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Watching Women's World Cup a challenge

In the sports lull of late June and early July, the 1999 Women's World Cup gained a foothold in fans' attention spans.

With the tournament held in the U.S., the host country's games were played in prime television slots. A team led by Mia Hamm, already a recognizable name, made a dramatic run to the championship.

The popularity built by that American squad will be tested during this year's World Cup. With the event in China, games will be played in the early morning hours back in the U.S.

"The reality of it is it's a challenge from a time of day perspective and a time of year perspective," said Scott Guglielmino, vice president of programming and acquisitions for ESPN, whose networks are airing the games.

In mid-September, the tournament is competing with one of the busiest stretches on the sports calendar.

Guglielmino believes the World Cup carries a strong enough appeal that fans will wake up early, but especially during the school year, he knows that can be tough.

The 2003 World Cup took place in late September and early October, but it was held in the U.S., so the start times weren't a problem.

The Americans' first match that year was aired on ABC on a Sunday at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time. It drew a 0.9 rating, which translated into 985,245 households.

The U.S. team's first game Tuesday started at 4:55 a.m. EDT on ESPN2. It drew a 0.2 rating (194,619 households). This time a year ago, the 4:45-7 a.m. time slot averaged a 0.1 rating on ESPN2.

The game was re-aired at 7 p.m. Tuesday and earned a 0.4 rating (343,194 households).

The U.S. team's second game starts at 5 a.m. Friday.