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Politics tinge U.S. matches with Iran, Yugoslavia.

>By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Sunday, June 7, 1998) -- Many are playing up the political ramifications of the United States’ match June 21 against Iran in the World Cup in Lyon, France.

These are two nations with only the barest of relations following the Islamic revolution and the prolonged seizure of American hostages at the U.S. embassy in Tehran 20 years ago. In fact the regime still views the U.S. government as the "Great Satan."

But what about June 25 in Nantes, against Yugoslavia?

Serbia constitutes much of present-day Yugoslavia following the Balkans War that kept the nation out of the 1994 World Cup. U.S. policy was tilted strongly against the Serbs during the conflict. And now there is talk about the Americans being ready to resume sanctions against the Serbs for their continued attacks on rebellious ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, near the border with Albania.

ESPN will show "Outside the Lines," a one-hour special on the U.S. national team, starting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. Production began last September.

e saw a six-minute excerpt and were quite impressed. Included was Eric Wynalda's last-minute withdrawal from the starting lineup against Kuwait in Portland, Ore., saying his knee wasn't fit.

Another highlight: Jeff Agoos' reaction after his horrendous pass led to Jamaica's tying goal in a World Cup qualifier -- and the next-day buck-up call he received at his home from coach Steve Sampson, whose job was in jeopardy at the time.

The show, narrated by Bob Ley, also will analyze the personnel decisions made by Sampson, including the cut of John Harkes, the benching of Marcelo Balboa and Alexi Lalas, all World Cup veterans, as well as Tab Ramos' comeback from two ACL knee surgeries in a year.

It also will depict the addition of Martinique-born, French native, German Bundesliga starter David Regis, 29, who is married to an American woman -- and was naturalized as a U.S. citizen May 20.

The head of the International Olympic Committee said he will urge the next world soccer governing body FIFA president to further ease the under-23 format for Olympic soccer. IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch wants to open up the Olympic competition to all the world's best players.

The position of FIFA, which wants to guard the supremacy of its World Cup, is that it doesn't want to have a "World Cup" every two years. Samaranch said he will discuss the restrictions with the winner of Monday's FIFA presidential election in Paris. Lennart Johansson, head of the European federation UEFA, and FIFA secretary general Sepp Blatter are the two candidates to succeed outgoing president Joao Havelange.

"This is something we have in our agenda -- to discuss with the new president the possibility to increase the number of players without the age limit," he said. "Maybe this figure can be increased. Our dream is to have an open football tournament, but we think we need some years to (achieve) this aim."

FIFA for the 1996 Atlanta Games allowed teams to field three players over 23. Most took advantage of it; some in Europe didn't. On a related matter, Samaranch said he plans to appoint the next FIFA president as an IOC member. "FIFA is maybe the most important federation in the world," he said. "To have the president of FIFA inside the IOC is something we would like to have."

Jerry Langdon is sports editor of Gannett News Service and can be e-mailed at jlangdon@gns.gannett.com.