World Cup visiting teams want to be at friendly sites

December 19, 1993|By Chicago Tribune

LAS VEGAS -- A hotel in Somerset, N.J., would be very upset if the Italian soccer team was not based in New York for the 1994 World Cup.

The Italians always have assumed they would be assigned to New York. So they have arranged to take over the entire, #F 111-room Somerset Hills Hotel for a month, even though their delegation will include only 40 people.

The bill to provide the Italians lodging, food and assured privacy? $1 million.

Such deals are part of what is at stake in today's draw for the 1994 World Cup, which will be played from June 17 to July 17 at nine sites in the United States.

The draw will divide the 24 teams that have qualified for soccer's quadrennial world championship into six groups of four teams each for the first round. Those groups then will be assigned to the sites.

The World Cup committee has said ethnic appeal will be a major factor in placing teams, which would make Italy a natural for New York. Yet soccer's world body, the Federation of International Football Associations, insists that only defending champion Germany (Chicago) and the host United States (Los Angeles) have guaranteed assignments.

The Netherlands, for instance, has made tentative arrangements with hotels near Chicago, Palo Alto, Calif., Boston, Orlando, Fla., and Pontiac, Mich.

Placing teams like the Netherlands presents opportunities and problems for World Cup organizers.

Because about 10,000 Dutch fans are likely to travel with their team, the Netherlands would fit well at a site where it might otherwise be hard to generate enthusiasm. Because there has been a recent history of hooliganism in Dutch soccer, it also will be important to place them at a stadium where security is maintained most easily.

The nine match sites are linked in threes: Los Angeles-Palo Alto-Pontiac; Chicago-Dallas-Foxboro, Mass.; New York-Washington-Orlando. Each site will have four first-round games involving teams from two of the groups.

The first round is a round robin in which each team plays the other three in its group. The top two teams in each group and the four third-place teams with the best records advance to the round of 16, which is single elimination.

Most countries want to play where they will find the greatest support from hyphenated-Americans. The other factor of primary importance is weather: Everyone wants to avoid Orlando, Dallas and even Washington, where temperatures and humidities can linger at three-digit levels in June and July.

Although the draw is purportedly random, some arrangements have been made to prevent more than one team from every geographic region but Europe from being in the same first-round group.

Giving the United States an easy draw is important. It is felt the United States must reach the second round for the World Cup to have any chance of attracting the interest of general sports fans. A recent nationwide Harris Poll showed only 13 percent of U.S. residents were aware the World Cup is coming.

The tournament means so much to the rest of the world that FIFA sold TV rights to the draw for $2.5 million. It will be seen in 125 countries, of which the United States is the only one where the telecast will not be on a universally available, over-the-air network (ESPN, 2 p.m.)

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