- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 8, 2006

Washington Nationals pitcher Livan Hernandez agrees with millions of soccer fans around the globe: The right-hander likes Brazil to win the World Cup.

“I think the Brazilian team is too strong everywhere. The defense and the people that play up front are too fast for the other teams,” Hernandez said. “The other teams better play good defense because Brazil can run. The only thing they do in Brazil is play soccer.”

While Hernandez’s curve bends like Beckham, he knows a thing or two about soccer despite growing up in baseball-obsessed Cuba. He played the game throughout his childhood and was a forward for a club team when he was 14.

“I’ve got good feet for the ball,” Hernandez said. “I can hit the ball really hard. It’s something that you learn when you play a lot. I’ve got a lot of friends that play soccer.”

Soccer power Real Madrid is Hernandez’s favorite team. He religiously watches the Spanish League, La Liga, on satellite TV to catch Real Madrid’s Brazilian superstar midfielder Ronaldo, who Hernandez said helps make Brazil the World Cup favorite.

Hernandez also watches Italy’s Serie A. Hernandez prefers wide-open, free-flowing soccer. He’s not too keen on England’s Premier League or Germany’s Bundesliga because of those leagues’ style of play.

Hernandez’s prediction for an early upset is Japan stunning scandal-rocked Italy on penalty kicks in the second round.

What about the U.S.? Will coach Bruce Arena’s team go deeper than its quarterfinal run four years ago in Korea and Japan?

“No. It’s a tough [Group E] and it’s not easy,” Hernandez said of the U.S. team’s chances of escaping first-round group play. “It won’t be a surprise if they make it to the second round, but it’s going to be difficult. They’re going to beat Ghana. The most important thing is that the U.S. is excited for the World Cup because everybody will be watching. They’re going to have to finish first [in group play] because they don’t want to face Brazil in the second round.”

Hernandez likes the host country, Germany, to reach the finals and play Brazil. Hernandez also would not be surprised to see an all-South American final featuring Argentina and Brazil.

“Germany always has a chance to win the World Cup,” Hernandez said. “They’re always one of the best teams in the world. I think Germany will go all the way [to the final].”

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