South Korea's crime rate plunged during the first 10 days of the World Cup finals, a police report said yesterday, as football fever gripped the country and as fears of hooliganism at the tournament proved unfounded.

A total of 10,824 crimes have been reported in South Korea since the finals began on May 31, a drop of 21 per cent compared with the 10 days before the finals, the National Police Agency report showed.

The figures were released days after more than a quarter of a million South Korean fans thronged the streets of central Seoul in a passionate but trouble-free show of support for the national team as they battled to a 1-1 draw with the United States.

The number of homicide cases slipped 67 per cent to 12 over the first 10 days, while rape cases shrank 35 per cent to 129. Car accidents fell to 5,745 from 6,096.

Nervous players and referees

Nervous players and referees following official instructions to the letter may have caused a flurry of two red and 12 yellow cards in Tuesday's Cameroon versus Germany match - a World Cup finals' record, FIFA said.

"It's not really for me to make a comment on the referees' performances. I think probably it might be a combination of rather nervous players and referees also following instructions to stand for no nonsense," FIFA spokesman Keith Cooper said yesterday.

Twelve yellow cards were shown in another match on Tuesday between Senegal and Uruguay, again more than the previous record of 10.

Replays on big screens censored

World Cup officials plan to censor television replays on giant screens in stadiums, fearing controversial incidents could spark crowd violence, a spokesman for football's governing body said yesterday.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter had championed a campaign to give spectators full television coverage in stadiums, but reversed his position after attending a World Cup game.

Television pictures have been shown in grounds at previous World Cups. But all coverage is being broadcast on big screens at the finals in South Korea and Japan for the first time.

FIFA had previously adopted an "everything or nothing" approach, saying that censoring replays would cast doubt on refereeing decisions.

Opabunmi third youngest ever

Nigerian teenager Femi Opabunmi became the third youngest player to play in the World Cup finals when he played against England yesterday. Opabunmi, who plays for Shooting Stars Ibadan, was born in March 1985 and took the field aged 17 years and 101 days old.

The only younger players in World Cup history have been Norman Whiteside, who played for Northern Ireland in 1982, and Samuel Eto'o who played for Cameroon in both 1998 and this year.

Whiteside made his first appearance in the World Cup aged 17 years 41 days while Eto'o was 17 years 99 days.

The youngest scorer ever in the World Cup is Pele since 1958. He scored the winner for Brazil against Wales in a 1-0 quarter-final victory aged 17 years 239 days.

South Korea not scared of Italy

South Korea are not concerned about the prospect of playing three times world champions Italy should both teams reach the second round, Korea coach Guus Hiddink said.

"Everyone says 'Don't meet Italy' but I'm not so scared," Dutchman Hiddink told reporters. "I don't have any preferences in the next round."

Hiddink, who guided the Netherlands to the semi-finals at the 1998 World Cup, said the last 16 was like a different tournament.

"To get there, you are in a kind of flow, a kind of zone," he said. "It's not so important any more to see who your opponent is... it's all powerhouses."

Arena expects hostile crowd

United States coach Bruce Arena said yesterday his side expected a hostile crowd for their match against Poland tomorrow because the result could affect host South Korea's chances of qualifying for the final 16.

The Americans need only one point from a draw to guarantee a place in the last 16 while Poland are already eliminated having lost both their games.

"I can't imagine we'll have a favourable crowd," Arena said. "The Korean spectators will be cheering for Poland."

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