have shown that not only have stars but represent country and play well…Literally the only European power that’s cruised is the Netherlands.  All of the big boys have had trouble through the group phase including Spain, and we just saw what happened to Italy.  Before the World Cup began we pointed out the possibility with European teams coming down with climate and doing really well, so that’s been a story, and to a certain extent, a surprise.”

On the selection of play-by-play announcers and analyst for each game…

Drake:  Martin (Tyler) is calling the final.  We look at the matches that now become actual matches on the schedule as opposed to hypotheticals.  As it relates to this weekend, when Germany qualified to the knockout round last night and ultimately then would play England, Martin and I had a chat about it and he really wanted to do the England game and we wanted him to do it.  Ian (Darke) has done a tremendous job on the U.S. games, the two that he has done. Don’t forget Martin did a fantastic job on the first game…I’m going to lack humility for a second, our strategy with these announcers has really paid off and America has really warmed up to them.”

On a moment of pride as ESPN’s executive producer for the World Cup…
Drake: “I’m very proud of the entire team…I am really proud of the camaraderie and spirit.  It’s an amazing group of people with different backgrounds, countries and cultures, by design.  As a result, we’ve really bonded together as a team…I always say, the mark of a really great production is that you feel really empty when it is over.  More and more now, I’m quite certain that I’m going to feel empty when this one is over. We are really enjoying what we’re doing and committed to it.”


For more information on ESPN’s 2010 FIFA World Cup coverage, click here.



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