Time to prime: Get set to mind Cup's P's and Q's WORLD CUP 1994

June 17, 1994|By JOHN EISENBERG

Seeing as 71 percent of the country doesn't even know that the World Cup is being played in the United States, according to a recent Harris Poll, here is a primer to get everyone up to speed on soccer's Super Bowl, which begins today:

A is for the Azzurri, or "blues," the nickname of the Italian team. The country's colors are red, white and green. The soccer team wears blue. It's a long story.

B is for the best response for a soccer-lover to give when his favorite overweight, sweat-soaked, soccer-hating American sports fan says the World Cup is boring: "How 'bout that Don Fehr?"

C is for Cameroon, the tiny African nation that caused such a stir in the 1990 Cup. The Indomitable Lions could make another run if they get a big performance from their best player, the Nolan Ryan of soccer, 42-year-old Roger Milla, otherwise known as the king of the road.

D is for Diego Maradona, who looks 50 years old and will soon be singing, "Hunka, Hunka Burnin' Love."

E is for England, birthplace of the game. The national team didn't quite qualify this year, a bit of a nick, shall we say, nudge, nudge? If you find you're longing for the British soccer experience sometime in the next month, just take a rock and hit yourself over the head.

F is for football, the name soccer goes by everywhere else in the world except here. Have you ever thought that maybe they're right and we're wrong?

G is for God, to whom Cup organizers are praying in hopes that the U.S. team wins some games and advances at least to the second round.

H is for hooligans. They're overrated. They wouldn't last a day in Vancouver.

I is for the insurmountable 1-0 lead.

J is for Jack's lads, the nickname for the Irish team of coach Jack Charlton, the only Englishman popular in Ireland.

K is for the 16 million American kids who play soccer. They're going to pay more attention to the Cup than their parents or anyone else in this country over the age of 20. They might even skip the mall for a day.

L is for the lunatic fringe of adult soccer fanatics in America. They're out there among you. (Yes, you, there's probably one on your block.) They write 10-page, single-spaced letters when they disagree with something in the newspaper. They're completely bug-eyed at this point, babbling about 4-4-2 formations and the purity of the German attack. Bless 'em.

M is for the money, stupid, which is why the Cup has come to a country that thinks the event is a bobsled race.

N is for Norway. I wonder if that 6-foot snowbank outside my Olympic apartment has started to melt?

O is for offense, what little there is. (In '90, the average Cup game had 2.2 goals.) Where can you find it in '94? The Dutch

play four forwards. (Many teams play one or two. OK, that's it for the chalk talk.) Nigeria and Cameroon can fill it up. So can the Brazilians.

P is for the "passport Americans" on the U.S. team, such as "Hang Down Your Head" Tom Dooley, the son of a serviceman, raised in Germany. Also Roy Wegerle, a South African with an American wife, and Ernie Stewart, another serviceman's son. They're the best players on the team. OK, so we're kind of cheating. Big deal.

Q was going to be for Qatar, but that country didn't qualify. So, now it is for "What do you mean by that?" and other questions I'm less likely to hear now that I'm covering soccer for a week instead of baseball.

R is for Romario, Brazil's goal-scoring star. "This will be Romario's Cup," Romario said recently. I love guys like that.

S is for the air-conditioner-less Silverdome, where the U.S. and Swiss teams will play tomorrow in the first indoor Cup game. If I'm the U.S. team, I jack up the heat, smoke those poor Swiss boys out of the locker room and give 'em hot towels.

T is for translation, my favorite part of the international sports experience. A five-minute answer from a superstar followed by an English translator pausing and saying, "Ahhhh, Jorge say he is moch hoppy."

U is for Uruguay, which was host for the first Cup in 1930 and beat Argentina in the final, leading to a stoning of Uruguay's embassy in Buenos Aires.

V is for Carlos Valderrama, the Colombian star with by far the best hair in the Cup, an enormous and vaguely extraterrestrial congregation of blond curls.

W is for wives and girlfriends, banned from the Swiss and German team hotels. Strictly verbotten.

X is for the spot on the head of Saudi Arabia coach Jorge Solari. The Saudis had four coaches in seven months during qualifying despite not losing a game. King Fahd was not satisfied, thank you.

Y is for the yells of the Brazilian fans when their team wins the Cup.

Z is for the snores of American couch potatoes.

C'mon, guys, change your shirt and give the Cup a try. The baseball season is going on strike soon. The Cup won't bite.

Promise.

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