Some Other Ways to Break a Tie in World Cup Soccer

THE heat is on the Fration Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) to change the soccer tie-breaking format before the 1998 World Cup in France.

Many found the finale of this Cup unsatisfying, settled by a missed Italian penalty shot, rather than a Brazilian score.

The most likely solution is a sudden-death overtime, but that could still let the game drag on until tomorrow. What other options exist?

One colleague, frustrated by the low scoring generally, has suggested putting two balls in play simultaneously. FIFA is not about to entertain anything that entertaining.

Maybe two readers come closer to a solution: One recommends fewer players per side, giving more space for each to maneuver. Another would eliminate the offside rule in overtime. Both ideas would ``spread'' the field; the latter would force some players to stay back and defend their goal.

This writer, too, has some suggestions:

Divide overtimes into two, five-minute halves. In each half, teams would field two fewer players, down to a minimum of seven. Free substitution would be permitted between overtime periods. This would open up play and allow coaches to get fresh legs into the game.

Another suggestion: Force the team with fewer shots on goal at the end of regulation time to play a man down. In subsequent overtimes, teams win or re-earn the right to go on the ``power play.''

In a compromise to the no-offsides concept mentioned earlier, why not make offsides legal in clearly delineated corners of the field, but illegal in front of the goal? That way, strikers could fly down the sidelines for long passes, yet defenders would have a moment or two to recover.

Finally, a points system could be incorporated into overtime periods that would expand scoring possibilities. Four points would be awarded for a goal; two points for a shot on goal; one point for a ball dribbled across an opponent's goal line. This last option would prevent defenders from grouping too tightly in front of the goal mouth.

This whole discussion could be dispensed with if one caller's suggestion were heeded: Let a tie stand in the championship game. What's wrong with that? he asks.

Ties are highly unpalatable for many people, though, especially Americans, who view them as anathema. But maybe a Swiss journalist's observation about ``added time'' - the time tacked on to each half to compensate for injuries and other delays - bears sharing.

Pressed for an explanation of this peculiar feature of the game, in which a referee appears to end play almost arbitrarily and with no warning, the Swiss reporter says the insiders' operative attitude is that ``Soccer is life. Life is not perfect, and neither is soccer.''

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