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An American Fanís Journal

June 10, 1998: World Cup off to good start.

An American Fanís Journal: Let the World Cup debate begin.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes Correspondent

PARIS (Saturday, June 13, 1998) -- Much excitement today. The sun came out for about a hour this afternoon, and it almost felt like springtime. Summer-like seems out of the question.

A couple of us old journalists had some lunch today with some friends that included a referee who is waiting to work his first match of the tournament. Since he should not be caught dead even talking with a journalist, let alone breaking bread with a group of us, he shall remain completely nameless and stateless, for that matter.

The main topic of conversation today among World Cup reporters is the penalty kick which saved Italy against Chile is the waning moments of their key match. The hand ball was clearly inadvertent and as the nameless referee put it "the Italian player clearly tried to play the ball off the defender. Play should simply have continued. I would never have made the call. It looked to me that this referee was calling the match out of fear of making an error.

Another major topic is the lack of red cards so far in the matches. Only one has been given through the first seven matches despite at least a half dozens tackles from behind that would seem to violate the new FIFA edict. As our nameless referee put it: "It seems to me that the referees are all but ignoring the new rule and simply calling things the way they always have. I have seen several tackles that would seem to qualify for a red under this new rule. It has me in a quandary. I think I shall simply call my match the way I always do. But I don't know."

How much would you pay to see a World Cup match? Thousands of fans from various countries have arrived in Paris only to find that the match tickets they had been promised through the tour agencies have failed to materialize. You have probably seen stories about this in the U.S. press. These people are left to fend for themselves on the black market.

As is often the case, ticket brokers seem to have tickets. But the prices they are charging are downright silly. I watched this morning in my hotel as a Japanese gentleman bought 3 tickets to each of the three Japanese matches. He paid 10,000 francs for each ticket. That's about $1,750 per ticket or a total of more than $15,750. In cash. He seemed very happy.

Tomorrow its off to Nantes to see Bora Milutinovic and his happy Nigerian crew.

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.