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Friday, 7 June, 2002, 13:48 GMT 14:48 UK
UK plc stops for the big game
The England team leave the field after being beaten by Argentina in 1998
England's last match against Argentina ended in tears
The UK, the world's fourth-biggest economy, stood idle for two hours on Friday as England took on arch-rivals Argentina in the football World Cup.

With most of the British workforce watching the match on television, shops, factories and offices across the country came to a near-standstill from the kick-off at 1130 GMT.

The game, billed in England as a grudge match against the team that eliminated the national side from the 1998 World Cup finals, is also thought to have curbed activity on the London Stock Exchange.

With large sections of the population gripped by World Cup mania, many bosses bowed to the inevitable and gave their employees as much leeway as possible to watch the match.

"We would hope that employers take a flexible attitude and allow employees who wish to do so to follow their national team," a spokesman for the Confederation of British Industry, the UK's biggest business lobby, said before the game.

Losing a billion

The disruption to normal business activity is expected to take its toll on the economy.

While some of the output lost to World Cup-related work stoppages will be offset by increased consumption of beer, food, and football supporters' paraphernalia, analysts believe the net economic impact will be negative.

The Centre for Economics and Business Research, a London-based think-tank, estimates that the tournament will trim the UK's output by 1.3bn this month.

Lost output for the European Union as a whole during the April to June period could total 8.7bn euros, the CEBR said.

In previous years, the economic impact of the World Cup has been positive overall.

But this year, the time-lag between Europe and World Cup hosts South Korea and Japan means that many matches are being screened during office hours in the West, cutting into the working day.

Lunchtime in the City

Activity in the City of London financial district was subdued on Friday morning, with traders looking ahead to the England-Argentina clash.

Many City workers watched the match over an extended lunch break in local pubs and bars.

"Even ahead of the game nothing is really happening. Things will grind to a complete halt," said Tom Hougaard of City bookmakers Financial Spreads, speaking before the game.

The match helped to take traders' minds off a steep slump in share prices which dragged the benchmark FTSE 100 index to its lowest level in eight months on Friday morning.

England's one nil victory over Argentina did nothing to improve investor sentiment, with the FTSE languishing 69.5 points lower at 4888.1 at 1345 GMT, fifteen minutes after the final whistle.

Betting bonanza

However, brewers, pubs, sportswear manufacturers and the gambling industry are all expected to reap windfall profits from the match.

"This will be the biggest football betting match we've ever seen," said a spokesman for betting shop chain Ladbrokes.

"There's quite good support for Argentina, but most bets are for England. People are betting with their hearts."

Ladbrokes is forecasting that bets on the game will total 10m, compared with just 3m for England and Argentina's last world cup clash in 1998.

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