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SOCCER / GRAHAME L. JONES : There’s Life After World Cup for U.S. Teams

There are all too many people who believe that soccer in the United States fell off the map when the World Cup ended last summer.

They are wrong.

U.S. national teams will be busier than ever in 1995. Consider:

--The reigning champion U.S. women’s national team will be in Sweden in June to defend its title in the Second FIFA Women’s World Championship.

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Before that, Coach Tony DiCicco says he wants to play “at least 25 international games,” including those at tournaments in Portugal in March and France in April.

--The U.S. men’s national team travels to Uruguay in July to compete against 11 other nations in the Copa America, formerly known as the South American Championship.

Before that, Coach Bora Milutinovic’s team will warm up by staging U.S. Cup ’95 in June. Mexico and Colombia are two confirmed participants. The fourth team will be either Russia or Portugal.

--The U.S. under-23 national team, the 1996 Olympic team to be, will be in Argentina in March to play in the Pan American Games in Mar del Plata.

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Before that, Coach Timo Liekoski has a couple of tours planned for the team, including one now under way in Egypt.

--The U.S. under-17 national team travels to Ecuador to compete in the FIFA Under-17 World Championship Aug. 3-20.

Before that, Coach Glenn Myernick’s team is expected to undertake several foreign visits in preparation for the tournament.

So, no, American soccer has not fallen off the map. It has simply expanded its horizons.

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What a nonsensical move it was for Mexico to apply to stage the World Cup in 2002.

It’s a virtual certainty that when the votes are counted in June of 1996, the tournament will be awarded to Japan.

No, there is nothing wrong with South Korea’s bid, but the Japanese will prevail.

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And rightfully so, given the success of the J-League and the state-of-the-art stadiums being built.

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Was there hanky-panky going on in Brazil’s World Cup camp last summer?

No, say the Brazilians, who claim their training base in Los Gatos was both secure and serene.

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Yes, says Delma Katz, a woman who has told Brazilian newspapers that her 20-year-old daughter, model Andrea Allessandra de Oliveira, often was smuggled into the camp to visit star striker Romario.

“He even did it on the eve of important games,” Katz said. “He said that Allessandra gave him the inspiration to score.”

Photographs of Romario--who is married and has two children--and the model have been appearing in Brazilian newspapers, along with excerpts from steamy letters he allegedly has sent her.

Katz is not overjoyed by any of this. Nor does she think much of Romario, who last week was voted world sportsman of the year by the French daily L’Equipe.

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“He’s an arrogant and petty-minded person who, if he wasn’t playing football, would be a criminal,” Katz was quoted as saying.

The last of this story has yet to be heard.

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The soap opera that is Romario’s life--why hasn’t Hollywood seen the potential?--took another twist late last week when rumors began to circulate that he soon will leave Barcelona, his club team in Spain, and return to Brazil.

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Flamengo of Rio de Janeiro reportedly has offered $4 million for the 28-year-old--a paltry amount for a player who is widely regarded as the top striker in the world.

“Romario has personal, family and sentimental problems and we would like to solve them,” Flamengo President Kleber Leite told the Spanish newspaper El Pais. “He’s not the same person we used to know. He’s not as happy.”

Lovesick, perhaps?

Either way, Barcelona seems unlikely to accept only $4 million for Romario, who is under contract with the Spanish champion until June, 1996.

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“We will listen to anyone who makes a serious offer,” said Barcelona Coach Johan Cruyff, who is known to be interested in signing fellow Dutchman Dennis Bergkamp from Inter Milan in Italy.

Leite said signing Romario would be the team’s centennial birthday present to its fans.

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Look for April Heinrichs, who was captain of the U.S. world championship-winning women’s team in China in 1991, to be named assistant coach on the U.S. team for this summer’s World Championship in Sweden. Heinrichs is the women’s soccer coach at Maryland.

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Vienna and Paris have been selected as venues for the May 24 European Champions’ Cup Final and the May 10 European Cup Winners’ Cup Final, respectively.

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It was no surprise to see Tab Ramos become the first player to be signed by Major League Soccer. Three years ago, the American World Cup team midfielder said he would return to the United States by the time he is 30.

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What is surprising, however, is the timing of the move.

Instead of joining MLS a year from now and thereby retaining his ambition of playing in the Spanish first division with his former club, Real Betis of Seville, Ramos finds himself playing on loan in the Mexican first division with Los Tigres de la Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo Leon , to give the Monterrey-based club its full name.

After five years in the second division, first with Figueras and then Real Betis, Ramos appeared on the verge of playing in the top division against the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid.

“Not having played in the first division in five years in Spain, that bothers me,” he admitted on his arrival in Mexico.

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All but two of the 12 participants have been decided for the second FIFA Women’s World Championship in Sweden June 5-18.

Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and England are the European qualifiers. China and Japan are the Asian entrants. The United States and Canada will represent the CONCACAF region.

South America began its final qualifying tournament Sunday, with Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Ecuador trying to earn one place in the finals.

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In Africa, Nigeria faces Ghana and South Africa plays Angola in semifinals next month, with the winners advancing to a March final that will determine the continent’s representative in Sweden.

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Pele, recently appointed Brazil’s Minister for Sport by that country’s newly elected president, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, will have a budget of $23 million with which to work.

His priority, he said, will be Brazil’s oft-ignored street children.

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“Sport at the grass roots level in this country has been completely abandoned,” Pele said. “This is going to be my priority. We need to get the children off the streets.”

He said he would try not to become embroiled in petty politics.

“I came here without any political interest,” he said. “I came here to pay back what my country has given me.”

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Diego Maradona, who skipped bail in Argentina to spend the holidays with Cuba’s President Fidel Castro, has made his feelings clear about FIFA President Joao Havelange and General Secretary Joseph Blatter.

“When I hear Blatter and Havelange, these men who think themselves so important, I just want to laugh,” Maradona said. “For me, they don’t exist.”

It was only a few months ago that Maradona was praising the pair for allowing him to coach despite his 15-month ban for failing a World Cup drug test.

How soon he forgot.

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