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   22 May, 2002 | 1240 IST


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Off-pitch headaches grow

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Off-the-pitch headaches threatened to dampen World Cup euphoria on Wednesday as disgruntled workers in co-host South Korea prepared to strike and Japan fretted over 150,000 missing tickets.

At least the South Korean team could find solace in a morale-boosting 1-1 draw with England on Tuesday which helped the local media to feel confident enough to suggest their side would reach the second round.

"Final 16 no problem," said a banner headline in the Korean Economic Daily, the morning after the warm-up match in which the home team looked sharp and often outplayed the injury-ravaged English.

But if South Korean President Kim Dae-jung had hoped the result would help persuade workers to set aside their grumbles for the sake of the May 31-June 30 tournament, he was soon disappointed.

A union leader said thousands of South Korean workers were poised to strike on Wednesday in a move the government feared would damage the country's image in the days leading up to the finals.

Metal workers are set to stop first, followed by hospital workers and some taxi drivers later in the week, but government and industry officials expect little disruption during the World Cup itself.

"This is an indefinite strike. We'll fight until an agreement is reached," Han Sun-joo, a union leader at the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, told Reuters.

The government has vowed tough action against labour protests during the tournament and ministers have banned demonstrations near World Cup facilities such as stadiums and hotels.

In one sign of concern, a local organising committee official said on Wednesday that South Korea would prohibit protest rallies in "special safety zones" around World Cup stadiums.


Organisers in co-hosts Japan faced disruption of a different kind as they scurried to find out whether 150,000 missing tickets would arrive in time for the tournament.

"At this stage, we don't know if the tickets will arrive in time," said Iwami Fukuda, a spokesman for the organising body JAWOC.

"We have asked FIFA to check this and we are expecting an answer within the day."

Fukuda blamed the confusion on arrangements between soccer's world governing body FIFA and British-based Byrom Inc, the company responsible for producing the World Cup tickets and the official FIFA operating agent.

Of the tickets that have yet to be delivered, 20,000 are for first round matches.

JAWOC have set up an emergency department to deal with queries from worried fans and said they may even have to deliver the tickets by hand.

Another late arrival is the coveted trophy.

A FIFA official was tight-lipped on when it would arrive, saying only that the solid 18-carat gold trophy was still stored "somewhere" in Switzerland.


England's lacklustre performance against the South Koreans on Cheju island hardly inspired confidence ahead of tough opening group F games against Sweden, Nigeria and arch-rivals Argentina.

Although captain Michael Owen put them ahead in the first half, England were made to pay for passing errors and sluggish movement when Park Ji-Sung headed a second-half equaliser.

The result left commentators bemoaning familiar England failings, although a rush of substitutions in the second half made it hard to judge the team's true form.

"England's one-dimensional performance offered a withering assessment of their passing capabilities," Britain's Guardian newspaper said.

In contrast, Seoul sportswriters were quick to declare an end to their team's timidity against European teams, but a tougher test awaits when they take on world champions France on Sunday.

The French were still settling in at their base camp in Ibusuki, southern Japan, and trying to play down their tag as one of the favourites.

"It can't be like four years ago anymore," said captain Marcel Desailly. "This time, we are not going to play on home ground with the fans to back us."


The German team's casualty list continued to mount when midfielder Joerg Heinrich pulled out of their squad because of leg injuries.

Coach Rudi Voeller had already lost central defenders Christian Woerns and Jens Nowotny as well as midfielder Mehmet Scholl and playmaker Sebastian Deisler.

With the World Cup shaping up to be one of the most injury-plagued in recent memory, South Africa defender Matthew Booth was also ruled out after hurting his right knee in a Hong Kong training session.

But there was encouraging news for England, who named Kieron Dyer in their final 23-man squad for the finals, completing an injury-hit midfield which also included David Beckham and Nicky Butt.

Dyer was initially thought to have no chance of playing in the finals.

"It's a calculated risk, he's got an injury and it's getting better every day. I think the doctors think it's a risk worth taking," his agent Jonathan Barnett told Sky Sports television.

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