The lead-up to every World Cup is filled with bluster, betting and absurdity. Teams preparing for this year’s event publicly debated whether players should have sex before and during the tournament (the consensus: only if a team is winning). There was the usual media scrutiny—until Argentinian prima donna Diego Maradona allegedly fired a pellet gun at the working reporters. And, inevitably, there were the petulant stars making coaches lives miserable. Now, finally, the 24 teams will actually start playing soccer—and terrific soccer at that. Here are the teams and players to watch:
UNITED STATES: The
Americans, granted an automatic berth as hosts, followed some promising results (including a 2-0 victory over England in 1993) with poor performances in the months leading up the the June tournament. They will have to tighten their defence and rely on midfielder Thomas Dooley and forward Eric Wynalda if they hope to avoid three straight losses.
Swiss were strong in qualifying, beating out Scotland and Portugal. They have a swift counterattack featuring Allain Sutter and Ciríaco Sforza in midfield and Adrian Knup at forward.
COLOMBIA: When the Colombians are on, they can beat anyone, but they were inconsistent in qualifying. They boast an explosive offence featuring Faustina Asprilla, one of the most exciting attackers in the world.
ROMANIA: Despite a solid defence and creative forwards, Romania lacks consistency. Mercurial playmaker Gheorghe Hagi is expected to lead the offence.
Outlook: The Americans should prove to be excellent hosts. Romania and Colombia should reach the second round.
RUSSIA: The team is I strong in goal with Dimitri Kharine and Stanislas Cherchessov. Igor Shalimov and Dimitri Popov are expected to both set up and score goals.
CAMEROON: Semifinalists in Italy in 1990, the
Indomitable Lions may lack the scoring to duplicate the feat— even if 42-year-old Roger Milla returns to the team. The Lions remain strong in midfield with Cyrille Makanaky and Emile M’bouh-M’bouh.
SWEDEN: To get into the second round, the steady Swedes will have to compensate for key injuries. Anders Limpar has replaced injured midfield star Pär Zetterberg, and forward Tomas Brolin will be
without his usual frontline partner, striker Martin Dahlin.
BRAZIL: Brazil hopes to get back on track after a disastrous 1990 World Cup.
The Brazilians have two of the world’s best fullbacks in Branco and Jorginho, the playmaking abilities of midfielder Rai and explosive forwards Bebeto and Romario to provide the highlightreel goals that fans have come to expect from Brazil.
Outlook: This may well be
the most competitive group. Brazil, Sweden, Russia and Cameroon will all vie for secondround berths.
GERMANY: The Germans won in 1990 as West Germany; reunification with the East has added depth to an already impressive team. Experience and the playmaking skills of Lothar Matthäus, perhaps the best sweeper in the game, give Germany a strong chance to repeat.
BOLIVIA: In two previous World Cup appearances, Bolivia failed to score a goal and lost every game. Goals should not be a problem this time around with William Ramallo and Erwin Sanchez, but the defence remains undependable.
SPAIN: Chronic underachievers, the Spaniards have only reached the semifinals once. They have excellent goaltending in Andoni Zubizarretta, but Julio Salinas, their top striker, has not even been able to crack the starting lineup with his club in Barcelona.
«'A* SOUTH KOREA: AÍ
though this will be South Korea’s third World Cup in a row, the team seems certain to continue its losing ways in a tough division.
Outlook: Germany looks tough. Spain and Bolivia will fight for the other second-round berth.
_-j GREECE: Greece scored EEEEEE3 only 10 goals in eight qualifying games and is short on international experience.
□ ARGENTINA: This traditional powerhouse just slipped into the Cup by beating Australia, but the team still boasts goal-scoring brilliance and cannot be counted out. The mercurial Maradona returns to the national squad after a drug suspension.
BULGARIA: The team qualified with a lastsecond win over France. Defence is undependable, but Bulgaria has talented forwards in Hristo Stoichkov and Emil Kostadinov.
NIGERIA: The Super Eagles lost only one of eight qualifying games. They have a strong midfield and speedy forward Rashidi Yekini, the leading scorer in the Portuguese league.
Outlook: Argentina should lead the pack. Nigeria or Bulgaria could surprise.
NORWAY: The Norwegians have an excellent back line with Henning Berg, Stig Inge Bjomebye and Gunnar Halle, lostein Flo will Drovide some offence.
