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 By PA Sport

FIFA hints at future U.S. World Cup

ESPN FC's Robbie Earle gives his take on the improvement of the United States has and if they can be considered an elite team yet.

FIFA's leaders have flagged up a possible American bid for the 2026 World Cup after the "staggering'' impact of the tournament in the United States.

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The U.S. team departed from the World Cup on Tuesday after a thrilling extra-time defeat by Belgium in the first knock-out round, having won universal admiration for their approach.

The level of support in America has been remarkable, breaking all records, with U.S. President Barack Obama and Hollywood star Tom Hanks among those watching the Belgium match and tweeting their support.

FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke told Brazil newspaper Globo: "What we see in the United States is staggering. The audience is unprecedented, more than the NBA.

"The country has the largest level of youth soccer in the world, 20 million young people playing. There is a commitment from FIFA to work with U.S. Soccer and I think after 2022, they have an interest in hosting the 2026 World Cup.''

FIFA president Sepp Blatter has been equally impressed by the American reaction.

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He told Press Association Sport: "It's fantastic -- the level of interest in the USA is very high. This World Cup is really getting under people's skin. The quality of the football is incredible.''

U.S. Soccer president and FIFA executive committee member Sunil Gulati has previously said the United States could bid for 2026 but only if bidding rules change -- it lost out to Qatar for the 2022 tournament. The U.S. previously hosted the World Cup in 1994.

U.S. skipper Clint Dempsey said it was clear the game is on a steep rise in the United States.

Dempsey said: "There is a stat about the average age watching the World Cup being 38. That shows that people who have played the game, have grown with the game, are passing it down to their kids. That is going to help us. It is great to see that the game is on the rise.''

Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard was the American hero, making a World Cup record 16 saves during the match, and he said the fact the United States had qualified from a group also made up of Germany, Portugal and Ghana should be recognised.

He said: "We dreamed and we fell short of our dream. But I think to get out of the 'group of death' and then come up against the Belgian team, it's a tough assignment.

"We were right there, you know? We nearly had it, so hats off to the way we played. We are proud of ourselves and this is a young group, so we'll be back.

"We are hungry and we've tasted what it feels like to play against the best players in the world, the best players around Europe, so hopefully we will be back for more.''

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