Cup becoming American success story WORLD CUP


The American hosts could not have written a better script so far for World Cup '94.

Television ratings are better than expected, and attendance is high. The favorites, with apologies to Colombia, are still in the field, along with surprise teams Switzerland and Saudi Arabia.

More goals are being scored than in 1990, and there have been only a few reported cases of fan misconduct.

So what if the weather is a little hot and Argentine superstar Diego Maradona was kicked out of the tournament Thursday for failing a drug test?

We're getting the United States vs. Brazil in the round of 16 on the Fourth of July.

"We could not be more pleased with what has happened," said Alan Rothenberg, World Cup USA chairman. "I think the leadership of FIFA [the world's soccer governing body] and that organizing committee and the U.S. Soccer Federation were confident that the U.S. public would respond positively when presented with the World Cup.

"TV ratings for both ABC and ESPN have significantly exceeded everyone's expectations, and we think at this stage, things could not have gone better."

ABC's 6.8 rating for the U.S. team's 1-0 loss to Romania was higher than the 6.6 for CBS's afternoon NCAA basketball tournament games.

ABC's four first-round games averaged a 4.8 rating and a 15 share, above what Rothenberg said was the network's prediction of a rating between 4.0 and 4.5.

The rating is the percentage of televisions in the United States watching a program, and, for network ratings, each point represents 942,000 homes. The share is the percentage tuned in among those televisions on at the time.

The event is playing just as well live.

A total of 2,537,999 tickets were sold for the first 38 games, an average of 66,789, with the U.S.-Romania match at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., drawing 93,869. Four years ago in Italy, the total for the entire tournament was 2,515,000, or 48,369 per game.

"The crowds have been so well behaved, they've caused fewer incidents than at a normal American football game," said Rothenberg. "There have been some arrests, but the crowds have been enthusiastic and shown a lot of passion for the sport. As for the heat, well, that's beyond our control."

Several of the European squads have described the heat and humidity like "playing in a sauna, plus 20." Swiss coach Roy Hodgson said playing in the Pontiac (Mich.) Silverdome was like "playing in a hot dog stand."

But while the heat has caused some problems, teams like Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden have advanced to the single-elimination Round of 16.

"There are some problems, but nothing major," said Italy's Roberto Baggio. "I don't think the heat has disturbed the quality of play."

Goals are up, from 2.21 per game in 1990 to 2.62 this year. FIFA secretary Joseph Blatter says the increased scoring is due mainly to the new rule that awards three points for a win, instead of two, in the opening round.

"Almost everyone realized they had to attack more to reach the second round," said Blatter. "The rule forced teams to play more entertaining soccer not usually associated with the opening round."

Traditional powers Germany, Italy and Belgium struggled in the first round, sometimes against lesser-known opponents.

"This is a World Cup in which the little fellows are rising up," said Berti Vogts, the German coach. "The football world is getting smaller."

But Brazil (2-0-1) has played well and Argentina (2-1-0), until Maradona's dismissal, looked strong, too.

"The Argentinians have played the best football by far," said former German coach and World Cup star Franz Beckenbauer. "Brazil is not strong enough to have a say about who wins the championship. They have yet to convince me in any of their games, but they could improve."

The United States is aware of that. An upset of Brazil would be the greatest win in U.S. history. Brazil is a country with a rich soccer tradition -- three World Cup titles, legions of passionate and entertaining supporters, and the incomparable Pele.

Now the one-name wonders are Romario, Bebeto, Dunga and Rai.

The United States has comparatively little soccer tradition, but maybe this is destiny's way of writing another chapter in the script of World Cup '94.

Fourth of July. World Cup. The U.S. vs. Brazil, best team in the tournament. International television audience.

"If you really want an explosion, let us win this game," said U.S. defender Fernando Clavijo. "It would be the icing on an already great World Cup."

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