Soccer's Razzle-Dazzlers

Brace yourself for the Cup that cometh over. This week, teams from 24 countries in pursuit of the sports world’s biggest prize, the World Cup, come to the U.S.—trailing 1.2 million tourists from Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America to watch soccer heroes as big in their home countries as Michael Jordan is in the United States. On the eve of Cup competition, PEOPLE profiles five of the most famous athletes you have never heard of…yet.

From Colombia, the Boy with the talented toe and golden hair

Striking midfielder Carlos Valderrama promises to be not only one of the best players in the World Cup but the easiest to spot. In Colombia (another first-round opponent for the U.S.) he’s called El Pibe, or the Boy. By one reporter, given his blond ‘fro, nicknamed Valderrama the Mop. The 1993 Latin America Player of the Year has more often taken a scalpel lo the opposition, with his precision passing and ball control. “About the only way you can get the ball from Valderrama,” says Peruvian coach Miguel Company, “is with a court order.” It is no wonder, then, that Colombia’s top line of soccer shoes carries Valderrama’s moniker or that fans have painted Valderrama para Presidente on a wall across from the Barranquilla stadium.

None of this has gone lo Valderrama’s celebrated head, however. “I’ve always been somewhat introverted,” says Carlos, 32, a homebody who prefers lo pass his off-field hours with his wife, Gladys, and three kids. As for his golden locks, “they are completely natural,” he insists. “They’re the result of lots of shampoo and clean rinse, that’s all.”

In seriously Catholic Italy, a striker finds Buddha and peace

In 1985, Roberto Baggio, then 18, suffered a bad knee injury and was forced to go under the knife three separate times. It could have been the end of a promising career, but for Baggio it may have been the beginning of greatness. To handle the pain and dispel his depression, Baggio turned to Buddhism. “Buddhism,” said Roberto, “has helped me understand my defects and has given mc the tools to combat them.” Baggio, the 1993 World Soccer Player of the Year, has always had the tools to be a great player. But now he has the serenity lo develop them. Just 27, Baggio, who plays for the famous Italian club Juventus, has tallied 90 goals in A-series soccer, making him one of the top scorers ever. Roberto and his wife, Andreina, have a daughter, Valentina, 3, and a baby boy, Mattia. Baggio spends as much lime as possible in his hometown of Caldogno, where he likes to hunt ducks and hide out from the soccer-mad Italian press. “The other day I had a small fender-bender,” Baggio said recently. “Nothing serious. The next day, however, the incident made the front page of the papers. I am a public figure, but there are limits. I have the right to some tranquillity.”

Chappi, a pro since puberty, is as dependable as a Swiss watch

Switzerland, which grapples with the U.S. in the opening round, was not expected to qualify for the World Cup—not with Italy, Scotland and Portugal in its group. But the experts had not figured on the heroics of 24-year-old striker Stephane Chapuisat, who—with six goals in the qualifying round—turned opposing defenses into, yes, Swiss cheese. The left-footed Chapuisat began playing professionally at age 11 with hometown club Lausanne-Sports. A riveting presence with his Mick Jagger lips and shaggy hair, Chappi is known for his cool, crafty style of play and his frugal lifestyle—despite the $1.5 million a year he gets from his Borussia Dortmund club in Germany. “I don’t need a lot of expensive things,” says Stephane, who lives in Germany with his wife, Veronique, and daughter Cindy. “I don’t own a luxury car—I drive a loaner from the club.”

A Brazilian scorer who collects enemies as easily as goals

For Brazilian fútebol aficionados, the world danced to a samba in 1970. That was the year Brazil—led by the miraculous Pelé—became the first country to win three World Cups. Since then, Brazil has come up empty. That may change this year, thanks to Romário de Souza Faria, 28, who could be the Cup’s most exciting—and exasperating—player. “I was born to score goals,” Romário said recently. “Nobody will stop me. I don’t care what people say about me or my playing style.” People say plenty about Romário—even Pelé, who has questioned his team spirit. Pelé, countered Romário, is “mentally retarded. He shouldn’t mess with me.” Romário, says his mother, Manuela—who reared him in one of Rio’s notorious slums—has always had a tart mouth. Romário agrees. “I have my own personality,” he says. “I say what I want.” Does he ever. The coaches of Brazil’s national team were so irked by Romário—who has two kids with wife Monica—they did not put him on the team during the qualifying round. When the team floundered, however, the coaches were forced to put the scapegrace back in the lineup for a crucial game against Uruguay, in which Romário scored both goals in a 2-0 victory. Indeed, Romário seems to have the entire country under his spell. Last month his father was kidnapped. The criminals demanded $7 million in ransom. Romário, in turn, proceeded to hold the country itself hostage—threatening not to play in the Cup if his father were not found and released. A few days later, an anonymous caller lipped police to his father’s whereabouts. Brazil emitted a collective sigh of relief

From Germany, a star who sweeps at home and on the field

Whatever you do, do not call rugged Lothar Matthäus macho. Never mind that Lothar the Bavarian’s robust physical play helped bring Germany the 1990 World Cup. The 5’9″, 158-lb. Matthäus also has a sensitive and domestic side. “I do the dishes,” says Lothar. “I clean the house, I like to feed my son [Loris, 2].” Only two years ago, after suffering a ruptured ligament in his lower back, Matthäus seemed ready to hang around the haus full-time. He mused out loud about retiring after this year’s Cup. But a switch from the midfield to sweeper seems to have rejuvenated him. So too has a second marriage, to Lolita Morene, a TV hostess and a former Miss Switzerland. “I feel young,” says Lothar, “not at all like 33. Why should I not be playing when I am 36?”



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