2014 FIFA World Cup: ESPN's Alexi Lalas believes 'the U.S. team loves to be the underdog'

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Few would deny that Brazil is a soccer-mad nation.

Passionate fans who stick by their teams through thick and thin regularly pack stadiums and raise decibel levels throughout the country, their fervor so all-consuming that seemingly innocent arguments between rival factions of fans can turn deadly.

Recent episodes of soccer-related violence are well documented, and Brazilian authorities in the 12 host cities are on the alert to crack down on such activity.

Still, soccer fanaticism in Brazil is legendary, and it will be on display starting this week when ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC broadcast all 64 matches from the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The action gets going Thursday, June 12, on ESPN, with a Group A match in Sao Paulo between the Brazilians and Croatia.

Though Brazil is considered to be one of the favorites these next 32 days, being the host nation can have its advantages and disadvantages, explains ESPN soccer analyst Alexi Lalas.

"I think the energy that is going to be involved regarding that team, being in Brazil, and the pressure that's supposed to be involved are going to be the likes of which we have never seen," Lalas says. "So the advantage of having that type of support and energy should not be underestimated. But also the amount of pressure, given who Brazil is and given that it's in Brazil, will also just be absolutely immense. And I think both can be overwhelming to an extent."

Along with Brazil, Lalas mentions Spain, Germany, Argentina and Uruguay as teams that could vie for the championship. As for the United States, he's less bullish on their chances -- with one qualifier.

"I think the advantage that [U.S. head coach] Jurgen Klinsmann and his team have," Lalas says, "is that when that draw came out, they were immediately perceived and looked at as the underdogs, and history has shown that the U.S. team loves to be the underdog and they have a very difficult time when they are put in the role of the favorite. So I think that this is a much more comfortable position for them to be in. When people say they can't do something, oftentimes that's the motivation that they need, and it certainly takes the pressure off."
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