World Cup Diary: Real fans do it on the phone

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AFTER Hollywood's Oscars, the hottest honours in Tinsel Town are the Dungas, the Independent's unofficial World Cup Awards . . .

Most Extravagant Support:

Italy. The Fabulous Baggio Boys Fan Club gather in their thousands hours before kick-off and, as the hubbub reaches fever pitch, they dash to the banks of phones adjacent to every stadium. On calling Italy, they hold receivers high in the air for the Azzurri Armchair Army to savour the atmosphere. Note to investors - A T & T shares could be worth a punt.

Broadcast Bravery Award: Ian Darke (ESPN cable TV). Voted 'best play-by-play announcer' by the LA Times, Sky-man Darke won the hearts of European exiles by keeping his credibility when announcing, as station and sponsors dictated, 'this segment of the game brought to you commercial- free by Gillette Razors. The best a man can get' and 'Snickers - packed with Peanuts, Snickers really satisfies'. Darke was unfazed. 'When in Rome . . .' he says. 'Use Mastercard,' ESPN would doubtless reply.

Most Disappointed Fans: Argentina's. Gagging for beers, a posse of Diego Devotees became excited by descriptions on a Boston vending machine. Until they tasted, disbelievingly, root beer.

Best Soundtrack: Morocco followers' manic, drum-driven version of 'Gimme Some Loving'.

Best Use Of A Brown Paper Bag: England. Worn over head with cut-out eye-holes. Tears drawn on. Scrawled message: 'English fans'.

Best Two-Wheeled Supporting Actors: Saud and Muhammad Yunis. The green-and-white-uniformed Saudi brothers rode their souped-up Suzukis all the way from Riyadh to Washington, New York and Dallas. Outlay: pounds 20,000. En route from Dover to Heathrow, the Yunises, who resemble outriders to King Fahd's motorcade, so caught the attention of one truck driver that he crashed.

Lousiest American Contribution to Football's Dictionary: Joint winners: 'Tunnelling' for nutmeg; and 'Pill' for 'a shot that is moving so fast that the ball looks to be the size of an aspirin tablet to the goalkeeper'.

Most Canny Fans: Italy. The flagpole ban stumped many standard bearers. But not Italy's. New Jersey Police reported an alarming number of supporters arriving at Giants Stadium on crutches. In America, security men can handcuff a French footballer but not query anyone's handicap. And Italian banners could fly high on ad hoc poles.

Most Valuable Chant: Mexican fans. On holding Italy (which cast doubt over Azzurri progression to the second stage), Mexicans sang: 'The Taco Ate The Pizza'.

Only Occasion When American Police Watched Events on Pitch: Both penalty shoot-outs.

Most Eco-Friendly Necklace: Tony Spiritoso (Italy fan). String of garlic, dried red peppers and hot green peppers for 'good luck'. And post-match pasta.

Most Contrasting Causes for Delay in Detroit Pitch Preparation: Guns 'N' Roses and Jehovah Witnesses gigs (both sold out).

Most Bizarre Revelation: Yordan Lechkov - a picture of Madonna above matrimonial bed ('She is a full-blooded singer and I am a full-blooded footballer').

Best American Reply to 'What Do You Think of Maradona?': 'I don't mind her music but I don't like the way she dresses.'

Team Spirit

THE bottle of Wild Turkey Bourbon for odd team of the week goes to Martin Fulton, Stoke on Trent, for the following World Cup Players Named After Places XI (4-3-3):

Cordoba (Colombia 94); San Jose (Spain 78), Rio (France 78), Orlando (Brazil 58, 66), Nelson (Northern Ireland 82); Brindisi (Argentina 74), Lima (Brazil 66), Valencia (Argentina 78); Douglas (England 58, 62), Jordan (Scotland 74, 78, 82), Brazil (Scotland 82).

'A side packed with talent, but whether the silky South American midfield could gel with the all-British front-runners is anyone's guess.'

This week's bourbon test: a side of World Cup songs (like Dexy's 'Jackie Wilson Said'). Entries to Sports Diary, The Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB.