Football / World Cup USA '94: Klinsmann plays the talisman: Germans have an ominous look as their prolific goalscorer strikes the first blow - Richard Williams in Chicago senses enduring power in the champions' opening shot

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The Independent Online
THEY SWEPT the homeless people off the streets of Chicago last week to make way for the opening match of the 15th World Cup of football. Oh yes, they did. They really did. In the land of the free and the home of the brave. This wasn't Seoul or Mexico City, where such a brutal exercise in cosmetic surgery might be expected. But we're all Third Worlders now, and we'd better start getting used to it.

'Chicago is a world-class city,' John Donahue of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless said on the eve of the tournament, echoing the city's current slogan, 'but it has world-class problems. One of them is homelessness.' And he told me about an incident that very morning, when one of his co-

workers had been to watch the preparations for the World Cup parade at Grant Park, a strip of greensward which lies along broad Michigan Avenue between the vast Chicago Hilton and the Soldier Field stadium, where the games are being played. 'It was seven o'clock in the morning. He was sitting on a bench with this other guy, who was asleep. Suddenly two police cars swooped down, jumped on the guy, told him he couldn't sleep there, and took him away. Then they told my friend to keep out of the park for two weeks. How could they do that? Is the soccer for everybody, or for a chosen few?'

Football does not belong to the Gucci-loafered Fifa committee men who awarded the 1994 finals to the United States after they and their wives had been flown around the country in a corporate jet loaned by the chairman (now deceased) of Time-Warner Incorporated. It is still, to its great glory, the game of the descamisados, the shirtless ones, and if an official Third World nation can't host the World Cup, then let us hope that one of them will win the thing in Pasadena's Rose Bowl in four weeks' time.

Sadly, it probably will not be Bolivia. Their 1-0 defeat at the hands of Germany in Friday's opening game was a brave effort, but in the end the South Americans served mainly as a supporting cast for a subdued but ominous demonstration of the continuing potency of the reigning champions - the team anyone, Third Worlders or otherwise, will have to overcome if they want to get their name on the most coveted trophy in sport.

Bill Clinton, Helmut Kohl and Bolivia's President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozala were among the 63,000 at Soldier Field, stately home of the Chicago Bears, to watch the hostilities commence. They saw, as history suggested they would, a goalless first half, although by no means an entirely barren one. After a cagey quarter of an hour, Karlheinz Riedle met Andreas Moller's left-wing cross and put a point-blank header wastefully into the arms of Carlos Trucco, and in the 34th minute Bodo Illgner flew across his goal to fingertip Erwin Sanchez's long- range drive around the post after imaginative approach work by Jose Milton Melgar and Julio Cesar Baldivieso.

Bolivia played in the finals of 1930 and 1950, but failed to win a match on either occasion, or even to score a goal. Nevertheless, the unheralded young team from the Altiplano settled well to their task in the 90-degree heat on Friday, moving the ball fluently around a five-man midfield, with the elegant Sanchez and the eager Baldivieso readily moving up in support of a single striker, William Ramallo. They should have taken the lead after 57 minutes, when Luis Cristaldo moved clear down the left on to a ball provided by the combination of Baldivieso and Melgar, but the wing-back shot wildly over the bar. Five minutes later Cristaldo failed again from the same position when his clumsy first touch allowed Illgner to smother his attempt.

In between Cristaldo's two blunders, Germany won the match. Berti Vogts sent Mario Basler on to replace the ineffective Riedle in the 60th minute, but the team had barely rearranged itself - with Moller moving up front, Thomas Hassler filling his role behind the strikers, and Basler sitting out wide on the right - when Lothar Matthaus aimed a long ball which beat the advancing defence and broke for Jurgen Klinsmann to open the scoring at the 1994 World Cup finals with his 20th goal in a German shirt. An instinctive reponse was to seek the odds against Klinsmann scoring the last goal of the tournament, too.

Seldom venturing much above a trot in the steamy conditions, Germany relied heavily on the robotically powerful running and supremely rational distribution of their two big blond midfielders, Matthias Sammer and Stefan Effenberg (three, in fact, after the arrival of Basler, cloned from the same material). At the back, lurking behind Jurgen Kohler and Thomas Berthold, Matthaus looked good enough to blunt the final thrust of all but the sharpest attacks. It will be interesting to see whether the likes of Colombia's Faustino Asprilla, Nigeria's Rashidi Yekini and Brazil's Romario and Bebeto can set him greater problems.

