When C�sar Sampaio of Brazil scored the first goal of the 1998 World Cup, against Scotland on June 10, he did so with his right shoulder. "It is God's shoulder," said Sampaio, echoing Diego Maradona of Argentina, whose handball goal against England in the '86 quarterfinals was really directed, Maradona would say later, by "the hand of God." Ever since, the Supreme Being has been scoring as if he were Pel�. When Rabah Madjer of Algeria put in a goal with the back of his foot in the '87 European Cup final, an Italian paper attributed the goal to "the heel of Allah." So the world watched with some surprise last Saturday, to say nothing of relief, when midfielder Garba Lawal of Nigeria scored the tying goal in the Super Eagles' 3-2 upset of Spain while falling on his rear end, for he somehow declined to credit the goal to God's buttocks.
But then little went according to form as the World Cup opened last week in 10 cities across France. "Be wary of preconceived ideas," warned Jos� Luis Chilavert after Paraguay's 0-0 draw last Friday with Bulgaria, and he ought to know: He takes free and penalty kicks for Paraguay despite being the goalkeeper. His proved to be good advice, for the Coupe du Monde has already seen Scotland outscore Brazil while losing in the opening match, parkas become de rigueur on the C�te d'Azur, and Roberto Baggio emerge as the penalty-kick hero for Italy. And that was just in the first five days.
It was hardly surprising that all of this happened in France, where the world's most popular sporting event—with an anticipated 37 billion television viewers over 33 days of play—was often obstinately snubbed. At Bar Tok, near the Bastille in Paris, a bouncer ejected anyone who dared speak of soccer. A national TV network, M6, was likewise advertising a policy of "zero percent" soccer. The P�riph�rique, the main ring road around the capital, was as clogged with traffic as ever last Friday night as the French national team played its opening match in Marseilles. Vive l'indiff�rence.
But then, be wary of preconceived ideas about French ennui. After all, organizers received more than 20 million ticket applications from around the world, and 60% of the 2.5 million available seats still went to residents of France. All of them seemed to be at Stade V�lodrome in Marseilles when France opened against South Africa in a 75-mph gale, the same mistral mat blew down part of a hospitality village at the stadium in another Mediterranean coast city, Montpellier, sending three people to the hospital. It rained relentlessly on the rest of the nation all week, fans bundling up in winter coats while players soldiered on in shorts and shirtsleeves, like so many Bowie Kuhns.
Thank goodness for that fortitude, for le foot, as the French call their soccer, was full of surprises from the opening kickoff. Scotland scored twice against Brazil—putting one ball in Brazil's goal, the other in its own goal—in losing 2-1 to the world champions, who looked fairly ordinary, in contrast to most preconceived ideas about them. "We proved that the Brazilians have their weaknesses, especially in defense," said Scotland midfielder John Collins. "This team is not all it's cracked up to be."
Collins could say that because he had just scored on Brazil, and on a penalty kick, no less—the first penalty called against Brazil in a Cup since '66. That it came two days after Jo�o Havelange of Brazil stepped down following almost a quarter century as autocratic president of FIFA, soccer's world governing body, was no doubt mere coincidence.
Likewise, there was surely no cosmic conspiracy the next night in Bordeaux, where Baggio was left to take a late and decisive penalty kick for Italy. But it was an interesting coincidence, was it not? The 1994 World Cup began with Baggio being called the best player in the world and ended with him in disgrace when he put the final kick of a penalty shoot-out over the crossbar against Brazil. The following year he was transferred by his Italian league club, Juventus, to AC Milan (whose owner was said to feel sorry for Baggio) and finally to Bologna (after Parma's manager nixed an offer from Milan).
But Baggio, 31, played his way back onto his third World Cup team, as backup to the current Italian star, 23-year-old Alessandro Del Piero. When Del Piero had to sit out Italy's opener with a strained thigh muscle, Baggio was suddenly starting at striker against Chile. On his third touch of the match, he took a long pass from Italy's backfield and, without allowing it to reach the ground, laid a perfect through-ball to Christian Vieri, who scored easily.
Chile's superstar is Marcelo Salas. He's 5'8" on a good hair day and could dunk a basketball in studded boots. He scored twice against Italy, the second on a leaping header, giving his team a 2-1 lead that held up until a questionable Chilean handball call in the 85th minute gave Baggio his second penalty kick in as many World Cup matches. "As I was about to take the penalty, I thought back to the one I had to take in USA '94," Baggio would say later, but for now he put his head down, took a few mincing steps toward the ball and drove it into the lower left corner of the goal for a face-saving 2-2 draw. The same Italian sports pages that had buried him four years ago naturally exhumed the body, their pink pages fairly blushing with headlines like GRAZIE, BAGGIO! and BAGGIO SALVA L'ITALIA! Be wary of preconceived ideas.
Like the ones about the alluring south of France. In Marseilles, English hooligans engaged in pitched battles with riot police last weekend, before England's 2-0 victory over Tunisia on Monday, resulting in some 50 arrests and 35 injuries. The city may have looked scorching in The French Connection, but it was frigid and tornadic last Friday night, which made no difference to the Marseillais, France's most soccer-mad citizens. Though Frenchmen helped create FIFA, organized the first World Cup and fathered international soccer in general, France hadn't qualified for the tournament since 1986. In 1996-97 its domestic league barely drew more fans per match (16,000) than did Major League Soccer last year (14,600), and so there has been a French footballing diaspora this decade, with 60% of the national team playing in richer leagues abroad.