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SOCCER HEAVEN; 3 AREA PLAYERS OFF TO FRANCE.

Byline: Matthew Kredell Special to the Daily News

Three area soccer players have proved they can compete against the best high school players.

Now they'll see how they rate against the best in the world when they travel to France for an international youth tournament.

The trip, the result of France's effort to bring together young soccer players from around the world in conjunction with the World Cup, gives Gregorio Avila of Kennedy High, John Ortega of Birmingham and Abdullah Safdari of Chatsworth a chance of a lifetime.

``It's a great opportunity,'' Ortega said of the all-expenses-paid trip. ``I look forward to competing against players from around the world and seeing how I compare to them.''

The players will stay in Saint Denis, a northern suburb of Paris and the site of the main stadium and final World Cup match. The trip is sponsored by the city of Saint Denis, a number of French ministries and four French radio stations.

Nearly 800 athletes from 22 countries will compete in a tournament and attend a World Cup quarterfinal or semifinal match.

Billed as ``Banlieunes du Monde,'' or ``Suburbs of the World,'' the tournament will unite inner-city youths from around the globe. Los Angeles was chosen to represent the U.S. because of its cultural mix.

``Los Angeles, much like Saint Denis, is a city where many communities live together,'' said Erwan de Kerautem, deputy cultural attache of the French Consulate. ``The kids of Saint Denis look at L.A. with great eyes in terms of its music, fashion and style.''

Avila, Ortega and Safdari have great admiration for the professional players in the World Cup.

To have the opportunity to see them in the most important tournament in the sport is a dream come true.

``I had the greatest time of my life when I went to the '96 Olympics in Atlanta,'' said Avila, the only senior of the trio. ``Watching the World Cup in France should be even better.''

Not surprisingly, two of the three say players from five-time World Cup champion Brazil are their favorites.

Safdari likes 21-year-old star Ronaldo, who was World Player of the Year in 1996 and 1997 and is labeled by many as the ``Michael Jordan of soccer.''

Ortega admires Brazil defender Roberto Carlos.

``Carlos is defensively sound and makes very few mistakes,'' said Ortega, a sophomore who led Birmingham to the semifinals this year. ``. . . He's the best defender in soccer (and) also is very explosive offensively.''

The three hope to see Brazil in the quarterfinal or semifinal match they attend, a good possibility since Brazil is a favorite to take their sixth world title.

Ultimately, they'd like to be in the same position as the Brazilians: Making a living playing soccer.

However, they also see the sport as a key to their education.

``We might be playing forever, but who knows?'' said Safdari, who is completing his junior year at Chatsworth. ``I want to be on the safe side.''

Avila is already college-bound. He will enter UC Santa Barbara in the fall.

``I want to play, but I need something to fall back on,'' he said.

Ortega, 15, sees soccer as his road to college. He hopes to get a scholarship.

A free vacation to France to do what you love the most seems like fun and games, but these three take it seriously.

``I'm there to play soccer,'' said Safdari. ``For me, it is soccer day in and day out, whether I am playing for fun or for work.

``But seeing how France looks will be fun.''

CAPTION(S):

Photo

PHOTO Area soccer players Greg Avila, John Ortega and Abudllah Safdari will travel to France to play in a junior tournament.

John McCoy/Daily News
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 28, 1998
Words:622
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