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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Points, Prayers, Polls and Protests

PASADENA, California -- Three points for victory and the ban on tackles from behind have transformed the image of the World Cup finals, European soccer chief Lennart Johansson said. "I am delighted with the innovations FIFA have made for the tournament," Johansson said Tuesday, four years on from the negative play and low scoring of Italia 90. "Awarding three points for a win has encouraged teams to play for the win." "In the Sweden-Cameroon match on Sunday, Sweden equalized in the 75th minute to make it 2-2. Under the old system of two points for a win both teams would probably have settled for a point and the match would have petered out for the last 15 minutes. "But neither team wanted to lose two points on Sunday and they both continued attacking right till the end. "At the same time banning the tackle from behind has given the attacking players more time on the ball, and we have seen the benefits of that immediately." n Doctor Rafiu Oladipo is so crazy about Nigeria's "Super Eagles" that he goes to every match just to stand with his back to the pitch. Standing triumphantly with his arms raised, the chairman of Nigeria's official fan club led 200 of his countrymen through a cacophony of non-stop drumming, chanting and ululating as the team beat Bulgaria 3-0 on Tuesday. Oladipo missed most of the goals, too busy cajoling and conducting the tumultuous green-shirted mass of fans on their first appearance in the World Cup finals. "I don't really watch any match because I have to control my group. I have to see them, to do what we are here to do. But once in a while I can turn my back," he said, a green woollen scarf knotted around his neck despite the heat. "It really is quite a sacrifice." Around him fans with green tassled sombreros and curiously-shaped African instruments jostled and leaped as serious-faced drummers kept up a steady rhythm. "We can play for 24 hours without stopping," boasted one burly drummer, who had no problem in convincing stadium police to allow him to bring in his instrument. Others were not so lucky and complained they had wooden rhythm sticks confiscated at the gate. Afterwards, Oladipo ordered the fans to sit down, threatening them with expulsion from the camp if they disobeyed, and then spoke in serious tones. "We did ask Thee for three goals and you gave us three. Thank you God," he said. "I know you are going to give us victory." n Ireland jumped from eighth to second place behind Brazil in the Sprint Soccer Poll following its 1-0 upset of Italy in the opening round of the World Cup, poll organizers said Tuesday. The poll is a weekly ranking of the top 10 national teams as voted on by an international panel of soccer journalists. Brazil, which topped Russia 2-0, received 25 of a possible 47 first-place votes, and totalled 360 points. Ireland had 22 first-place votes and 326 points. The Netherlands, which edged Saudi Arabia 2-1, retained the third spot with 295 points. Nigeria, which beat Bulgaria 3-0 Tuesday, was fourth with 258 points, just a point ahead of Argentina, which beat Greece 4-0 Tuesday. Italy was sixth with 247 points. Germany fell to seventh with 223 points after an unimpressive 1-0 victory over Bolivia. Belgium held the eighth spot with 206 points, followed by Cameroon in ninth with 140. Romania, which upset Colombia 3-1, was 10th with 111 points, while Colombia fell out of the top 10 for the first time this year. n Prisoners at a jail in Bangladesh are threatening to go on hunger strike unless authorities supply television sets so they can watch the World Cup. Officials turned down the plea by about 100 prisoners at the jail in Feni, 140 kilometers from the capital Dhaka, the Ittefaq newspaper reported Tuesday. Millions of people in Bangladesh have been watching the soccer matches live on state-run television via satellite feed from the United States. College students successfully forced authorities to put off exams this week so they can watch the games on television. n Roberto Baggio, the forward Italy's team looks to for inspiration, is fit to play in a crucial World Cup match against Norway, his coach said Tuesday. Baggio, voted 1993 player of the year, said Monday he was not in peak form because of an inflamed right Achilles tendon. Without the imaginative Juventus of Turin player, Italy's chances of reaching the second round would take another blow. But Italian coach Arrigo Sacchi indicated he expects Baggio to start in Thursday's Group E game against the Norwegians at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. "Doctors told me Baggio can play. Roberto showed no problem in yesterday's training and told me he's fit," he said. However, he added, "If he's at 80 percent we would put him on the substitute bench, in his and our interest." (Reuters, AP)