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THE INSIDE TRACK | THE HOT CORNER

June 23, 1997|MIKE PENNER

A consumer's guide to the best and worst of sports media and merchandise. Ground rules: If it can be read, played, heard, observed, worn, viewed, dialed or downloaded, it's in play here.

What: World Cup 1998 web sites

Only 352 slide-tackling days until the start of the 1998 World Cup, visitors to the official France '98 web site (www.france98.com) are informed right up front.

This might not excite the baseball-addled segment of the American population (motto: "1-0 games are boring unless, of course, it's a scintillating pitchers' duel,") but to most of the rest of the world, this means that this time next year, the biggest and most colorful sporting competition on the planet will be well under way.

The France '98 site is pretty much what you'd expect from the organizers of the event--press releases, souvenir and ticket information, praise for the progress being made at the venues that will host the 32-team field ("France '98 right on target!")

Best reason to sign on: "The Ultimate World Cup Hall of Fame Survey," where visitors can vote for their all-time favorite World Cup player and team. Judging from the current standings, voting is a popular pastime in Yugoslavia--Dragoslav Sekularac, star midfielder for Red Star Belgrade in the late '50s and early '60s, leads Pele in the player poll, with Yugoslavia nearly 700 votes ahead of Brazil in the team poll.

More useful to the serious fan is the Football World Cup 1998 site (www.wldcup.com). Included here are team pages for 28 contenders to reach next summer's tournament, from Argentina to Yugoslavia. Each team page offers probable World Cup starting lineups, current status in qualifying competition and a match report on the country's most recent qualifier, featuring such critical assessments as "The Poles fought like terriers using the lax refereeing to their advantage."

Elsewhere, the site promises more than it delivers. "Details on how to get there, where to stay and how to find a cheap flight," sounds like useful information, but the page offered no link to access such details.

Then again, it's early. The "News and Reports" section features only four articles--one on the heated competition between England and Germany to host the 2006 World Cup. England, the late entry, has stolen much momentum from Germany, the prohibitive favorite before England turned a 70 million-pound profit staging the 1996 European Championships.

Well-versed in England's on-field history in this long, bitter rivalry, the site cautions, "Remember, you can never write off the Germans."

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