His Cup runneth over with joy

June 20, 1994|By Phil Jackman

I'm sure the zillion or so soccer fans around the world are happy to learn that they picked up yet another diehard over the weekend. Hook, line and sinker I went for from the moment Germany and Bolivia squared off Friday through yesterday's triple-header.

Of course, the alternatives on television during these days when one qualifies for hazardous duty pay simply venturing outdoors might have had something to do with it:

Everyone knows the U.S. Open is relatively large, even folks who don't know the difference between a niblick and a base on balls. But for ESPN and ABC to combine for what, 100 hours of coverage, left nothing to the imagination. Be assured these guys are much better golfers than they showed at Oakmont.

Then there was the NBA Finals. Seriously, who among you Friday night didn't welcome the pictures of a Ford Bronco containing O.J. Simpson puttering along several freeways in the Los Angles area while 11 police cruisers paraded behind in a 4-1-3-2-1 formation?

And as far as baseball is concerned, there was a recent game that didn't go extra innings and didn't feature many runs yet convulsed along for nearly four hours.

Soccer, it has long been argued, is dull if it's not boring. There's not enough scoring. A guy feints injury if an opposition player runs by rapidly. Referees see everything as a foul, the direct opposite of the NBA, and this yellow-card, red-card business is a mystery.

The games watched carried scores of 1-0, 2-2, 1-1, 1-0, 3-1, 1-0 and 1-0. Not a scoreless deadlock in the lot. And no doubt it helped that I didn't back a loser in the bunch.

That's the key, do a little research before every game -- heaven knows there's been enough reviews and previews around to peruse, and pick your team. Americans are huge for the underdog, but don't take that easy way out.

For example, "my" team in the Belgium-Morocco game yesterday, won by the former, 1-0, was Belgium. It was a very scientific selection. The goalie, Michel Preud'Homme, sold me not only because of his name but his age (35). The guy was brilliant all day, the Moroccans unloading 20 shots on him.

Then there's the coach, Paul Van Himst, known during his playing days as "the white Pele." Coaches generally are as sloppy as sportswriters, but Van Himst has been judged the best-dressed man in his country, for which he won a trip to Istanbul and a clothes voucher worth $1,340. Istanbul?

As opposed to that previously mentioned four-hour baseball game and Houston and New York taking 45 extra minutes to play a basketball game, two 45-minute halves in soccer might sound like forever, but not when it's running time and the clock doesn't stop for anything, including military coups in the country where the game is being played.

With a 45-minute half almost assured of being over in no more than 50 minutes, it's easy to concentrate on the antics of a star player or two and to get a good line on how the opposing teams propose to score.

The United States started out its game by trying to lure Switzerland into its half of the field before hitting basket-hanging breakaway threat Ernie Stewart with a bomb, sending him in alone against just one defender and the goalie.

It didn't work, but the only thing that prevented Eric Wynalda's brilliant tally on a free kick from being remembered as "the shot heard 'round America's pitches" was Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley taking a bad penalty setting up a free-kick score by the Swiss. Dooley, I'm going to be watching your every move from here on out.

Even easier to place full attention in than the U.S. game was Italy vs. Ireland in The Meadowlands. So the Irish are loaded with English players and directed by another Brit, St. Jack Charlton, all hands are imbued with a spirit that allowed it to reach the quarterfinals in the 1990 World Cup without a victory (four ties). It was the Italians who eliminated them then, 1-0 in overtime, so the Azzures were dead meat against the Hibernians' revenge motivation.

So much has been heard about Colombia's brilliance, many picking the team to be among the final four or maybe even in the title game, one had to go with Romania if only because ex-tennis player and agent Ion Tiriac once played goal for the team.

One look at how the goalies performed assured this upset. While Bogdan Stelea was beyond brilliant for the 3-1 Romanian victors, Oscar Cordoba "left his line" (maybe to visit the Rose Bowl concession stands) all but assuring defeat.

The hope is he plays with those anxious feet again Wednesday against the United States in Pasadena. See, I'm a fan.

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