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FIFA bans Franz Beckenbauer for not cooperating with investigation

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Franz Beckenbauer, who won World Cups with West Germany as both a player and coach, was banned by FIFA on Friday from any association with soccer for 90 days after being accused of not cooperating with an investigation into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids.

FIFA, the world governing body for soccer and the organizer of the World Cup, said Beckenbauer refused to comply with repeated requests for help in determining whether votes awarding the next two World Cups to Russia and Qatar were influenced by bribes.

Beckenbauer is the first person to be penalized in association with the scandal, which gained wide prominence after a series of stories in the Sunday Times of London alleged widespread corruption linked to Qatari official Mohamed bin Hammam and the 2022 bidding campaign.

The U.S. finished second to the tiny Middle Eastern nation in the 2010 vote to award the 2022 World Cup.

In the stories Beckenbauer, a former voting member of FIFA's executive committee, was reported to have taken paid consultant jobs in 2011 with German firms seeking contracts for World Cup-related projects in Qatar, a gas-rich emirate.

FIFA suspensions typically include bans on attending matches and meeting with other soccer officials, although it was unclear Friday whether Beckenbauer would be prohibited from attending the World Cup in Brazil.

Beckenbauer, 68, an adviser to FIFA and a global ambassador for German club team Bayern Munich, said he was willing to answer any charges in Germany, adding that he had "nothing to do with corruption."

Focus on the referees

A day after controversial calls from Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura set the table for one Brazilian goal and took another away from Croatia in Thursday's World Cup opener, Mexico lost a pair of Giovani Dos Santos' goals to two poor offside call in its first game of the tournament.

Unlike Croatia, which lost 3-1 to Brazil, Mexico brushed aside Cameroon, 1-0, Friday in a driving rain in the northeastern city of Natal.

"The refereeing took away two clear goals," Mexico Coach Miguel Herrera complained. "But at the end of the day you've got to work for it and we get to the next match with three points."

Despite adding goal-line technology and other tools to help the referees, two days into the month-long World Cup poor officiating has already impacted two games. That's not a good trend.

Stadium issues continue

Organizational problems plagued Thursday's otherwise-festive World Cup opener in the brand-new Arena Corinthians, which clearly wasn't ready for prime time.

Despite a large and impressive menu of items, various concession stands had nothing more on hand than paper bags of stale popcorn and, in a few places, tiny sandwiches.

Some of the doves released during the opening ceremony couldn't find their way out of the arena, with the final one seeking asylum in the press box.

Then there was the bank of lights that flickered out midway through the first half with Brazil trailing Croatia, 1-0.

Artistically speaking, things didn't get much better on the second day with Mexico and Cameroon playing in horrible conditions in Natal while in Manaus stadium workers painted over dead spots on the turf with green dye to make the field presentable for TV viewers of Saturday's England-Italy game.

TV audience

Speaking of TV, U.S. viewership of Thursday's World Cup opener was up 8% over the 2010 kickoff match with 9.5 million people watching Brazil beat Croatia on ESPN and Univision combined, compared to 8.8 million for the South Africa-Mexico opener four years ago.

The numbers are all the more impressive considering Thursday's game began at midafternoon on a weekday throughout much of the U.S.

The Spanish-language audience on Univision was measured at 5.1 million, down 800,000 from four years ago when Mexico played in the opener. But ESPN drew 4.4 million people, up 55% from 2010.

Facebook claimed 58 million people worldwide posted message about Thursday's game.

Germany remains an octopus favorite

Four years ago a Germanoctopus named Paul correctly predicted the outcome of all seven of the country's World Cup games. This summer that duty has fallen to Regina, a young octopus living in a tank inside the Sea Life aquarium in Berlin.

And not surprisingly she picked Germany to defeat Portugal in its opener Monday. Regina made her choice by opening the lid of one of two boxes installed at a small football goal wall dropped into the tank. Each box contained the same food (parts of two sardines) and was covered with a team flag.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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