WORLD CUP USA 1994 : The Best and the Worst

WORST IMPROVISERS: Looking for something to wave, the Dutch fans decided upon giant inflatable orange hammers.

YEAH, AND VAN DAMME SHOULD HAVE AN OSCAR: In performances that belonged on the Midwest dinner theater circuit, players repeatedly flopped like fish on a dock in attempts to induce a foul call against an opponent. The dives usually didn't play with referees, and they were embarrassing. If we want bad acting, we'll watch "Saved by the Bell" reruns.

ON A CLEAR DAY, YOU CAN SEE ROW 42: For the Argentina-Romania game at the Rose Bowl, the smog was so bad that it was impossible to see the San Gabriel mountains from seats inside the stadium. For U.S.-Romania, with on-field temperature reaching 120 degrees, the smog nearly wiped out the Romanian players, who scored early and labored to hold on, 1-0. Gheorghe Hagi gasped: "I don't remember such a heat." Oh, come on, Gheorghe, AQMD would probably call it a little late-afternoon haze.

SPOTLIGHT READERS WILL UNDERSTAND: Esteemed Times columnist Mike Downey, usually a rather positive person, found five things wrong with this World Cup: 1--Opponents 10, Greeks 0; 2--The referee's call that fleeced Belgium; 3--Diana Ross kicking a ball at the opening ceremony; 4--"Best and Worst" lists about the World Cup; 5--Simon Barnes of the Times of London.

IT WAS HOT IN JUNE AND JULY, WHAT'S NEW?: It doesn't take a meteorological wizard to tell you that if you play a game in the United States in the middle of summer in the middle of the day, it's going to be hot. What's the surprise? The teams didn't know Chicago would be hot in June? Or it would be hot at noon in Orlando? Or that the Rose Bowl is one of the best places on the planet on Jan. 1 and one of the worst on July 1?

HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS!: Dallas has a lot of soccer lovers, as proven by its successful annual youth tournament, one of the largest in the world. But unlike the rest of the venues, and most of the country as a whole, those Texans who didn't already like the sport failed to embrace the event as an international festival. They had the worst record for selling tickets and got their nose out of joint when it was continually pointed out.

WORST SHOES: Ok, so pointy bright red submarines make for ugly shoes. But they at least have character and an element of uniqueness. Think you can get these at Beverly Center? Our problem was that every soccer player wore black cleats. No white. No blue. All black. Don't they know image is everything?

WHO NEEDS HEALTH CARE?: One of the most baffling aspects of the tournament has been players writhing on the ground before being carried off on a stretcher, only to return a few moments later at full speed. Could there be something else at work here? Are World Cup teams blessed with a faith healer on every bench? Perhaps. Then again, just maybe the players are exaggerating their injuries to catch their breath or trick the referee into giving a yellow or red card. Naw, that couldn't happen in the World Cup.

THE SHOW COULD HAVE USED SOME COMMERCIALS: As good as Andres Cantor has been calling games for Univision, the ABC and ESPN crews have been dreadfully dull. Jim McKay couldn't get into the spirit of things. We would also criticize his analyst, Desmond Armstrong, for smiling too much and being upbeat, but because he's doing a cartoon for us (Cobi's Offside) we won't say anything. The play-by-play people did not know what they were talking about, and the commentators were equally feeble. And besides, Roger Twibell almost ran down a Times reporter in a Palo Alto parking lot. That's reason enough to make the worst list.

OH, MEXICO: You don't miss three penalty kicks in the round of 16 at the World Cup. And you don't, like Alberto Garcia Aspe, mis-hit a ball so badly it flies over the crossbar. Even we know that.

WORST BEER SALES: Saudi Arabia versus Morocco in New York. Vendors say fans from these two Muslim nations were Anheuser-Busch's worst nightmare.

WORST HAT: The cardboard fez worn by fans of Morocco.

WORST KISSERS: The Saudi Arabian team members, who kissed their hometown journalists after victories.

INDOMITABLE MEANS NO-PAY, NO-PLAY: After its World Cup performance in 1990, Cameroon was one of the teams everyone was looking forward to watching. But after tying semifinalist Sweden and losing, 3-0, to semifinalist Brazil (see, those weren't as bad as you thought), the Lions went in the tank against Russia, losing, 6-1, and giving up a World Cup-record five goals to Pistol Oleg Salenko. Sure, they hadn't been paid in weeks, and the goalkeeper was thrown off the team for insubordination, but this embarrassment even caused one Times staffer to rescind his request for a Cameroon jersey.

THE MOTHER OF ALL HEAD COLDS: Argentina's Diego Maradona was suspended from the tournament after he tested positive for five kinds of ephedrine, a drug used in nasal sprays to treat colds, asthma and hay fever. There seems to be no record kept for the all-time worst head cold or allergy attack, but we figure, given the amount of medication Maradona was taking, that his was among the worst ever. However, there is a record for sneezing. Donna Griffiths of Pershore, England, started sneezing on Jan. 13, 1981 and stopped on Sept. 16, 1983. It is unknown how many times Maradona sneezed.

WE HATED EVITA ANYWAY: Argentina has no heart. It's that simple. After the suspension of Maradona, Argentina simply gave up. First it lost its final first-round game, 2-0, to Bulgaria, then lost to Romania, 3-2, in the round of 16. We don't cry for you, Argentina.

THEY COULDN'T WIN WITH ZEUS AT SWEEPER: Worst team? Well, let's put it this way: You could probably put 11 guys from any Greek restaurant in L.A. on the field and they would do better than this national team. Argentina 4, Greece 0. Bulgaria 4, Greece 0. Nigeria 2, Greece 0. That's 10-nil, kids. How did the Greeks get here in the first place? They had to beat out Iceland, Hungary and Luxembourg in European qualifying. Not exactly the Group of Death.

CHEAP SHOT? NO, THAT'S TWO WORDS: When Brazil's Leonardo made like Bill Laimbeer and cleared some space with an elbow, it virtually ended the World Cup for the United States and literally ended it for Tab Ramos, who suffered a concussion and a broken bone above his ear. After watching "the beautiful game" of Brazil, this was an ugly moment.

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