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Send the 2006 Cup to Africa.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Friday, June 26, 1998) -- England and Germany are competing for the 2006 World Cup.

Forget it. Europe doesn't deserve the globe's most prestigious sports event for at least two reasons:

* The tournament should be spread around the world.
* The infamous soccer hooligans, a blight on humanity.

Europe has been host to nine of the 16 World Cups, a ratio that could be justified 20-30 years ago but not now, with emergence of the sport in Africa, Asia, and, yes, even North America. It is the height of arrogance for Europe to think it is due the World Cup in 2006.

Here is the record:
1998 - France (Europe).
1994 - United States (North America).
1990 - Italy (Europe).
1986 - Mexico (North America).
1982 - Spain (Europe).
1978 - Argentina (South America).
1974 - Germany (Europe).
1970 - Mexico (North America).
1966 - England (Europe).
1962 - Chile (South America).
1958 - Sweden (Europe).
1954 - Switzerland (Europe).
1950 - Brazil (South America).
1938 - France (Europe).
1934 - Italy (Europe).
1930 - Uruguay (South America).

The 2002 World Cup is headed for Asia, which is good news. If the sport is to prosper throughout the world, it needs to gain a foothold in this populous region. We don't agree with the political decision made by world soccer governing body FIFA to split the tournament between South Korea and Japan, but that's history.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter has said the 2006 World Cup should go to Africa, and he is right. Following that progression, the 2010 World Cup is due for South America, where it hasn't been since 1978. And then the 2014 World Cup . . . back to the United States, which arguably had the most successful tournament in history, much to the chagrin of many in the European media.

Europe should be considered for the 2018 World Cup -- but only if the hooligans can be curbed. If not, no World Cup should ever be held in Europe. Make the hooligans travel a good distance -- to South Korea-Japan, to South Africa, to Brazil, to the United States, to Australia. They won't, at least to any significant degree.

We don't buy the argument of some in England that the World Cup should be there since the English can control their hooligans. Really?

We feel sorry for the people of Marseilles and Lens who have had to put up with the garbage from England and Germany that has disrupted the good-time party atmosphere that surrounds most of the World Cup. Take the World Cup away from Europe, and one doesn't have to worry as much about this element.

Some other thoughts:

* I'm tired of the whining from some disgruntled veteran U.S. national team players. Classy, they aren't. Some of the complainers were fortunate to have been included on the squad in the first place.

* Steve Sampson is splitting hairs when he says he doesn't criticize players to the media. He is quite open to the press, helping greatly to promote the sport in the United States, but he usually goes into detail when asked why a lineup change is being made. And in the commentary, he'll say Player A isn't playing good defense, Player B isn't fit, Player C isn't converting chances, etc. That's the truth, as he sees it, but it also can be construed as criticism.

* The United States won't be forced to use a 3-6-1 formation in the future, or even a 3-5-2, when it gets midfielders who can match up one vs. one with top European and South American teams. Such is not the case now.

* U.S. referee Esse Baharmast, subject of harsh criticism earlier for his penalty call that gave Norway victory against Brazil, is now being praised by many observers for making the correct decision, according to television footage that was not initially available.

The video shows Brazil defender Junior Baiano grabbing the shirt of Tore Andre Flo in the penalty area as the Norwegian striker was maneuvering to get the ball. My question: How many times is that foul called in the penalty box in the closing moments of a tie game?

We see such shenanigans all the time, especially on corner kicks. Talk about controversy if penalty kicks were called every time this infraction occurred.

* Congratulations to Gamal Mahmoud Ahmed Ghandour, referee from Egypt, who gave a yellow card to Yugoslav striker Perica Ognjenovic in the 61st minute for diving in the U.S. game.

Here's hoping that the referee for the Brazil-Chile second-round match Saturday is equally forthright against some Chilean players who fall at the slightest contact, trying to draw a foul call. And sometimes with no physical contact.

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