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By Nick Barbaro, May 24, 2002, Columns

Soccer isn't a matter of life and death. It's a lot more important than that," goes the old British proverb. With Editor Louis Black on vacation, I figured this is as good a place as any to do another short update on the upcoming World Cup -- which is, as this issue rolls off the press, a mere eight days from kickoff.

But before we get on to that, here's something that is a matter of life and death.

Read the cover story (Who Killed Stacey Stites?), and you may not be convinced that Rodney Reed is innocent of the crime for which he's been sentenced to death -- indeed, probably only the perpetrator(s?) will ever know that for sure. But two things seem crystal-clear: First, that Reed didn't get a fair trial, and second, that the question of his guilt or innocence is of little import in deciding whether he will live or die.

Here's a case where the state-appointed legal defense was of questionable effectiveness, where there was material evidence weighing in the defendant's favor that was not made available to him, where his first avenue of appeal was shut down, not on merit, but because his attorney filed it too late, and his second and probably final avenue of appeal will apparently be decided, not on the facts of the case, but on technical legal grounds.

Did Rodney Reed actually commit the murder for which he will be executed? Sorry, say the courts; that's not what this is about.

Now, on to the World Cup news in brief:

Final team rosters will be officially announced this Friday, May 24, but the lineups are virtually all set. The big news items at this point concern injuries and other last-minute roster shifts: France's top striker, Arsenal's Thierry Henry, is doubtful (knee) and has until Sunday to prove he's fit to play ... U.S. midfielder Greg Vanney, tabbed to replace star playmaker Chris Armas (ACL) went down himself (ankle); his spot will go to largely untested Steve Cherundolo ... top Croatian defender Igor Tudor (ankle) is a scratch ... England's David Beckham (foot) will play, but wags fear he may prove too fragile for the "Group of Death" ... possible Beckham replacement Danny Murphy hurt his foot on Wednesday, and may himself be out; he's the fifth England midfielder to go down ...

One of the things you've got to love about international soccer is how the teams and players mirror their national character. Consider:

Ireland's star midfielder and captain, Roy Keane, widely regarded as possibly the single most valuable player in the tourney, left the team on Wednesday in a furor over goalkeepers' practice methods (?!?!), and announced that he was heading back to Dublin. He returned hours later, and manager Mick McCarthy welcomed him back, though he had already summoned a replacement from halfway around the world, and noted warily that, "No matter what happens, I'll invite him out to the tournament."

If you're looking for incentive (or pressure), consider that Argentina's bankrupt soccer federation is counting on bonus money awarded to the top two teams, in order to pay off back pay they owe the players.

And speaking of pressure, Brazil canceled practice on Wednesday when their team doctor became concerned because players had stopped beating out their samba rhythms on the team bus on the way back from practice on Tuesday. He noted that this was always "the first indication that the players are tired."

South Korean officials announced Wednesday that the U.S. team will get extra security protection while in Korea. In addition to the standard security detail -- a motorcade and plainclothes officers who will accompany every team throughout their stay, plus anti-aircraft missiles, land-to-air rockets, and fighter jets at the stadiums -- "the U.S. team will have eight more S.W.A.T. team members following them," said an official with the National Police Agency.

Nigerian star Austin "Jay Jay" Okocha was critical of his coach for leaving established veterans Finidi George and Sunday Oliseh off of the team roster. Back home, reaction was mixed. Salihu Dabo, a 29-year-old roadside car cleaner in the northern city of Kano, told Agence France Presse, "Our economy is in bad shape. Power supply is erratic. The roads are bad. Our lives are uncertain. These are the things we should think about, instead of football." "Nothing works in Nigeria," added Ahmed Maiwada.

Finally, this just in on the Reuters wire service: "Stockholm's deputy mayor calls for morning drinking." Here, here.

13 May 2002

Mexico : Colombia 2 : 1

South Africa : Madagascar 1 : 0

USA : Uruguay 2 : 1

14 May 2002

Belgium : Algeria 0 : 0

Saudi Arabia : Senegal 3 : 2

Norway : Japan 3 : 0

Wales : Germany 1 : 0

16 May 2002

Bolivia : Mexico 0 : 1

China PR : Uruguay 0 : 2

Republic of Ireland : Nigeria 1 : 2

Korea Republic : Scotland 4 : 1

USA : Jamaica 5 : 0

17 May 2002

Denmark : Cameroon 2 : 1

Slovenia : Ghana 2 : 0

Sweden : Paraguay 1 : 2

18 May 2002

Czech Republic : Italy 1 : 0

France : Belgium 1 : 2

Germany : Austria 6 : 2

Nigeria : Jamaica 1 : 0

Poland : Estonia 1 : 0

19 May 2002

USA : Netherlands 0 : 2

20 May 2002

South Africa : Scotland 2 : 0

21 May 2002

Korea Republic : England 1 : 1

Singapore : Uruguay 1 : 2

"Soccer Watch" will continue to usurp random sections of the Chronicle for the next month and a half.

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