The International Space Station’s soccer nation

Since 2014 FIFA World Cup kicked off, soccer fans all over the earth have passionately followed the event. With viewers cheering along in bars, at work, at home and on social media, some healthy, good-natured rivalries pop up just about everywhere. . . including in outer space.

That’s the setting three astronauts on the International Space Station Expedition 40 find themselves in as the United States prepares for Thursday’s match against Germany (11:30 a.m. ET, ESPN), which will help determine who advances to the knockout round from Group G.

American astronauts Reid Wiseman and crew commander Steve Swanson share “space” together in zero – or perhaps “nil” – gravity with German flight engineer Alexander Gerst.

SportsCenter anchor Kevin Negandhi spoke with the trio earlier today (video above) and the idea to highlight the Cup-conflicted crew was “launched” during a meeting among the ESPN marketing team a few weeks ago, according to Wesley Clark, marketing manager.

“Our team was brainstorming ideas for the World Cup, and we wondered what would be the craziest place to watch the tournament – and space immediately came to mind,” Clark said. “We thought it could be a fun angle to showcase how fans are following the World Cup on ESPN while they are in orbit.”

Similar to the friendly wagers being tendered on terra firma, the astronauts have something riding on Thursday’s result.

Should the U.S. win the match, Gerst will have an American flag drawn on his (already) shaved head. A German victory would mean shaved heads for the Americans, “so we all look alike,” Gerst told Negandhi.

The astronauts, who have been sharing photos taken from space on NASA’s Twitter feed featuring the host cities and their stadiums, can also be seen in last week’s friendly match in zero gravity.

“We’ve already looked at our schedules for Thursday to see how we can sneak in a few peeks of the game,” said Wiseman. “You better believe we’ll be watching.”

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