Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


World Cup preview

The long wait for the world’s most cherished event is nearly over. Only 22 days remain until France will begin its defense of the 1998 World Cup, which it won as host four years ago.

The champs open up against Senegal, but the 2002 Cup is being co-hosted by South Korea and Japan. From May 31 through June 30, 32 teams from around the world will play 64 games to crown the next champion.

Teams are organized in groups of four, where they will play each team, with the top two teams from each group moving on to the second round.

The United States is one of only nine nations to make it into the field of 32 for each of the last four tournaments. But after finishing last of the 32 teams in France, the team has undergone major changes.

Now, making it to the second round is an expressed goal.

“I think if we play well, I’m confident we can get out of group play, and that’s our goal,” U.S. head coach Bruce Arena said. “After that, anything can happen. I like our preparation and feel we will be ready.”

The United States’ group consists of Portugal, host South Korea and Poland, similar to the one that the U.S. team faced in France.

Portugal is the obvious favorite of the group, as Germany was in ’98, and a sleeper to go deep into the tournament. It has a terrifically-skilled side led by Luis Figio, one of the most skilled players in the world.

Portugal can go as far as Figio’s boot takes them.

South Korea is a team the United States should clearly be able to beat in order to have any hope of advancing. But the Americans failed to beat an equivalent Iranian team in 1998.

The final team of the group is Poland, a physical European squad from which no one is quite sure what to expect.

Poland hasn’t qualified for the cup since 1986 but it is an up and coming team. This could very well be the pivotal game of the group, with the winner being the second team to move on to the second round.

Realistically, the United States should win at least one game, but may find it difficult to sneak into the second round from its moderately tough group. With timely play, however, the draw will not be impossible.

The odds-on favorites to win the tournament are Argentina and defending champion France. Some also throw Italy into the mix — those three make up the highest tier of international soccer.

Argentina is deep enough to push two teams into the second round of the tournament. It plays a 4-4-1-1 style that allows its midfield and defense to attack creatively — a delight for its great midfield. Juan Sebastian Veron (Manchester United) leads the unit, widely regarded as the best in the world.

Veron’s nickname is La Brujita (“The Little Witch”) for his ability to glide all over the field effortlessly as though he is riding a broomstick. Leading the way for the favorites up front are stars Hernan Crespo and Gabriel Batistuta, though only one will play under the Argentinean’s scheme.

If the gambling design works and Argentina’s defense holds up, the team may very well be crowned champions.

“If it is not to be Argentina, then I cannot look beyond France,” commented Argentinean head coach Marcelo Bielsa. “They are recognized as the No.1 team in the world, and that is justified by their results.”

Indeed, France is one of the few teams that may have the firepower, experience and toughness it will take to eliminate Argentina.

The defending champions field a roster packed with names recognizable even to the casual observer.

One such name is Zinedine Zidane.

“Zizou,” as he is called, is undisputedly the best player in the world. He is a magician when handling the ball, and it was his inspired two-goal performance against Brazil in the ’98 final that secured France’s championship.

The French are currently ranked No. 1 in the world by FIFA and will be difficult to stop in Southeast Asia this summer.

The third team that could push into the title mix is Italy, but questions surround the Italian camp.

The Italians may have too many big-name forwards and the big egos that go along with the names.

Thus far, it appears that the younger Francesco Totti and Christian Vieri will be the coaches’ choices up front, but how renowned veterans like Alessandro Del Piero, Marco Delvecchio, Vincenzo Montella and Fillipo Inzaghi react to bench time in the world’s spotlight may set the tone in the locker room for the team.

Brazil, Portugal and Spain are also outside favorites to work their way into the championship picture.

Brazil struggled in qualifying but is ever dangerous, while Spain is talented enough, but is widely regarded as World Cup underachievers.

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