Football: Double agent Talebi?

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THE coach of Iran, who take on the United States in the mother of all football matches in Lyons tonight, is unlikely to be as anti-American as many of his side's supporters back home seem to be. Jalal Talebi, who had a short spell on Chelsea's backroom staff in the late 1960s, has lived in the United States since 1983 after moving from Iran. He coached briefly at California's Foothill Community College, where the US coach, Steve Sampson, played and coached. A former restaurant owner, Talebi's allegiance should not be questioned. "Iran is my country. We have different feelings as people," he said. "In America when you get married you leave the home but in Iran the son stays as long as he can. We are more together as a people. This will help our team. We will win."

A GERMAN television station will tomorrow screen the controversial American film which threatened to lead to the pull-out of the Iranian team after it was shown by a private French channel - three days before Germany play Iran. The Iranians were upset at the recent airing of Not Without My Daughter - the true story of an American woman, Betty Mahmoody, who married an Iranian and went to the country with her husband and daughter. Iran says the film projects a negative image of Iran and at one stage even hinted that they might pull out of the tournament.

IF any of Jamaica's players are seen producing clouds of smoke tonight, it does not mean that they are indulging in illegal recreational pursuits. Jamaica's Prime Minister, P J Patterson, turned up at the their headquarters at Chateau D'Arc last week and presented the squad with a case of Havana cigars so that they could, as he put it, "celebrate victory" after the World Cup debutants meet Argentina in Paris today.

BERTI VOGTS, Germany's coach, has disciplined his midfielder Thomas Hassler after he apparently spent too long away from the squad with his wife, Angela. "He [Vogts] wasn't livid, but he made his point," the assistant coach, Rainer Bonhof, said. "Some players failed to acknowledge the difference between leisure time and permission to leave the team camp." Vogts has laid down strict rules after there was trouble with players' wives and girlfriends at the 1994 finals. The Germans' wives and families are staying at hotels near the team base outside Nice.

WHO is the biggest and most fervent fan at the World Cup? There will be plenty of claimants, but few will have a better claim to the title than a Tunisian photographer, Bechir Manoubi. At the age of 68 he is covering his eighth finals, and also regularly attends many other top international sports events, including the Olympics.

"I'm here because I'm first and foremost a supporter of Tunisia, and now all the sports federations call me to the major events as a good luck charm," he said. "I will always remain a fanatic, but the red tape gets increasingly on my nerves. I don't know if I can continue for much longer." He has promised, however, to be at Montpellier tomorrow for Tunisia's match against Colombia.

CROATIA will protest to Fifa, world football's ruling body, over the use of a Serb interpreter at their post-match news conference yesterday, a Croatian squad spokesman, Darko Tironi, said. As the female interpreter handled questions and answers during coach Miroslav Blazevic's news conference following his side's 1-0 win over Japan, a Croatian official sought to take over the translation. The offer was rejected, although a Fifa representative, Markus Siegler, said he would ensure Croatian interpreters were used at subsequent news conferences.

DAN PETRESCU, Chelsea's Romanian defender, has made it clear where his loyalties lie by naming his baby daughter, born three weeks ago but not yet seen by her father, Beatrice Chelsea Petrescu.