MEXICO: The Mexicans have played in 10 previous Cups without progressing beyond the quarter-finals. This year’s team has strong goaltending with Jorge Campos and a quick attack with Hugo Sanchez and Luis Roberto Alves.
E~~| IRELAND: Quarter-finalists in 1990, _I the Irish barely reached the tournament this time around. The team has stuck to an unspectacular style under coach and former England World Cup hero Jack Charlton. Paul McGrath anchors a strong backline.
ITALY: The Azzurri hope to ride a wave of Italian-American support in New York City on their way to a fourth World Cup title. Blessed with a strong defence featuring Franco Baresi and the dazzling playmaking of Gianluigi, the Italians will need super-striker Roberto Baggio to score if they hope to triumph.
Outlook: Italy is the strongest team in the group, but Norway is also solid and Mexico could advance with luck.
BELGIUM: Goaltender Michel Preud’homme and central defender Georges Grun are the backbone of a solid defence that allowed only five goals in 10 qualifying games. Unfortunately, Luc Nilis, the team’s greatest offensive hope, hasn’t scored in 22 national team games.
HOLLAND: Favorites in 1990, the Dutch bowed out in the quarterfinals. They still have strong team defence and an excellent goaltender in Ed de Goey. The attack will be led by Dennis Bergkamp.
MOROCCO: Morocco will not field a strong team, but will probably manage to beat Saudi Arabia. Striker Mohammed Chaouch should be the player to watch.
SAUDI ARABIA: The Saudis, making their World Cup debut, have been more interesting off the field than on. In the process of qualifying, two head coaches quit after complaining of interference in personnel decisions by senior Saudi officials— including royalty.
WORLD CUP ' 9SCHEDULE
June 20 June 21
June 22 June 23 June 24
June 27 June 28
June 30 July 1
July 2 July 3 July 4 July 5
July 16 July 17 ‘Indicates
‘Opening Ceremonies ‘Germany vs Bolivia ‘Spain vs Korea Rep.
TSN World Cup Today ‘USA vs Switzerland ‘Italy vs Ireland Rep.
‘Colombia vs Romania TSN World Cup Today ‘Belgium vs Morocco ‘Norway vs Mexico ‘Cameroon vs Sweden TSN World Cup Today ‘Brazil vs Russia TSN World Cup Today Netherlands vs Saudi Arabia ‘Argentina vs Greece ‘Germany vs Spain TSN World Cup Today Nigeria vs Bulgaria ‘Romania vs Switzerland ‘USA vs Colombia TSN World Cup Today ‘Italy vs Norway ‘Korea Rep. vs Bolivia TSN World Cup Today ‘Mexico vs Ireland Rep.
‘Brazil vs Cameroon ‘Sweden vs Russia TSN World Cup Today ‘Belgium vs Netherlands ‘Argentina vs Nigeria Saudi Arabia vs Morocco TSN World Cup Today ‘Bulgaria vs Greece ‘USA vs Romania TSN World Cup Today Switzerland vs Colombia ‘Germany vs Korea Rep.
TSN World Cup Today Bolivia vs Spain Bolivia vs Spain ‘Italy vs Mexico Ireland Rep. vs Norway ‘Brazil vs Sweden Russia vs Cameroon Russia vs Cameroon ‘Morocco vs Netherlands Belgium vs Saudi Arabia TSN World Cup Today ‘Greece vs Nigeria Argentina vs Bulgaria
ROUND OF 16
‘Group C Winner vs Group A, B or F Third ‘Group C Second vs Group A Second TSN World Cup Today Group F Second vs Group B Second Group A Winner vs Group C, D or E Third TSN World Cup Today ‘Group F Winner vs Group E Second ‘Group B Winner vs Group A, C or D Third TSN World Cup Today ‘Group D Winner vs Group B, E or F Third ‘Group E Winner vs Group D Second TSN World Cup Today
QUARTERFINALS TSN World Cup Today ‘Quarterfinal ‘Quarterfinal TSN World Cup Today ‘Quarterfinal ‘Quarterfinal TSN World Cup Today
TSN World Cup Today FINALS
‘Consolation Final TSN World Cup Today TSN World Cup Today ‘Final and Closing Ceremonies live coverage.
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