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Orlando Pride players enjoy World Cup bracket challenge

The Orlando Pride's Dani Weatherholt, center, battles with the Seattle Reign's Beverly Yanez, right, to control the ball during the teams' 0-0 draw earlier this month. (Jane Gershovich/ISI Photos)

For Orlando Pride coach Tom Sermanni, the 2018 World Cup in Russia is refreshing.

He didn’t have high hopes for the 32-team competition before it got started.

“To be honest, I felt the last two World Cups were a little bit bland, whereas the games so far [this year] have all been really competitive,” he said. “Even with a team like Iceland that’s set up to defend against Argentina in that last 30 minutes, backs against the wall, it’s made for really exciting soccer.

“I think the games have been terrific so far.”

Members of the Pride (5-3-4, 19 points) are getting ready for a Saturday road match against the Washington Spirit, but they’re also keeping a close eye on the World Cup.

There’s money on the line, said midfielder Alanna Kennedy. She and fellow Australian women’s national team player Emily van Egmond have been rooting for the men’s national team, which played Denmark to a 1-1 draw on Thursday and lost to France on Saturday.

Pride players filled out brackets and picked winners to have some extra fun watching the matches. 

“Five dollars each, nothing crazy,” she said with a laugh.

“I’ve enjoyed all the matches. Brazil [Sunday] was good. I have Brazil to win so I was pretty invested in that game, but they’ve all been great.”

There’s been a lot of excitement in this edition of the World Cup, from Portugal’s thrilling 3-3 draw with Spain, to Argentina’s draw with Iceland and subsequent 3-0 loss to Croatia. Host Russia is on top of its group with two wins as of Thursday evening and Mexico pulled off a stunning 1-0 win over Germany.

Orlando City midfielder Yoshi Yotún has been a start for Peru’s men’s national team, which on Thursday was eliminated after a 1-0 loss to France in Group C. It was Peru’s second 1-0 loss of the competition.

Sermanni said he has Germany to win the Cup.

“I picked Germany in the sweep, but being British, you don’t mind if the Germans lose,” he said. “You can’t always tell early in the tournament, so you’ve got to be really careful. I think there’s going to be quite a few teams that are really competitive in this World Cup.”

Centerback Shelina Zadorsky also has Brazil to win the tournament.

“I don’t know if that’s going to happen,” she said. “It’s been awesome. There’s been some surprises. It’s obviously fun watching [Cristiano] Ronaldo out there. I love it. Soccer every day, I wish it lasted forever.”

Star forward Alex Morgan on Tuesday said she enjoyed watching the Iceland-Argentina and Germany-Mexico games.

“The Iceland-Argentina game, it was just great to see Iceland playing defense so well  and having so much heart.

“… The most exciting game, just end-to-end, so many transitions was Germany-Mexico.”

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