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The World Cup is Coming

By David Stevenson
Monday December 3, 2001

David Stevenson

The 2002 World Cup is coming, but Americans aren't as excited as the rest of the world.

Saturday, the World Cup Draw announced the eight four-team pools for the summer. There wasn't a lick of publicity. But the field makes this tournament shape up to be tremendous.

The United States will be in Group D. They will go up against South Korea, Poland and Portugal, giving the team a decent chance to advance. The top two teams in each pool advance after three games of round-robin play.

Poland and Portugal are favored, but the United States has drastically improved since their horrific performance in 1998, when they finished dead last with three losses and one goal scored. In the past four years, MLS has groomed the all-stars with better competition and has primed the U.S. team for a better showing this year.

Group F - with Argentina, Nigeria, England and Sweden - will be the group to watch. Argentina is strong every year and has always worn the same blue and white vertical-striped uniforms. England will be tough with an always-scrappy club. English superstar forward Michael Owen, who was 17 during the last World Cup, is now 21, and his maturity shows in his ability to shred defenses with his amazing speed and fantastic ball-handling ability.

In 1998, Argentina defeated England in a shootout to advance to the quarterfinals. England's David Beckham was ejected in the opening minutes of the second round for a blatant kick at Argentina's Diego Simeone. For 40 minutes plus two overtime periods, the English dug a trench and held off the Argentine offensive waves. The rematch is highly anticipated.

In Group C, Brazil - the New York Yankees of the World Cup - is a favorite to claim their fifth title. They've got the slickest uniforms with pale-yellow tops, light-green numbers and sea-blue shorts. Midfielder Rivaldo, whose all-around finesse and technique has led the nation to label him better than retired great Ronaldo, is their savior.

Mexico is in turmoil after a horrendous draw with Italy, Ecuador and Croatia in Group G. The Mexican amateur roster features promising young talent but lacks experience. This summer, they lost to Colombia in the Americas Cup Championship game after defeating Brazil. Look for Mexico to be one of the favorites in 2006.

As for predictions, USA will beat South Korea for our first World Cup win since1994. That year, Colombian defenseman Andres Escobar mistakenly scored the winning goal for the Americans. He was murdered two weeks later.

However, Poland will win the group and Portugal will advance.

Argentina, Brazil, Germany and Italy will reach the semifinals. In 1990, Germany defeated Argentina for the title. The 2002 final will be a rematch, but this time Argentina will win their third World Cup.

The Americans will be the most-improved team in the field. They've made important strides since 1998 with the addition of the MLS but are still far behind in the world's most popular sport.


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