Just hours before the start of the world’s largest sporting event, American Forces Network secured the broadcasting rights to the 2010 World Cup.

In a press release on its Web site, AFN officials announced that the network was granted permission by FIFA — soccer’s governing body — along with a slew of international television licensees to show the entire slate of 64 soccer matches during the monthlong tournament.

The games begin Friday when host country South Africa takes on Mexico at 4 p.m. Central European Time.

The U.S. squad plays its first match Saturday night against England.

The process to obtain the broadcast rights involved 34 international television licensees and sub-licensees in 28 territories, who waived their territorial exclusivity, the AFN release said.

“It’s important to the soldiers who are deployed that don’t have any other options,” said Lt. Col. Steve Berger who works as an intelligence planner with U.S. Army Africa in Vicenza, Italy. Berger, who is vacationing in Camp Darby, Italy, with his family said they plan to watch it at the club there on AFN.

“It’s really great for the soldiers to see, especially for an emerging sport in the U.S.”

Because AFN doesn’t pay for programming, it was important that it receive the rights to the World Cup for free, AFN chief of affiliate relations Larry Sichter said earlier this week.

The deal was the culmination of a 2½ year effort by AFN.

“We can’t thank enough FIFA and its many, many international television licensees for collectively granting the permission we sought, and for the joint ABC and ESPN approval to access their combined U.S. domestic feeds of the Cup,” said Tom Weber, AFN’s director of industry liaison.

AFN viewers will be able to catch the games live or tape-delayed on the AFN-Sports and AFN-Xtra channels.

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