Football: Field of California Dreams Andrew Longmore Hears a Fearless American Dodge the Political Football as Iran Game Looms

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#THE Americans, not noted for their worldly attitude to affairs of international state, have been playing down the political content of their match against Iran in Lyons today. "Frankie, have you heard the phrase 'Great Satan'?" one journalist asked last week. Frankie Hejduk can tell you anything you want to know about the surf in his native California, has a good grasp of the beach bum's lingo and a basic understanding of football tactics. But talk about the tension between two of the world's most public enemies and Frankie, for once in his life, is lost for words. "Man, I don't know what you're talking about."

Hejduk was four when the hostage crisis brought Iran and the USA within a diplomatic twitch of war in 1979. Not surprisingly, his understanding of the significance of today is framed in terms of football. To the victors a slim chance of qualification for the second round; to the losers a ticket home. Defeat by Germany in their opening match was acceptable to the US, the passive manner of it less so. Hejduk alone showed a sense of adventure, his flying near-post header forcing Andreas Kopke into his one save of the match. "Have you ever surfed?" asks Steve Sampson, the US coach. Once. I almost drowned beneath a five-footer. "Exactly, Frankie surfs in 20ft waves which can bury you. He has no fear."

Had he not been persuaded to pursue his football career on a college scholarship, Hejduk would have become a professional surfer like most of his friends. His appearance, tanned, long blondish hair, is more surf than soccer; his free spirit might conform readily to a portrait of western decadence not to the more rigorous disciplines of a football team. In January last year, Hedjuk's bags made the plane to China for the start of a US tour, but a faulty alarm clock left one empty seat and a free place in the side. The team carried his luggage around for three weeks, while Hedjuk returned to the surf and training with the Tampa Bay Mutiny. "I just missed the alarm call. I thought: 'Shit'. I panicked. I mean no one had ever missed a plane ride before. I rang Steve (Sampson) straight away to explain and he just said: 'We'll talk when we get back'. But it was two months later before we got together. I just admitted my stupidity and persuaded him I'd like to get back on the team. I set six alarm clocks now." Hedjuk is sitting in the courtyard of the Chateau de Pizay, 35km to the north of Lyons where the US team have pitched camp and an apartment with half-board will set you back pounds 250 a night. The chateau, with its own vineyard and chapel, is a picture of serenity in the midday sunshine. A delegation from Athletes in Action have just dropped off a boxful of videos in case the team have a "God- shaped vacuum" in their lives. Sampson receives them with courtesy. The literature will go into the training room. Satan and God and it is not yet lunchtime. …