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Tackle From Behind On Way out At World Cup, Too Late for Van Basten

June 4, 1994 GMT

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ It was a familiar sights in soccer: a stocky defender gets beaten by a lithe forward, but then chases the striker from behind and kicks the ball away with a sliding tackle.

There’s another sight: Marco van Basten on crutches, hobbling on battered ankles after numerous defenders kicked his legs, instead of the ball, from under him with vicious tackles from behind.

Van Basten was the world’s best forward when he was fit. Because of his injuries, the Dutchman will miss the World Cup. He’s been robbed of the crowning moment of his career, and the world has been robbed of one of the game’s true superstars.

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″When we see how the careers of great soccer players have been destroyed by attacks from behind, sporting ethics forced us to counter this,″ says Michel D’Hooghe, head of FIFA’s medical committee.

″Marco van Basten is the most famous victim of such sabotage but, unfortunately, only one of many,″ says Sepp Blatter, the secretary general of FIFA, the world soccer federation.

FIFA hopes that curbing illegal tackles will lead to more attractive play and more goals at the World Cup.

In the United States, players will be sent off with a red card if they execute a faulty tackle from behind - missing the ball and clobbering the player.

Tackles from behind, even when an opponent is not touched, will be banned following the World Cup.

″We have to protect the forwards, and if we do that, we will protect attractive soccer,″ said D’Hooghe, a Belgian doctor who has researched ankle injuries.

Rarely in soccer has a new rule aroused such passion. Forwards love it, defenders loathe it.

Roberto Baggio of Juventus of Turin, the 1993 world player of the year, applauds the change.

″It’s very often a coward foul which can cause serious injury,″ he says.

″Sniping at an opponent’s legs from behind without a hope of regaining the ball is tantamount to an admission of causing grievous bodily harm,″ Blatter says.

″There is not a single sport, not even boxing, that allows you to attack an opponent from behind,″ D’Hooge says. ″You can still do it in soccer, so we had to act.″

Defenders are upset because the tackle often is their most valuable tool.

It has been perfected in Britain. So it’s no wonder that Jack Charlton, Ireland’s coach and a defender on England’s 1966 World Cup champion, is against any change. He warned it will make the referee’s job impossible.

″I played all my life and I don’t know what a tackle from the back is yet,″ he says. ″How do you determine whether it is from the back or the side, when players are always turning and thrusting?″

FIFA hopes the goal ratio will improve, but Charlton warned it would only increase ejections.

″Can you imagine a game where two or three people are sent off for a tackle from the back?″ Charlton says. ″It will be messy, difficult and cause controversy.″

Belgium already has taken precautions and stocked up on defenders in its 22-player roster.

″The refereeing will be revolutionary,″ Belgium coach Paul Van Himst says.

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