06/06/2002 11:00PM

World Cup is books' early-bird special

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LAS VEGAS - Even during the height of football season, Nevada's sports books aren't usually inhabited in the early-morning hours except perhaps for a few stray men watching reruns of SportsCenter while waiting for their wives to finish playing the slots.

That changed this month with the World Cup being played half a world away in Japan and South Korea, and the French Open in Paris. Matches from both events have been shown live in the sports books at all hours of the night, drawing the most die-hard of international fans.

The United States men's soccer team's upset of Portugal early Wednesday morning has made a lot of local bettors take a closer look at these games. A 9-2 underdog in the game at sports books around town, the Americans jumped out to a 3-0 lead and held on for a 3-2 victory.

The U.S. plays its second game at 11:30 p.m. Sunday Pacific time against host South Korea. Las Vegas Sports Consultants has the game close with South Korea at +130, the U.S. at +175 and a draw at +215. Another option is available at Harrah's, where South Korea is a half-goal favorite with a money line of +150. To get a half-goal with the U.S., you have to lay -170, but the upside is you still win the bet if the game is a draw.

In the other major event overseas, the French Open had a great matchup with sisters Venus and Serena Williams scheduled to meet in the women's final on Saturday morning. Sunday's 6 a.m. men's final lost a lot of its local appeal when Andre Agassi, a Las Vegas native, lost to Juan Carlos Ferrero Thursday. The presence of the popular Agassi always helps boost the betting handle for tennis, which is a generally a sports book afterthought.

Take Nets away, but not at home

I cashed with the Nets +8 in Wednesday's Game 1 of the NBA Finals. It didn't look good as the Lakers grabbed a 23-point lead in the second quarter, but the Nets bounced back to get the cover in a 99-94 loss.

The Lakers are not a good bet at home - they were 0-9 against the spread in the postseason at Staples Center heading into Friday night's Game 2. But they are the superior team and can go to Shaquille O'Neal inside anytime they want. I'll be taking them in the two games at New Jersey. The line should be around pick-'em, give or take a point or two either way depending on Friday's result.

o Last Sunday, I tabbed the Hurricanes to pull an upset (at odds of +240 to +260 around Vegas ) in Tuesday's Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals. The Hurricanes came through with a 3-2 overtime win at Detroit.

The Red Wings won Game 2, which I didn't play. If they grab another win Saturday night, I'll come back with the Hurricanes in Game 4 at home Monday and in Game 5 back at Detroit on Thursday, but I'll pass on Game 5 if the Hurricanes even the series with a Game 4 victory.

Two MLB umps and the under

Two weeks ago, I pointed out that the Major League umpire brothers Mark and John Hirschbeck were a combined 16-5 "under" this season as the home-plate umpire. They are 2-1 since, with the loss being an unlikely bad beat, to stand at 18-6 (75 percent).

John is 8-5 under on the season, but his last game was a tough loss for under bettors to swallow. He was behind the plate Wednesday night for the Rangers-Angels game. The total was 9 runs, and the score was 4-2 heading into the bottom of the ninth. It looked like another under until the Rangers' Hideki Irabu gave up back-to-back homers to Brad Fullmer and Tim Salmon to tie the game and send it to extra innings. The Rangers scored a run in the top of the 10th and under bettors still could have had a push, but Irabu gave up a run and then a two-run homer to Troy Glaus in the bottom of the 10th for a 7-5 Angels victory. Barring any rainouts, John Hirschbeck should be behind the plate Sunday. Umpires work in a third-second-first-home rotation, so check Saturday's boxscores to see whether he was at first base.

Mark Hirschbeck, who is the most consistent under ump in the game at 10-1, went on a week-long vacation and returned for a 4-1 Mariners win over the A's this past Monday. He should be behind the plate in the second game of the next series he works, so keep an eye on boxscores Monday and Tuesday to see if he's at first base.

CineVegas thumbs-up selections

The fourth annual CineVegas International Film Festival is being held through Friday at the Palms' Brenden Theatres. Forty feature films and 15 shorts will be screened. The most appealing for bettors might be the Gambling in Cinema series, which includes "California Split" (12:30 p.m. Monday), "The Gambler." (9:30 p.m. Tuesday), "Hard Eight," (1 p.m. Thursday), "Bob Le Flambeur" (12:30 p.m. Wednesday), and "Casino" (noon Friday). The full schedule is at www.cinevegas.com. Tickets are $7, with premieres costing $10.