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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Soccer Fanatics Gear Up For Cup

The World Cup is 31 days away, which means ardent soccer fans must have pressing questions on their minds:

Question: How much Visine do we need to buy?

Answer: As much as you can afford.

This World Cup is being co-hosted by Japan and South Korea, which means fans will be operating on WCST (World Cup Standard Time) from May 31 to June 30. ABC and ESPN have opted for live broadcasts, with kickoffs at the ungodly hours of 1:25, 2:25, 4:55, 5:25 and 7:30.

We’re talking a.m. in the Eastern Time Zone.

The United States-Portugal game is at 4:55 a.m. June 5. The June 10 game between the United States and South Korea is at 2:25 a.m. And the June 14 U.S.-Poland match is at a more forgiving 7:30 a.m.

Argentina vs. England, perhaps the most anticipated first-round match of the tournament, is at 7:30 a.m. June 7.

Local pubs and ethnic restaurants – the best places to watch World Cup matches – are expected to stay open all night or alter their hours to accommodate Cup fans. If your co-workers show up at the office bleary-eyed, cut them some slack.

Q: Are Japan and Korea ready?

A: Yes and yes.

An unprecedented 20 stadiums have been built or heavily upgraded to play host to the 32-team event, and all of them are reportedly in excellent condition. Japan spent $4.5 billion on stadiums, infrastructure and hotels since 1996, and South Korea spent $1.7 billion. By comparison, France spent $1.5 billion for the 1998 Cup.

The opener between defending champion France and Senegal is at Seoul on May 31. The final is at Yokohama, Japan, on June 30.

Both countries have stadiums to brag about.

The largest soccer-specific stadium in Asia was built in Seoul, and Sapporo, in northern Japan, boasts a stadium where the grass field can be lifted by an air cushion and left outside to grow under sunlight.

Governments of both countries have been urging their typically reserved fans to get pumped up for the Cup. There have even been cheering camps and stadium drills to help fans embrace the passionate culture soccer fanatics share around the world. In Korea, every team will have a local cheering section to ensure no team is fanless.

Most of the host cities have begun dressing up for the big occasion. At Seoul and Tokyo, huge electronic billboards count down the days. There are banners of soccer players on everything from subway cars to train stations to office buildings. In Seoul, organizers have been handing out pamphlets urging locals to keep the city clean and to be courteous to visitors.

Q: What kind of concessions can fans expect to get there?

A: Dog meat vendors in Korea have vowed to peddle their product at all 10 venues in an effort to fight prejudice against their national delicacy. There will be dog hamburgers, soup and sandwiches, and even dog meat juice.

“We plan to develop canned dog meat tonic juice which football fans can enjoy in their seats,” said Choi Han-Gwan, a leader of the national association of dog meat restaurateurs. “They will enjoy it instead of Coke.”

Q: Will there be heightened security?

A: You betcha. Authorities from both countries have been working for the past year on identifying known hooligans. The security budget was beefed up after the Sept. 11 attacks. Both countries will have no-fly zones around the stadiums.

Q: What’s the biggest soccer story in the world right now?

A: If you go by the British tabloids, it’s the love life of England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson.

Fleet Street’s obsession with David Beckham’s broken foot ended the moment rumors surfaced that Eriksson was having a fling with fellow Swede Ulrika Jonsson, a television weatherperson. Mind you, Eriksson is not married. But he has been living with Italian lawyer Nancy Dell’Olio for three years, and the relationship with Jonsson is being viewed as an affair.

Tabloids have been devoting mega-space to the details of the soap opera for more than a week, and Eriksson said he “almost had to use violence” to get past reporters and into his car the past few days.

The latest news is that Jonsson said, “I am no longer a part of this relationship.”

Eriksson refuses to discuss his private life.

“I have never discussed it, and I’m not going to discuss it now, either,” he said.

Q: Is it true that Roberto Baggio, he of the “divine ponytail,” might make the Italian team?

A: Italian fans sure hope so. His two-goal return from a three-month knee injury layoff has prompted Baggio-mania, and coach Giovanni Trapattoni is under pressure to add the 35-year-old to the roster.

Baggio has not played for Italy for three years, but he looked fabulous in 20 minutes as a substitute for Brescia last Sunday. Over the next few days, stories about his return included the words “messiah” and “miracle.”

A group of parliamentarians asked Italy’s minister of sport to put pressure on Trapattoni to take Baggio to the World Cup.

Said Perugia coach Serse Cosmi: “He did something supernatural. It’s impossible not to pay attention to someone who can achieve such things. I would think very hard before leaving him out.”

Q: Any big-time players injured?

A: Of course. The biggest name is Beckham, the English captain, whose broken bone in his left foot is being treated as a national tragedy. As if that weren’t enough for the Brits to fret about, English defender Gary Neville broke the same bone in the same foot Wednesday and is less likely to be healthy in time.

Argentina midfielder Ariel Ortega limped off the field with a thigh injury during a River Plate Libertadores Cup win over Brazil’s Gremio on Wednesday, but he is expected to heal in a few weeks.

China, coached by Bora Milutinovic, has suffered more injuries than any other team. It was without six starters for Saturday’s warmup game against South Korea.

Q: Who’s favored?

A: Argentina, with France a close second.

Argentina is loaded and has won 17 games in a row. Though it is in the toughest group with rival England, Nigeria and Sweden, the Argentines are expected to go far.

France has much of the roster that won in ’98, including Zinedine Zidane, the world’s most expensive player.

Spain, Italy and England are also good enough to make the final.

Q: Seems as though we’ve been hearing forever that the millions of youths playing soccer in this country will eventually mean a World Cup title. Does the United States finally have a chance to win this thing?

A: No.

Q: Will the United States do better or worse than last time?

A: Can’t do worse than last place.

Q: How far can we expect Team USA to go?

A: Coach Bruce Arena and his team should be thrilled if they make it past the opening round. This year’s draw isn’t much easier than the one the Americans faced in 1998. There’s an opener against favored Portugal (remember Germany?), a middle game against beatable Korea (remember Iran?) and a third game against Poland, an unpredictable, hard-nosed European team (remember Yugoslavia?).

This team is more experienced than the ’98 squad. Ten players are 30 or older, compared to five on the team four years ago. And team chemistry seems better under Arena than his predecessor, Steve Sampson, who caused a rift when he left then-captain John Harkes off the team.

But the United States is still a developing nation when it comes to soccer, so fans shouldn’t expect too much.

Q: Which team might surprise people?

A: Portugal. Most people in the United States haven’t heard of Luis Figo, but they’ll know him by the end of the first round. Portuguese soccer has improved over the past eight years, and this team is talented enough to hang with the big boys.