Vegas favorites: Spain, Brazil

Posted: June 12, 2010

Sports books in Las Vegas consider Spain and Brazil the teams to beat in the World Cup, with Spain a 3.5-1 favorite to win its first title.

Casinos are giving Brazil 4-1 odds and Argentina 11-2 odds to win the global soccer showdown, Tony Sinisi of Las Vegas Sports Consultants said.

The oddsmaker has the United States at 40-1 to win the championship.

England is 6-1 to win the tournament, Sinisi said.

Team USA gets a mascot. The U.S. team was delayed twice Friday when elephants blocked the road, the second back-up coming as the squad was traveling to its training session at Royal Bafokeng Stadium. The pachyderm was munching on a tree as the Americans left the Bakubung Bush Lodge in Rustenburg, and it moved to the side of the road after about four minutes.

Earlier in the afternoon, a bus carrying 10 players on their way to an open-air market at the entrance to the team hotel got stuck behind an elephant.

Signs outside the hotel tell guests that elephants come close to the fence and advise keeping a distance and staying quiet. Other signs warn that baboons are dangerous and should not be fed.

It wasn't clear if the same elephant caused both delays.

Eye on the ball. As the crowd in Johannesburg's Soccer City made deafening noise around him at Friday's 1-1 opening match between Mexico and South Africa, Hans-Peter Nuernberg quietly studied how the ball bounced, swerved, looking for any sign of imperfection.

Nuernberg is the lead engineer of Adidas' 2010 World Cup ball, the Jabulani, which features high-tech innovations designed to correct anomalies in the behavior of fast-moving spherical objects - also known as soccer balls.

"It was a special moment full of good emotions to see our baby flying perfectly through the air," he said.

The new ball uses eight panels, down from the classic 32, that are seared together, not stitched, and covered with a rash of tiny bumps aimed at stabilizing flight. The panels are already raised before they are seared together. Also new is the cushioned synthetic material intended to soften impact for headers.

Nuernberg said the new ball was inspired by a dashboard manufacturing process used by car manufacturers.

Several goalkeepers and field players have criticized the high-tech ball as behaving unpredictably.

Adidas officials insist the only change is higher performance.

Injury report. Midfielder Andres Iniesta, hobbled by a right thigh injury, remains doubtful for Spain's opening World Cup match against Switzerland after training alone during the team's first practice in South Africa. Teammate Fernando Torres took part with his right knee heavily bandaged as he recovers from surgery. . . . Italy's Daniele De Rossi sat out a training match with a right calf problem, but the team physician said the midfielder may be ready for Monday's game against Paraguay. . . . Ivory Coast striker Didier Drogba wore a protective cast on his broken right arm in a team practice, but remains doubtful for the team's opener against Portugal.

Language lesson. The Polokwane Observer headline in a recent edition: "Sokkerkoors!" Translation: "Soccer fever!"

Quote of the day. From Argentina manager Diego Maradona, the Ozzie Guillen of the World Cup, about his star player, striker Lionel Messi:

"Behind Messi, there is a team that has to support him and he would have to be the strawberry on top of the dessert."

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