REACHING the top can be tough. Ask Peter van Vossen. If the Dutchman's father had been able to control his son's career, Dick Advocaat would be minus one very capable striker against Brazil today. Growing up in an ardently religious family of 16 children, Van Vossen, now a respected Ajax player, was forbidden from indulging his first love. Football was considered sinful. 'I really respect my father but I couldn't help wanting to play football,' Van Vossen said. 'So I decided to play secretly.' Such subterfuge involved skipping bible classes to play in matches. This tactic was heavily reliant on a sympathetic brother, who used to fill Peter in on missed lessons as his father occasionally grilled him.

Van Vossen's double life was discovered by his mother but, fortunately, she kept the 15-year-old's truth from her husband, a nuclear power-station worker. Van Vossen's growing fame inevitably came to the notice of his father, who reluctantly allowed him to continue. Wise move. Van Vossen, who missed Euro '92 with a blood clot, deservedly stands on the threshold of a World Cup semi-final.

IF football had not beckoned, some of van Vossen's fellow quarter-finalists could have been following widely differing paths this weekend. Among the Germans, Lothar Matthaus showed promise as an interior designer while Karlheinz Riedle is a qualified butcher. Of the Swedes, Klas Ingesson made a buck as a lumberjack, and reserve defender, Mikael Nilsson, as a tobacconist. The Italians were diverse job-hunters: Arrigo Sacchi was a travelling shoe salesman, while standby careers beckoned for Roberto Donadoni (mathematician), Gianluca Pagliuca (pro tennis) and Daniele Massaro (PR).

WHEN the World Cup's colourful convoy leaves the US, the nation's football future rests with Major League Soccer. America's first league was founded in 1921 but foundered in the Depression. A pity, as it boasted some of the most diverse club names in history: Providence Clamdiggers, Bethlehem Steel, J & P Coats of Pawtucket, Brooklyn Wanderers, Boston Wonder Workers, New York Giants, and, best of all, Indiana Flooring of New York.

AMERICAN 'aged 21 and over' drinking laws prompted much ribaldry from World Cup visitors. On seeing a young-looking local turned away from a Washington pub, a group of Irish supporters (stationed for some inexplicable reason in DC) chorused 'You can have sex - but you can't have a drink.'

THE World Cup has witnessed an explosion of eulogies. See if you can unravel the identity of this mystery celebrity, a prominent figure at USA '94 who was this week described by Fifa, the sport's governing body, as the 'world's leading footballer'. According to Fifa's glossy brochure, Mr X is 'imbued with imagination, resolve, and flair' and 'it would take reams of paper to list all the honours bestowed on . . .' Anyone thinking of Hagi, Baggio, or Klinsmann should reconsider. It's Fifa president Joao Havelange, born during World War I but still playing.

THE bottle of Wild Turkey Bourbon for odd team of the week (World Cup politicians) goes to Graham Fisk, of Birmingham, for the following side who are 'not just politicians but are, or were, presidents . . .

Fuad (Idi) Amin of Saudi Arabia (Uganda), Ariel (Daniel) Ortega of Argentina (Nicaragua), Lee (Kwan Yew) Jong Hua of South Korea (Singapore), Kim (Il Sung) Joo Sung of South Korea (North Korea), Adolfo (Guillermo) Valencia of Colombia (Colombia), Hernan (Porfirio) Diaz of Argentina (Mexico), (Marshal Castelo) Branco of Brazil (Brazil), Park (Chung Hee) Jung Bae of South Korea (South Korea), Julio (Carlos) Salinas of Spain (Mexico), (General Roberto) Viola of Brazil (Argentina), Jorge (General Andres) Rodriguez of Mexico (Paraguay).

Given the potential for red cards of more than a few of the above, they would need as PR: Joseph- Antoine (Sir Tim) Bell of Cameroon (England)'.

This week's Bourbon test: a side of World Cup place-names, from any year (like Charlton). Entries to Sports Diary, The Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB.