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A deal completed Friday will give American Forces Network access to air all of the remaining World Cup games to overseas troops.

A spokesman for News Corp. said Friday that the contract was signed about 5:30 p.m. Central Europe Time — a little more than 24 hours before the U.S. team’s Group E match against Italy on Saturday.

“We will pick up the game,” said Larry Marrotta, television division chief for AFN in California. “We’ll pick up the pre-game, and we’ll show the game after that.” ABC’s pre-game show begins a half-hour before the game. Kick-off for the U.S.-Italy game is set for 9 p.m. CET on AFN|xtra.

AFN is showing three games on Sunday: Japan-Croatia at 3 p.m. CET, followed by an ABC World Cup show for an hour. Brazil-Australia follows, and the France-South Korea match will be shown after that, according to AFN’s assistant sports director, Heath Irlbeck.

News Corp., headed by Rupert Murdoch, initiated the deal on Tuesday to bring the Cup to AFN. The deal had been held up because AFN had to get clearance to air the games in markets where the broadcast rights are already owned.

Those clearances were obtained late in the business day Friday, Butcher said.

A message posted on the AFN Web site Thursday said the deal brokered between News Corp. and Infront Sports and Media, the international rights holder for the World Cup, includes all of the remaining World Cup games for 2006, not just the U.S. games, the semifinals and finals, as previously reported. Butcher confirmed this.

The AFN message also said that the matches will only be shown on the AFN|xtra service.

The agreement between News Corp. and Infront added AFN to a deal that a News Corp. subsidiary, Sky Italia, had already brokered with Infront.

At least one servicemember downrange was pleased.

“I think it’s a great thing that AFN has a chance to broadcast it,” said Chief Petty Officer Darrell Crandall of La Crosse, Wis., who is stationed in Baghdad with AFN. “If you think about it, we’re in a part of the world where soccer, or football, is huge, and it would be a shame to miss it,” he said, speaking of Iraq.

Crandall, 44, said he hopes the U.S. does better in its second World Cup match. The team lost 3-0 to the Czech Republic in its first outing.

“I guess the bottom line is, go U.S.A.”

For more information on the schedule, check www.myafn.net.

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