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Thanks to a last-minute agreement, American Forces Network viewers overseas will get to see some World Cup soccer matches.

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch, whose media company owns Fox News, negotiated a deal with the World Cup TV rights holders to piggyback AFN onto a deal he has with one of his many properties, according to Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Greg Hicks.

“FIFA World Cup 2006 Germany has allowed AFN limited distribution permission to allow coverage of remaining Team USA matches, the semifinals and the championship,” Hicks said.

The agreement, Hicks said, will permit AFN to telecast Team USA’s match against Italy on Saturday at 9 p.m. local time in Kaiserslautern. The team wraps up Group E play against Ghana on June 22 at 4 p.m. local time in Nuremburg. Game times are two hours later in Iraq, and 2½ hours later in Afghanistan.

As first reported in Stars and Stripes, Armed Forces Radio & Television Service was denied permission late last month by Infront Sports and Media, the international broadcast rights holder, to air the monthlong World Cup on AFN TV.

AFN, seen in 177 countries and on Navy ships worldwide, generally receives its sports programming for free. The major sports leagues in the U.S. allow AFN to broadcast virtually all American sporting events at no cost because they love the troops, said Capt. Jeff Clark, a spokesman for AFN in Heidelberg.

Infront Sports and Media is a Swiss company.

“You can’t appeal to their patriotic side if they’re not American,” Clark said.

Infront spokesman Jorg Polzer told the New York Times that other nations’ military networks paid “reasonable” sums to air the World Cup.

The Times reported that Murdoch was to make a payment to Infront for an AFN World Cup TV agreement part of a deal he already has with one of his News Corp. properties, Sky Italia.

Clark indicated that the games would likely be shown on the AFN-Sports channel, which is available through cable or satellite.

“Rupert Murdoch is very patriotic and has a great passion for the men and women who are serving this country,” said Gary Ginsberg, executive vice-president for corporate affairs for News Corp., based in New York.

“It’s very easy for us to bring a bit of joy to them — it was a pretty easy decision,” he said.

World Cup fans in Iraq applauded Murdoch’s efforts to bring the tournament to them.

“That was pretty cool,” Airman 1st Class Richard Gonzales, an AFN broadcaster based in Baghdad’s Green Zone, said of Murdoch’s intervention. “I hope it works out.”

Gonzales, who was in Basra, Iraq, when the World Cup kicked off, was able to catch England’s first match through the British Forces Broadcasting Service. “They’ll shut down a war so they can watch soccer,” he said of the British.

He has since returned to Baghdad where Morale, Welfare and Recreation, which is largely responsible for organizing entertainment for troops, found a way to bring the World Cup to troops there.

David Quarterman, the events and theater supervisor for MWR in the Green Zone, said an Iraqi man he works with went out and purchased a satellite receiver and access card on the Iraqi economy. World Cup games are now aired poolside at one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces.

Minnesota Army National Guardsmen stationed near Nasariyah in south-central Iraq professed less enthusiasm for the international mega-event.

“If I catch it on TV I’ll probably watch a little bit of it,” said Spc. Jon Robinson, 20, of Eldora, Iowa, who is stationed at Convoy Support Center Scania.

He added, “I watch more NASCAR than I do any other sport.”

Cup-hungry troops unable to get the games through AFN have, in many downrange locations, used a little bit of ingenuity and a lot of local material to find World Cup broadcasts.

At Camp Lemonier, on the steamy tip of the Horn of Africa in Djibouti, several big screens at locations throughout the base have shown most matches. At first, soldiers said, the only access they had was through an Arabic-language African broadcaster. But after some satellite searching, they found a British-based broadcast in English for the large screen at “The Cantina,” a semi-enclosed bar and recreation center on the camp.

At the Morale, Welfare and Recreation building on the other side of camp, another big screen television shows the games from the same satellite feed, watched mostly by troops waiting to use the phones or Internet connections.

Stars and Stripes reporters Joseph Giordono and Anita Powell contributed to this story.

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages the Pacific Storm Tracker.

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