Marco Etcheverry, the lodestar of Bolivia's qualifying campaign, seemed the likeliest man to expose Matthaus's comparative lack of experience in the sweeper's role on Friday, when he took the field after 78 minutes in place of Ramallo. Still recovering from a knee injury, the gifted 23-year-old No 10 was not risked as a starter, but with his very first touch, having run Effenberg dizzy as he dashed and dummied to and fro across the penalty area, he guided the ball back with a deadly swiftness for Sanchez to shoot from a dangerous position. Four minutes and one further touch later, Etcheverry was looking at a red card in the hand of the Mexican referee, Arturo Brizio, after an altercation with Berthold and Matthaus. It seemed a harsh judgement, and it killed off the match.

Brizio had earlier booked five other players - Kohler and Moller of Germany, Baldivieso, Vladimir Soria and Carlos Borja of Bolivia - for a variety of offences, but both sides seemed wary of activating Fifa's new definition of the tackle from behind as a sending- off offence. For that, the governing body is to be applauded. For the future, it would be nice to see it doing something about the behaviour of people like Klinsmann - not just his despicable play-acting, which gives a new and sinister meaning to the term German Expressionism, but the naked malice exposed when he elbowed two admirable Bolivian defenders, Miguel Angel Rimba and Marco Sandy, as he ran across the line late in the second half.

But neither Klinsmann's decisive goal nor the all-American razzmatazz of the opening ceremony (hosted by Oprah Winfrey, starring Diana Ross and Daryl Hall, with a Clinton speech and the usual repertoire of balloons, ballads and bad taste) could get anywhere near the top of Chicago's news bulletins, thanks to the activities of two stars of other sports.

The start of World Cup week had been overshadowed by the unexpected retirement, midway through a dollars 30m four-year contract, of Ryne Sandberg, the Chicago Cubs' second baseman and baseball's last great white hope. Depressed by the Cubs' interminable losing streak, Sandberg departed on a wave of affection and gratitude from the tens of thousands who had admired his performances at Wrigley Field over the past dozen years. And then came the unfolding tragedy of another hero, O J Simpson. In competition for news time with the trail of blood that led from a Los Angeles driveway to a Chicago hotel room and back again, the arrival of big- time soccer in the United States never had a prayer.

In particular, Thursday's press conference announcing the launch of Major League Soccer was reported with a notable lack of euphoria, where it was reported at all. Seven years after the project began, Alan Rothenberg, the chairman of the World Cup USA board and of the MLS, could provide the names of only seven of the 12 cities which will have teams in the new league (no sign, significantly, of sports-mad Chicago), and was unable to give details of either major sponsors or the investors who will provide between dollars 50m and dollars 100m to get the project going next year. The world governing body, of course, had stipulated that the league should be up and running by 1993 when awarding the World Cup to Rothenberg's board; the postponement raised doubts which neither last week's woolly promises nor the appearance of hundreds of Chicago's junior soccer-players in the parade down Michigan Avenue did much to dispel.

Mayor Richard Daley, whose employees removed the homeless from the sight of the world's television cameras, sat beaming in the VIP grandstand erected outside the entrance to the Art Institute, one of the great neo-classical buildings which are the foundation of the city's self-confidence. Beneath him, and under the gaze of hundreds of curious office workers, passed a tango band from Argentina, genial Vikings from Norway, a 10ft-high fibreglass Parthenon from Greece, horsemen from Mexico, a samba school from Brazil (fully clothed, and therefore of doubtful authenticity). Skirling for Ireland, the pipers of the Chicago Police Emerald Society perspired in the near-record heatwave. Seven optimistic Paraguayans joined in, carrying a sign reading 'See you in France in 1998'.

All good fun, for everyone but the homeless, and two days later the World Cup kicked off with a perfectly decent game of football. Still, it was hard to get some words from a Fifa spokesman out of the mind. 'We know that soccer represents an opportunity not just to win money,' Guido Tognoni said at the MLS launch, 'but to win big money.' Somehow, you knew he wasn't talking about Jurgen Klinsmann's win bonus.

(Photograph omitted)

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