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Tucson Weekly Goal Tending

The Answer Dude Makes Amends For Dogging Soccer...Sort Of.

By Tom Danehy

JUNE 22, 1998:  WHEN I WROTE my column last week about the ongoing World Cup soccer championship tournament, I upset someone whom I care about. Lourdes Barrera was the captain of the freshman girls basketball team I coached this year at Amphi. She read the column and said, "Tom, why did you dog soccer? I played soccer. I used to be good at it."

Having watched her kick the basketball around the court for nearly three months last season, I had no doubt she was telling the truth.

So to be fair, I tried to find some nice things to say about soccer and the World Cup. This is the best I could do.

No one knows exactly how many people have died as a direct result of soccer games around the world, but conservative estimates place the number in the thousands. (Here in the United States, we lose a Jim Bubba every now and then at a stock-car race, but that's about it. And while that's sad, it's actually a subtle form of natural selection.)

The last big death involving the World Cup came in 1994. Colombia committed El Pecado Grande by losing to the sorry-ass Americans. What made the loss all the more galling was that the U.S. won because Colombian star Andres Escobar mistakenly kicked the ball back into his own goal. The Colombians didn't make it out of pool play while the U.S. got to advance.

This was too much to take, apparently, because when Escobar went home to Colombia, he was accosted by three men in a parking lot, who said, "Thanks for the goal," then pulled pistols and emptied them into Escobar's body.

Witnesses say the men shouted "Goal!" each time they fired.

In a 1969 qualifying match between Honduras and El Salvador, the home crowd began throwing rotten eggs and dead rats at the Hondurans. Even after the home team won, 3-0, the crowd wouldn't calm down.

The Honduran team had to be whisked from the stadium in armored cars, glad to have lost and escaped with their lives. But as the Honduran fans sought to leave, their cars were overturned and burned by the unruly Salvadoran mob. Hondurans were forced to run for the border on foot. Hundreds were kicked and beaten.

Then, to take being a bad winner to an extreme, the Salvadoran government sent a plane (which was probably its entire Air Force at the time) to drop a bomb on the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa. They then sent ground troops across the border, touching off a mini-war which lasted 100 hours and claimed over 6,000 lives.

In 1970, when Mexico hosted the World Cup, the country was swept with Cup Fever. When the Mexican team beat Belgium, 1-0, the warden of Mexico's toughest maximum-security prison ran through the prison shooting off a pistol and shouting, "Viva Mexico!"

Then, so he would have someone to share in the celebration, he unlocked all of the cells and released 142 murderers, rapists and robbers back into Mexican society.

In the 1978 World Cup, Argentina needed to beat Peru by at least four goals in order to advance to the finals. Unfortunately for the Argentines, a four-goal victory in Cup play would be like winning the Super Bowl 60-0.

The junta running Argentina at the time figured a Cup title would keep the home folks happy for a while, so they came up with a plan. Just before the big game, the Argentine Bank suddenly unfroze $50 million for Peru and then ordered a shipment of 35,000 tons of grain to be shipped to Lima, free of charge.

The Peruvian team did the chorus-line bendover and lost by the unprecedented score of 6-0.

Argentina would go on to win the World Cup in 1982, keeping the junta in power a little longer. When things finally began to fall apart completely, the leaders of Argentina started the really stupid war over the Falkland Islands. Patriotism reigned in Buenos Aires for a week or two, but when the Argentines realized they were losing a war to people who all looked like Austin Powers, that was the last straw.

(Actually, it shouldn't have been that surprising. Most of the people of Argentina had lost to the British once or twice before. Then they moved to Argentina and changed their last names from Krueger to Sanchez.)

The junta was finally deposed, and for the next 15 years Argentina was ruled by the dead body of Eva Perón, which led the country to an era of unprecedented prosperity. The dead body was then replaced by a guy named Menem, who is best known as the World Leader With the Absolute Worst Sideburns.

I'll give you $1,000 if you can tell me the location of the genuine, one-and-only World Cup. Actually, I won't, but somebody will. No one knows where the real Cup is.

The original was crafted of solid gold and semi-precious gems in Great Britain in the mid-'60s. Three months before World Cup play was to begin in England in 1966, the Cup was stolen. A ransom note was sent, but when the police decided to pay with phony money, the exchange was botched. A middleman was caught, but he never divulged the identity of the mastermind of the plot, who to this day is known only as "The Pole."

Now, the only two Poles I know are Lech Walesa and Pope John Paul II, and I'm betting neither one of them did it. Still, that narrows it down a bit.

Amazingly, the Cup was found a few days later by a dog who sniffed it out of a wad of rolled-up newspapers. The dog is a national hero. And no Princess Margaret jokes here.

In 1970, the Cup was awarded permanently to Brazil, which was the first country to win the title three times. Not taking any chances, Brazil built a special, armor-plated, bulletproof, steel-lined case into the wall at the Brazil Soccer Federation to house the Cup.

A few years later, a couple guys walked into the building, tied up the guard and stole the Cup from its impervious case. The entire country was outraged, and a reward of (drum roll, please) $1,050 was offered for the return of the Cup. It's never been returned.

This year's winners, like everybody else since 1970, will receive a replica of the original.

That's as good as it gets.

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