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An American Fanís Journal: World Cup off to good start.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes Correspondent

PARIS (Wednesday, June 10, 1998) -- It's started. The opening match at the Stade de France came off better than the organizers could ever have hoped. Fans started arriving at 10:00 am for the 5:30 p.m. kickoff and it ended up an easy Metro ride to the stadium. The threatened strike of the Metro workers did not happen. If it had (and it might for a future match), it would be chaos. The stadium is surely one of the most magnificent in the world, but it has only 6,000 parking spaces for 80,000 seats. Today, the parking lot was completely filled by noon.

To me, the most amazing thing about this World Cup is how you would never know it was even being held here if it were not for the foreign fans. Except for the competing nations' flags on the Champs-Elysees, there is little saying "World Cup" anywhere in Paris. Except as an excuse for a strike, staging a small riot, or doubling prices on everything, Parisians don't seem to care much that the Cup is here. In fact, they are visibly annoyed at all these strange foreigners are tying up traffic. On Saturday we go to Nantes for Bora (Nigeria) versus Spain. Maybe there will be more atmosphere there.

The night before the opening match the organizers staged a huge parade that can only be described as totally bizarre. The organizer said it was to celebrate soccer as "love, law, the sensuality of nature, dreams, history and pleasure." Honest. It was actually four separate parades each led by a huge mechanized figure, each starting from a different part of the city, with the four meeting in the center. One of the figures was "Pablo-the American Indian" all 65 bright orange feet tall of him in a loin cloth. No political correctness for the French.

On the way over, we stopped in London and learned a couple of things of interest to United States supporters. One of the British papers assembled fifty soccer experts to pick the 16 teams who would pass through to the second round. Not one picked the U.S. For that matter not one picked either Mexico or Jamaica. So much for world opinion of CONCACAF soccer.

The bookies in England have established an interesting bet for the World Cup. An over-under on the number of red cards that will be given out during the tournament. The number is 19. Will there be more or less? How would you bet (I put 5 pounds on the under). I also put a small wager on the U.S. getting through to the Round of 16 (at 12-1).

More later from rainy and cold Paris.

Bob Wagman wrote a nationally syndicated political column for Scripps-Howard for many years. At the same time he has covered soccer in North America for British and South African newspapers since the days of the North American Soccer League. His "Football In America" column now appears regularly in British newspapers. He can be e-mailed at MobileWag@aol.com.