Sports 101

Earlier this week, World Cup '98 soccer kicked off in France. It's an event that rolls around every four years, and it will command most of the world's attention until the final game on July 12. And not just soccer fans. In Argentina, the World Cup is part of the school curriculum. In the world of finance, investors are analyzing the relationship between economic indicators and World Cup progress in various countries. And in the United States, World Cup coverage is monopolizing daytime TV.

Each of the 32 teams is putting its best foot forward, but only one winner will emerge.

Q: When was the last time France hosted a World Cup?

A: Sixty years ago, in 1938. Italy beat Hungary 4-2 in the finals. The following year, Europe went to war, and World Cup soccer disappeared for 12 years.

Q: How is a tackle in soccer different from football?

A: Tackling in soccer is when an opponent tries to knock the ball away from an opposing player. Even though there can be no holding, pushing, tripping, elbowing, or hip-checking, tackling can be dangerous if the tackler collides with the dribbler's ankles before touching the ball.

The governing body of soccer, the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), has outlawed tackles from behind, and any player who tries it in the World Cup games will get a red card from the referee, an automatic ejection.

Q: Are coaches allowed to call timeouts?

A: No, only referees can stop the clock in soccer. But FIFA did experiment with timeouts during the 1995 World Cup for under age 17 in Ecuador. Most coaches and fans weren't happy with the interruption.

Q: Do soccer fields vary in length?

A: Yes. International rules allow for great variation, but the length (from 100 to 130 yards) must always be greater than the width (50 to 100 yards). Narrow fields are a problem in the United States because many soccer fields are modified football fields. Football fields are only about 53 yards wide - quite short of the accepted 70 yards necessary for an appropriate soccer field.

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