France is ready, willing and apparently eager to stage a 32-team World Cup tournament in 1998.
A decision on whether to expand the event from its 24-team format could be made as early as this week, but the France ’98 organizing committee already is acting as if it’s fait accompli.
“We are now working on the basis of 32 teams,” said Fernand Sastre, who, with former French star and national coach Michel Platini, is co-president of the organizing committee. “We will have to organize 64 matches over a period of 32 or 33 days.”
Speaking at a news conference in Saint Denis, near Paris, where an 80,000-seat stadium will be built for the tournament, Sastre said a dozen French cities are seeking to be World Cup ’98 venues and added that eight to 10 will be chosen.
Saint Denis will be the site of the opening game and eight others, including one semifinal and the final.
Platini said the draw for the qualifying rounds will occur in December of 1995 at the Louvre in Paris. The draw for the finals will be held in Marseille in 1997.
If FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, does increase the World Cup field to 32, as expected, Japan and South Korea will be hoping to possibly split the 2002 tournament.
Both countries are bidding strongly for the event and the possibility of sharing it was suggested as a compromise.
That idea has been shot down by FIFA, however.
“Who would qualify as hosts? Who would be responsible for security? The questions seem endless,” said Joseph (Sepp) Blatter, FIFA’s general secretary.
FIFA President Joao Havelange has long wanted to stage the 2002 tournament in Asia, but said recently that Australia and Colombia also are interested in playing host to the finals.
Japan has the edge at the moment, but South Korea’s campaign is gaining attention. Colombia, which was supposed to stage the 1986 World Cup but had to bow out and turn the tournament over to Mexico, could not possibly handle a 32-team event, and Australia’s bid is nothing more than a publicity ploy.
It took Argentine striker Claudio Caniggia less than a game to get embroiled in controversy again after a 13-month suspension for cocaine use.
Playing for his club, AS Roma of Italy, against River Plate of Argentina in Buenos Aires last week, Caniggia scored the Italian club’s second goal in a 3-1 victory. But the River Plate players protested furiously, albeit unsuccessfully, that Caniggia had used his hand, not his head, in scoring.
If so, Caniggia apparently learned nothing during his enforced absence. He sat out the 1990 World Cup final in Italy after a blatant handball in Argentina’s semifinal victory over Italy in Naples.
He and teammate Diego Maradona, also well known for his handballs, will have to be watched closely by the referees in next month’s World Cup.
The European Cup next season will feature many of the sport’s most famous clubs. Those that already have qualified by winning their respective national championships include Manchester United of England, Glasgow Rangers of Scotland, AEK Athens of Greece, Ajax Amsterdam of the Netherlands, Anderlecht of Belgium, AC Milan of Italy and Bayern Munich of Germany.
The Rangers won their sixth consecutive title, but the Scottish club still is looking for its first European trophy. Among the newcomers in the European Cup will be France’s champion, Paris St. Germain, which won its first French title since 1986.
The Spanish championship came down to the last day of the season Sunday, with Barcelona winning its fourth consecutive title. Deportivo La Coruna, which had needed to win its final game to clinch its first title, was held to a scoreless tie.
The election of Nelson Mandela as South Africa’s president could have an impact on the nation’s sporting image, too. Rugby has always been South Africa’s most popular sport, or at least the one at which it has been most successful. Now, soccer could take over.
One of Mandela’s first acts on his inauguration day last week was to attend a soccer game with his Zambian counterpart, Frederick Chiluba. They were among 50,000 in Johannesburg who watched South Africa upset Zambia, 2-1.
South Africa already has been chosen as host country for the African Nations Cup in 1997 and has been proposed as a possible World Cup host for 2006.
The last of Europe’s three cup tournaments ends tonight when AC Milan of Italy plays Barcelona of Spain in what could prove to be a classic European Cup Final in Athens.
AC Milan, a former winner, lost last season’s final to Olympique Marseille of France, and Barcelona won the trophy in 1992.
Internazionale of Milan, meanwhile, won the UEFA Cup by scoring two 1-0 victories over Salzburg of Austria.
The European Cup Winners’ Cup was won by Arsenal of England, which defeated defending champion Parma of Italy, 1-0, in Copenhagen, Denmark. Arsenal became only the seventh English club to win the trophy.
The Netherlands, Germany and Italy each announced World Cup rosters without much ado. But in Brazil, it was a different story.
Coach Carlos Alberto Parreira was being second-guessed even before the ink was dry on the paper. The main problem, it seemed to the Brazilian media, lay in midfield.
Gerson, a member of Brazil’s 1970 World Cup-winning team and now a television analyst, had this to say:
"(Parreira) has picked a midfield where the emphasis is too much on players who mark (defend) and not enough on players who create. It’s a good squad and I’m optimistic, but it could have been a lot better.”
Nor was Gerson too optimistic about the tournament as a whole.
“In terms of playing standards, I think this will be the worst World Cup in the last 20 years,” he said.
A harsh judgment, especially when voiced before the first ball has been kicked. Will Gerson say the same thing later on if Brazil actually wins the World Cup?
Germany’s 1990 World Cup-winning coach, Franz Beckenbauer, will serve as a German television commentator during this summer’s tournament, but former England national team coach Graham Taylor has declined an invitation to attend the World Cup as a radio commentator for the BBC. . . . Dutch international Ruud Gullit has returned to his old club, AC Milan, on a one-year, $880,000 contract. Gullit, Europe’s player of the year in 1987, helped Sampdoria win the Italian Cup this season.
Luis Fernandez, the former French international midfielder, is rumored to be leaving Cannes to take over as coach of new French champion Paris St. Germain. Fernandez, who played on the Parisian club’s 1986 championship-winning team, would replace Portuguese Coach Artur Jorge. . . . Manchester United midfielder Bryan Robson, a former England captain, has retired after 13 years at the club, where he won three Football Assn. (F.A.) Cup medals, two league championships and a European Cup Winners’ Cup medal. Robson’s 534-game career included 359 games for Manchester United.
Anderlecht and Belgium defender Phillipe Albert is expected to be fit for World Cup duty after a two-month absence following knee surgery.