Football: World Cup `98 diary

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The Independent Online
THE WORLDWIDE appeal of the Premiership is underlined again by statistics revealing more English-based players - 75 - on show at the World Cup than from any other country. Spain and Italy are next best with 70, and it was those two countries who led the way in America four years ago with 46 and 45 respectively. The English-based 75 are distributed among the competing nations as follows: England 22, Norway 11, Scotland 8, Jamaica 7, Netherlands 5, Denmark 4, France 4, South Africa 3, Croatia 2, Romania 2, United States 2, Austria 1 Colombia 1, Germany 1, Italy 1, Nigeria 1. Chelsea have eight players at the World Cup (with eight different countries) as have Manchester United and Tottenham.

BIG WORLD Cup, small world. When the early-morning Paris to Marseilles express broke down yesterday in the middle of nowhere (Macon Loche, actually), the hundreds of South Africa supporters bound for the match with France were oblivious to the presence on the platform of two Scots with a place in FA Cup final history. For among those waiting for a replacement train were Charlie Cooke, a 1970 winner with Chelsea who is currently coaching in the United States, and Gordon Smith, doubtless heading south to escape the `And Smith must score' notoriety of Brighton's 1983 defeat by Manchester United.

FILIP DE Wilde is keeping a low profile in the Belgian squad after tricking his team-mates into radical Ronaldo haircuts. "Hopefully I'm a better goalkeeper than a hairdresser," said De Wilde, who promised the players a three-millimetre crewcut and then found he had, er, misjudged in some cases, forcing his victims to hide their baldness underneath caps.

EVEN THOSE countries not taking part in France have been overtaken by World Cup fervour. In Vietnam, soldiers and fishermen on Bach Long Vi island are saving precious diesel for generators to avert the threat of power cuts, while the Hanoi Post and Telecommunications Department is providing free wake-up calls for the duration of the competition instead of the normal cost of 1,000 dong (five pence). In Bangladesh, where the threat of reduced power is a constant worry, nearly 2,000 people attacked and ransacked the power station in the coastal Cox's Bazar district when the lights went out in the middle of Wednesday's opening game.

IT MAY be Jamaica's first World Cup but they are ahead of the game in terms of gleaning information on their opponents. A friend of coach Rene Simoes has perfected some statistical software which can dissect their rivals' game. "You can ask the computer questions", explained Simoes, "such as who generally passes to Croatia's striker Davor Suker? It tells you which players give him the ball and from which direction."

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