Football / World Cup USA '94 - World Cup on TV: Diana's supreme effort provides the send-off

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The Independent Online
FIRST of all, that controversial penalty incident. Diana Ross appeared to be clear through, played well on side by Oprah Winfrey, with Daryl Hall way behind her and several hundred schoolkids with pom-poms flailing hopelessly in her wake. And suddenly, out of nowhere - a minute remaining, scores level - the referee pointed to the spot. And of course, she blew it - scooted it pathetically past the left-hand post. One small kick for Ross, one giant hoot of derision for mankind.

Easy to say now that she never really got her head over the ball, but of course, on the world stage, in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of global football, this most basic of skills can desert you. Just ask Chris Waddle - and he didn't have to cope additionally with singing a medley of his greatest hits while concentrating on keeping important parts of his anatomy inside a small silk shirt. The argument that the death or glory endgame format reduces the game to little more than a lottery certainly gained momentum on Friday night. There may never be a more appropriate moment to call for Fifa officials to ban the penalty shoot-out as a means of deciding opening ceremonies.

It was left to William Jefferson Clinton, who plays up front for the US, to restore some order. 'The World Cup has captured the imagination of our country,' he said, his words just audible above the low rumble of a nation snoring.

And finally there was football.

The traditionally gruesome opening game won't have done much to wake America. Awesome but boring Germany took on plucky but careless Bolivia, famous for their stunning home record - though, as Barry Davies pointed out, home in their case happens to be at one of the highest altitudes in the world and it was felt the oxygen packs may well have impeded the opposition. The new Fifa initiatives designed to stamp out lawlessness mean if you're seen breathing with your mouth open, you get sent off. This happened to Marco Etcheverry of Bolivia. Nearly everyone else got booked (offences included failure to produce a hanky and yawning without covering the mouth). The first goal of the tournament went in midway through the second half and Davies made his first reference to 'German efficiency' approximately 10 minutes later.

There were problems in the BBC's London studio at half-time - much off-camera rustling, as if shopping was being unpacked from plastic bags, and I swear I heard a microwave go bing at one point. Also, some technician on a national mercy crusade had unplugged Jimmy Hill. 'Have you lost your microphone Jimmy?' said Desmond Lynam. His microphone, no; but his sense of humour, maybe. 'I haven't lost it. I mean, please don't blame me for something which is outside my recognition,' he said, bafflingly.

The ITV team are out in Dallas on what looks like a disused gameshow set, and gloating madly, converting their betting metaphors into dollars, and often referring to the boundless warmth of the American welcome. Late on Friday they were rewarded with an interesting 2-2 draw between South Korea and Spain, along with another sending off (Spain's Miguel Nadal, for forgetting his mother's birthday) and a pack of yellow cards (sniffing, mostly). The sun was out and the wince factor was high. 'The first thing that comes to mind is the lack of height from this Korean side,' said Trevor Francis, though he confessed to a lurking admiration for 'the lad Shin'. 'You'll find a lot of the Korean players sounding very similar, as well as looking very similar,' said Alan Parry. In other words, don't blame him for something outside his recognition.

ITV kept a link running with Jack Charlton in New Jersey. Andy Townsend was alongside him, sporting a horrible new orange hairstyle, which is what happens when you give players days off. Not content with being five hours behind us, Charlton seems to have entered a realm beyond time altogether. 'We see the Italians on Sunday morning television most days of the week,' he said. It's a frightening thought, but maybe Jack's much publicised diet of Guinness and Shredded Wheat is beginning to take a weird toll

out there in the heat. 'They've got a lot of laxities,' he added, which may have been an oblique reference to the same problem.

The BBC declared there were 5 billion people in the world, and 2 billion of them would watch the World Cup final. This seemed striking but plausible. Over on ITV, though, Matthew Lorenzo, who must have been taking several as yet undiscovered planets into consideration, confidently informed us the tournament would be seen by '30 billion'. Still, who's counting?

Infinitely more reliably, my Ray Wilkins 'great stuff' meter is up and running, and Wilkins has already got away to a flier, managing three in the space of a single, short conversation with Townsend. Sensible odds are currently being offered on a final tally of 7,413. In other words, a 'great stuff' for approximately every yellow card.

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