World Cup will be a test of class and endurance

Le Tournoi de France was a realistic practice run for a footballing marathon. Glenn Moore reports from Paris
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The World Cup will be into its tenth game this time next year and 32 football teams and their supporters will be realising that France is a big country.

Previous World Cups have worked on the basis of twin centres, as did Euro 96. The seeded team plays all its games in one venue, with other group matches in a nearby city.

Not France 98. Every team will play at three venues in the group stage alone. In a country four times the size of England, and with venues more far flung than in Euro 96, this means a lot of travelling.

Several group schedules involve 750-plus miles, while a possible programme for a finalist would be Lens-Toulouse-Lyon-Paris-Nantes-Marseille-Paris, a total of 2,500 miles in a month. Judging by the experience of 10 days at Le Tournoi de France, involving a mere 1,000 miles, this would be expensive, exhausting and logistically difficult.

Michel Platini, once a great player, now the president of the organising committee, said the programme "gives the players and spectators a chance to see all this wonderful country."

Nice idea - but Platini should know that sightseeing is way down players' priorities. England, like many teams, are contemplating keeping one base and making overnight trips to matches. Sceptics suggest the real reason is to maximise the expenditure of teams and fans and sell tickets, as every venue will feature at least 11 different teams.

An incentive may be necessary, as France is yet to succumb to Coupe de Monde fever. Tickets sales were poor at Le Tournoi, with local federations resorting to giving them away by the thousand. Even French matches failed to sell out and the atmosphere at the Parc des Princes for their match against Italy on Wednesday was so flat you could hear the shouts of the players.

The stadiums look as if they will be ready in time but, by modern English standards, are adequate rather than luxurious. A change of government has put fences back on the agenda but, surprisingly, the organisers did not discuss this with the then-opposition before the poll and they are presently too busy to meet. This is in marked contrast to the Football Association's long cultivation of New Labour.

Sepp Blatter, the general secretary of Fifa, world football's governing body, made his opinion clear when he said: "The global image of football is important. Players and spectators are not animals. We last discussed this when 80 people died in Guatemala, many crushed against fences. It is unacceptable that even one person dies at a football match."

The French are relieved that Algeria have failed to qualify, given their terrorist problem, but there will be much angst over visas for supporters of African countries. "Genuine" applications will, apparently, be processed, which may mean only those taking out an official - and expensive - package. Blatter confirmed the matches will all be shown on free TV but admitted Fifa had undersold the rights by dealing before football's current boom. They are attempting to re-negotiate.

There is also the football. This could be good - the game is going through an expansive phase with Brazil's 3-3 draw with Italy in Lyon illustrating the potential. However, the size of the competition means the standard may lack depth and the finalists will be exhausted. The refereeing will also cause problems. Fifa's insistence on including inexperienced third- world referees is partly political, partly admirable, but the problems were underlined by the erratic display of the Moroccan referee at England v France. "The refereeing could be better," Glenn Hoddle admitted diplomatically.

If England qualify, the evidence of Le Tournoi suggests that, while capable of beating most teams, there is insufficient quality to defeat the very best, the Germanys and Brazils. England are last-eight material and a favourable draw could take them into the semi-finals but, unless Hoddle can overcome the inbuilt disadvantage of a club game which plays fast- and-loose with international ambitions and techniques, they will go no further.