National Teams Begin A Soccer Invasion

Colombia's fans roar, but where are N. Ireland supporters?

WHILE the D-Day invasion was being re-created on one side of the Atlantic last week, a peacetime invasion was under way on the other.

National soccer teams from around the world began landing at American airports for the World Cup tournament, which begins June 17. Quick on the heels of their arrival, many of the teams mobilized to play glorified practice games.

One such match occurred last Friday night, when Colombia met Northern Ireland on the grass normally trod by the Patriots, New England's pro football team. On this night, and for the next month, football was out, futbol was in.

Signs that a new sports culture was taking over were visible at every turn, even in the press box. At a bank of pay phones, one overseas journalist held a bilingual pocket dictionary, another - from Ireland - had ``Mother'' tattooed on his forearm.

A pregame stroll around Foxboro Stadium revealed more World Cup evidence, namely thousands of Colombian fans dressed in the country's national colors - yellow, red, and blue - and a heavy security presence of mounted patrolmen, guard dogs, and policemen with riot helmets at the ready.

The moment the game ended, about 80 police officers rushed to assigned spots to guard the field against incursions by overzealous fans. There were none.

On this picture-perfect evening, the police presence seemed unnecessary. No Patriots crowd was ever as friendly as this gathering of 21,153 spectators, many of whom paid top dollar ($35) to sip from the goblet of World Cup atmospherics. Seemingly every New Englander with Colombian connections was in attendance, and they were obviously thrilled to cheer the Colombian team and exult in what amounted to a huge ethnic reunion.

Colombia, a World Cup title contender, scored a 2-0 victory to the delight of its many horn-blowing, flag-waving backers. Some wore bushy wigs in imitation of frizzy-haired midfielder Carlos Valderrama.

The overmatched Northern Ireland team, which did not qualify for the World Cup, played without vocal support. New England's large Irish population surely would have turned out in force to root on Ireland, a Cup qualifier. Given its British ties, Northern Ireland might as well have been Swaziland on this night, for all the loyalty shown to it.

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