On Sunday, at Comunale Stadium in Florence, Italy, the U.S. soccer team and its little-boy dreams were garroted 5-1 by Czechoslovakia in America's first appearance in the World Cup finals in 40 years. "Maybe you could say the worst is behind us," said U.S. defender Mike Windischmann shortly after handing over his postgame urine specimen to officials. "But it's not. We have to play Italy next."
At least Windischmann, the U.S. captain who still lives in the basement of the family home in Queens, N.Y., hit his cup cleanly and professionally and was not forced to leg-whip a drug tester. Which is more than could be said of what he did on the field, where he tripped Czech midfielder Ivan Ha?ek, who otherwise would have had a clear shot on the goal. That infraction led to a successful penalty kick by Michal B�lek and gave Czechoslovakia a dispiriting 2-0 halftime lead.
More on the U.S.- Czechoslovakia game in a moment. First, the Hooligan Report:
ITALIAN AUTHORITIES 10,000, HOOLIGANS 0
This is not to say that no dread soccer goons prowled around Italy during the first few days of the monthlong tournament. However, the uniformed police, army, soccer officials and God knows how many dogs, TV cameras and undercover agents outplayed the bad guys almost as severely as the Czechs outplayed the Americans. Among the first to go down was Paul Scarrott, 34, of England, the self-described "greatest hooligan in the world." Scarrott, whose passport had been revoked because of his 40 convictions for soccer-fan violence, sneaked into Italy with a fake passport and swaggered about for several days before getting snagged by railroad police at the Termini station in Rome while carrying a five-liter, mostly drunk, bottle of wine.
Scarrott's escursione italiana was presumed to have been sponsored by the London Daily Star, for whom he was a short-lived correspondent. In his June 4 dispatch, he sent a photo of himself in front of the Colosseum and wrote, "They'll never stop me. We're after the Dutch [whose team will play England this Saturday] and we want to give them a right good kicking. We'll wait for them with tear gas bombs at the Termini station." Once apprehended by Italian police, Scarrott displayed his tattoos to a clamoring press before being shipped back to England for a visit to Scotland Yard.
The scene in Florence was far more peaceful. The sale of alcohol was banned throughout the city on Sunday—as it will be on game days at all 12 of the World Cup sites—and the Czech and U.S. fans seemed as warmhearted and expansive as any visitors to the beautiful Tuscan capital. Indeed, with both competing countries flying red-white-and-blue colors, there weren't even the usual pregame banner clashes in the streets. To tell the fans apart, you had to look at their clothes. The Americans were the ones in college sweatshirts and Topsiders; the Czechs were the ones in sandals, black socks and 1950s-style swim trunks. The Americans also seemed to have a lock on such free-world products as Walkmans, gold watches and anything with a designer label on it.
Such disparity came as no surprise, considering that Czechoslovakia has only recently shaken off the burden of 41 years of totalitarianism. Indeed, President Vaclav Havel had to miss the game because his seven-month-old coalition government was facing election in the country's first free balloting since 1946. "We're very sorry we won't be able to vote," said star midfielder Lubo? Kub�k, a defector in 1988 who now plays for Florence's first division team, Fiorentina. "There's more than football on our minds, as you can imagine."
Nevertheless, this was an important game for the Czechs. It boosted their chances of reaching the second round, and if they achieve that goal, each player will receive a bonus of $1,600. (The top two squads in each of the tournament's six four-team groups—plus the leading four third-place teams—advance. In the group with the U.S. and Czechoslovakia are Italy and Austria.) "We want to do it," said Kub�k. "We're poor."
For the first 20 minutes of the game, the U.S. players, also underpaid but promised a healthy bonus—$10,000 each—if they made the second round, looked as hungry as the Czechs. Forward Peter Vermes, who plays for a first-division club in the Netherlands, nearly scored early in the game. And goalkeeper Tony Meola, the kid from Kearny, N.J., made a couple of fine saves and lent an upstart cockiness to the decidedly overmatched American side. For a moment it seemed possible that the U.S. had progressed to world-class status.