Football: Diary

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The Independent Online
THE FIRST casualty of France 98, before a ball was kicked in earnest, was Trevor Brooking. The man who, in his playing days with West Ham and England, was said by Brian Clough to "float like a butterfly and sting like one too" limped through the Stade de France in shorts yesterday sporting a nasty gash on his right shin. An over-zealous challenge in a press match, perhaps? In fact, the culprit was the will-he-stay-or-will-he-go Leicester manager, Martin O'Neill, who accidentally back-heeled his BBC colleague in the media accreditation centre. Since they haven't played against each other for 15 years, it could be the definitive late tackle.

THIRTY YEARS after the De Gaulle government tottered under the pressure of "les evenments" - demonstrations, riots and strikes by students and workers - France 98 heralds the triumph of corporate capitalism. From Paris to Provence, the signs linking Coca-Cola, Canon, Fuji and their fellow sponsors to the people's game are omnipresent. But the radical spirit of '68 lives on. An anarchist group called Live for the Moment has declared itself "the official opponent of the World Cup" and staged a launch party in a Montpellier bar last night at which guests were asked to avoid talking about le ballon rond. A spokesperson said: "It's not that we're anti-football. We're just angry about the money being spent, the cops, and the total stupidity of it all." De Gaulle, which for many attending the tournament is where de goalkeeper stands, may have shuffled uneasily in his grave.

THINK OF a number - let's say 3,964 - and subtract 1998. That leaves 1966 and, according to a leading Turkish football critic, the World Cup winners in that year will also come through again this time round. The power of mathematics says it must be England all the way. The number conundrum is the brainchild of Hincal Uluc, who says: "The number 3,964 is the critical figure. Germany became champions in 1974 and 1990 which added together makes 3,964. Similarly, Brazil became champions in 1970 and 1994 which again makes 3,964. As does 1978 and 1986, the two years in which Argentina were victorious."

ENGLAND AND Scotland, along with Yugoslavia, have the most inexperienced squads at France 98 - at least on paper - with an average 20 caps per player while Saudi Arabia are the most experienced. Their 22 boast an average of 57 caps , seven more than the USA. The oldest team is Germany with an average age of 30 while the youngest sides are Argentina, Jamaica, Japan, South Korea, Morocco and Nigeria whose squads average 26 years.

EVERYTHING STOPS for the World Cup - especially in football-crazed Haiti where contingency plans have had to be drawn up to cope with a capital city that routinely suffers 12-hour-a-day blackouts. The two million residents of Port-au-Prince are being asked to turn off their refrigerators, air conditioners and electric water pumps during matches. Haitians have adopted both Argentina and Brazil as their preferred teams and appear indifferent to Jamaica, who are only the second Caribbean team to make it to the finals after Haiti in 1974.

A SEYCHELLES hotel is serving up special snacks named after famous players. Kitchen staff are preparing Platini quiche lorraine, Roberto Baggio macaroni gratini and roast pork knuckles Franz Beckenbauer.

BRAZIL'S EARLY strike was an early blow to spread betting firm Sporting Index whose first-goal quote of 36-39 minutes tempted many punters to "sell". Cesar Sampaio's fourth-minute goal left them in profit by 32 times their stake.

TREVOR HAYLETT

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