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'Beckham mania' greets Galaxy in Australia

11/26/2010

Excitement over David Beckham's visit and speculation over what impact, if any, that might have on Australia's 2022 World Cup bid are the prevailing themes for the Galaxy's trek Down Under.

But it's concern over the state of the turf at EnergyAustralia Stadium in Newcastle that's dominating the conversation in advance of Saturday night's game against the A-League's Newcastle Jets.

Five Jets players, including captain Ljubo Milicevic and starting goalkeeper Ben Kennedy, are sidelined with injuries sustained on their home field in the last week. Diplomacy has culled overt criticism of the turf in the lead-up to the game with L.A., but Galaxy captain Landon Donovan, as ever, provided a frank appraisal.

“There's parts of it that are very good, and there's parts that are very bad ...,” he said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. “I'm sure we'll be playing. At the end of the day, it's a friendly game, and people aren't going to be going absolutely crazy, trying to tackle and things like that. I'm sure guys will be wary in certain spots to make sure they're careful, but we'll play the way we normally play.”

Edson Buddle called it a “great pitch,” and coach Bruce Arena offered: “We heard the surface is in really poor shape. I think it's acceptable. I didn't think it was poor at all. … For the most part, I think the surface is fine.”

Organizers hope so. Newcastle officials, both civic leaders and Jets brass, want to make the best impression possible. Beckham might be the world's biggest celebrity, and his presence has the city -- located about 100 miles up the eastern coast from Sydney -- all abuzz.

The Newcastle Herald described the region as awash in “Beckham mania,” although only 50 fans were on hand to watch the Galaxy's arrival at the airport. The newspaper has been covering the English midfielder's every step, with tales of his interactions with fans, who invariably descibe him as “polite and nice to talk to” -- although one man told the Herald he was assaulted by one of Beckham's security guards.

There's been plenty on the Galaxy's schedule, with youth clinics, visits to local attractions and nightspots, and trip to the Blackbutt Reserve to, in New South Wales state Premier Kristina Keneally's words, “cuddle koalas.”

The game, which kicks off at 12:30 a.m. our time (Fox Soccer Channel will show it live with an 8 p.m. replay Saturday night), is reward for the Galaxy for a solid campaign that ended two victories short of the goal.

“It'll be a fun trip for us, and it'll be a good way to end the season,” midfielder Chris Klein, who is retiring following the game, said before the Galaxy departed earlier this week for Australia.

Attendance is expected to reach 25,000, with gate receipts of $1 million along with $600,000 is sponsorship and $400,000 is corporate sales, the Herald reported. Jets owner Nathan Tinkler expects to break even, but the prestige could pay big dividends. There is pressure on the Jets (3-5-7, eighth in the 11-team A-League) to perform.

“It's important that we put on a decent show,” coach Branko Culina told the Herald. “The interest is enormous, and you don't want to embarrass the city, Australian football and the country.”

Playing into all of this is the Dec. 2 vote on the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosts. Beckham is playing a prominent role in England's bid for the 2018 Cup -- he'll accompany Prince William and Prime Minister David Cameron to Zurich for final campaigning -- and Australia is competing with the U.S., Qatar, Japan and South Korea for the 2022 tournament.

It had been assumed the 2022 Cup would go to the U.S. or Australia, but London bookmaker William Hill last week established Qatar as favorite after an ad promoting the Middle Eastern country's bid starring Zinedine Zidane debuted on satellite television.