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Revisiting Olympic team choices and seamy side to World Cup selection.By Robert Wagman
My colleague Gary Davidson and I wrote that Charles strongly denied reports that he had settled on Jeff Agoos, Frankie Hejduk and Chris Armas as the three "overage" players -- players exempted from the under-23 age limit -- he is allowed to add to his squad for the Summer Olympics in Australia. Charles admitted he had talked with all three players, and each had indicated a willingness to play. In turn, Agoos and Armas have informed their Major League Soccer clubs it is likely they could be gone for most of September.
Charles stressed he would not "officially" make his choices until August when final rosters have to be submitted to the Olympic organizers in Sydney. Given what has happened just in the past two weeks, waiting until the last minute to finalize the roster may not only be advisable, but absolutely necessary.
Brown missed one of the World Cup qualifying matches in Hershey when he banged up a knee in practice. When I suggested in a previous column that he might be injury-prone, members of his family and his former college coach were quick to rush to his defense citing the fact he has missed few matches in his career from injury.
The problem for Brown and his supporters, of course, is that if Charles names an overage goalkeeper, be it Kasey Keller, Brad Friedel or Tony Meola, they would be making the trip as the starter and Brown would become the backup.
Brown now has had athroscopic surgery on his knee. Everyone says he will be as good as new in a few weeks and ready for Sydney in plenty of time. But the scenario has to worry Charles, or it should, because most trainers will tell you a newly-scoped knee is more susceptible to problems, and players recover differently from surgery. Charles is going to have to take a wait and see attitude towards his goalkeeping choices.
The same is obviously now true of Agoos who had his knee scoped last week to remove a bone chip and clean out some damaged cartilage. As with Brown, he should be ready to go by mid-September, but who can tell for sure.
Actually, Charles has a couple of additional new worries beyond Brown and Agoos' knees. The assumption has been that the heart of his midfield would be John O'Brien of Amsterdamís Ajax and D.C. United's Ben Olsen. Both midfielders availability may be in question.
O'Brien is playing for a new, hard-line coach at Ajax who himself is under tremendous pressure to get results right from the starting match. We hear that O'Brien was told he would spend the season playing for the Ajax reserves if he left pre-season practice to join the full national team in their first two qualifying matches. So Bruce Arena left O'Brien in the Netherlands.
If O'Brien makes the starting side at Ajax, his club coach will be no happier to lose him for the Olympics. Olsen, who has missed more than a month with an ankle sprain, should certainly be fit by September. Both situations should concern Charles.
Now as to that FIFA vote. The story has gone from confused, to bazarre to almost surreal. To recap, Germany won the bid over South Africa by a single vote, 12-11, on the fourth ballot when the Oceania Football Confederation's representative on the executive committee, 78-year old New Zealander Charles Dempsey, abstained instead of voting for South Africa as he had been instructed to do by his federation. Had he voted for South Africa the committee would have been deadlocked at 12-12, and Sepp Blatter, president of the world governing body, would have been able to cast a tie breaking vote. Blatter would undoubtedly have voted for South Africa, whose bid he was championing.
Since arriving back in Auckland, Dempsey has resigned from his post with the Oceania Confederation. He has also spoken darkly of bribe offers and death threats.
Depending on who is being quoted, Dempsey is portrayed as a confused old man who succumbed to tremendous pressure and abstained in his final vote in something approaching near panic. In some interviews, he has said "there was a frenzy of bartering of votes going on" and that he did not understand his abstention would doom South Africa's chances.
Insiders, however, say the 30-plus-year veteran of FIFA's internal political wars knew exactly what he was doing by abstaining. Some reports say he was angered by a public rebuke given him by Blatter at a previous executive committee meeting. His daughter, Josephine King, secretary general of the Oceania Confederation (nope, no nepotism there), says her father was placed "under extreme pressure by UEFA," that Oceania owes a great deal to the European federation and it was payback time.
In any event, FIFA says there will be no re-vote. Germany will host in 2006. The latest news is that there were bribe offers slipped under the hotel room doors of committee members the night before the vote. A German satirical magazine has come forward and admitted it slipped the letters under the doors as a practical joke.
As far as the death threats, FIFA says it is looking into the allegations.
Senior correspondent Robert Wagman's "It Seems To Me . . . " appears regularly on SoccerTimes. He can be
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Senior correspondent Robert Wagman's "It Seems To Me . . . " appears regularly on SoccerTimes. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org..