2002 World Cup capsules



World Cup Record: Played 9, won 5, lost 3, tied 1, goals for 19, goals against 13.

Best Finish: Quarterfinalist, 1998.

1998 Showing: Lost in the quarterfinals to Brazil.

Coach: Morten Olsen. Played on the "Danish Dynamite" team that lit up the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.

Players to Watch: Ebbe Sand; Jon Dahl Tomasson; Thomas Helveg.

In Brief: Without giant goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, now retired from international play, and the brothers Laudrup, Brian and Michael, Denmark isn’t what it was four years ago. Still, the Danes have plenty of heart and two top-notch strikers in Sand, the 2001 German Bundesliga top goal scorer, and Tomasson, who is headed for AC Milan after winning the UEFA Cup with Feyenoord, so who knows?

Quick Quote: "I don’t think we have a star. The team is the star."—Morten Olsen.

Forecast: Everything will depend on the June 1 game against Uruguay, when heat and the lack of an internationally experienced goalkeeper could be the Danes’ undoing.


World Cup Record: Played 78, won 48, lost 16, tied 14, goals for 162, goals against 103.

Best Finish: Champion, 1998.

1998 Showing: Defeated Brazil, 3-0, in the final to win it all.

Coach: Roger Lemerre. Was assistant coach on the 1998 World Cup-winning side and inherited a team that, if anything, has grown even stronger since then.

Players to Watch: Zinedine Zidane, Patrick Vieira; Djibril Cisse.

In Brief: Since its victory in Paris four years ago, the world champion has won the 2000 European Championship and the 2001 FIFA Confederations Cup. The question mark is whether erratic goalkeeper Fabien Barthez can avoid a costly blunder once the knockout phase is reached.

Quick Quote: "We are not pretentious and we are not developing a superiority complex, but we know that we have a quality team."—Zinedine Zidane.

Forecast: If it can keep clear of injuries and overcome South American opposition in the later rounds, France can become the first country since Brazil in 1962 to repeat as champion.


World Cup Record: Debut.

Best Finish: Debut.

1998 Showing: Did not qualify.

Coach: Bruno Metsu. With dark, shoulder-length hair and blue eyes, French-born Metsu has an almost messianic look, but he endeared himself to Senegalese by marrying a local woman in March, thus showing that his attachment to the country "went well beyond football," according to Dakar’s Le Soleil newspaper.

Players to Watch: El Hadji Diouf; Ferdinand Coly; Khalilou Fadiga.

In Brief: The Lions of Teranga, as they are known, are comprised primarily of Senegalese players living and playing in France, chief among them Africa’s 2001 player of the year, striker El Hadji Diouf, now being pursued by Liverpool.

Quick Quote: "If we crash out early, it will be no surprise. But I have a feeling we will spring a few surprises."—El Hadji Diouf.

Forecast: A woeful lack of warm-up games could be costly in a group where no prisoners will be taken. A first-round exit is almost guaranteed.


World Cup Record: Played 37, won 15, lost 14, tied 8, goals for 61, goals against 52.

Best Finish: Champion in 1930 and 1950.

1998 Showing: Did not qualify.

Coach: Victor Pua. Coached Uruguay’s under-20 team to second place in the FIFA World Youth Championship in Malaysia in 1997.

Players to Watch: Paolo Montero; Alvaro Recoba, Sebastian Abreu.

In Brief: Making its first appearance at the World Cup in 12 years, Uruguay brings a team sprinkled with quality players but at times lacking cohesion and focus. It barely managed to qualify through a playoff against Australia and its warm-up results since then have been indifferent.

Quick Quote: "They will all be tough matches."—Victor Pua.

Forecast: If the Uruguayans can maintain some defensive composure and avoid red cards, to which their overly physical approach makes them prone, they have enough firepower up front to reach the second round, where they will bow out.



World Cup Record: Played 15, won 4, lost 5, tied 6, goals for 19, goals against 27.

Best Finish: Second round, 1986 and 1998.

1998 Showing: Eliminated in the second round.

Coach: Cesare Maldini. The 70-year-old father of Italy’s veteran World Cup defender Paolo Maldini, he was assistant coach on Italy’s 1982 World Cup-winning team.

Players to Watch: Jose Luis Chilavert, Carlos Gamarra, Jose Cardozo.

In Brief: In a group that is evenly balanced among the three teams chasing group favorite Spain, Paraguay’s chances could depend on the play off backup goalkeeper Ricardo Tavarelli, filling in for Chilavert in the first game because Chilavert is suspended for spitting on Brazil’s Roberto Carlos during qualifying.

Quick Quote: "Ninety percent of sports journalists in Paraguay are incompetent."—Jose Luis Chilavert.

Forecast: Friction between players and coach could undermine Paraguay, as could the always inflammatory comments of Chilavert himself. A first-round exit would be no surprise, despite the team’s strong showing in 1998.


World Cup Record: Debut.

Best Finish: Debut

1998 Showing: Did not qualify.

Coach: Srecko Katanec. A former midfielder for Sampdoria in Italy and now a national hero for putting Slovenia on the world stage.

Players to Watch: Zlatko Zahovic; Milenko Acimovic; Djoni Novak.

In Brief: When Slovenia gained its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, few expected that within a decade it would qualify for not only the European Championship in 2000 but also the 2002 World Cup. The latter feat was especially impressive because Slovenia qualified at the expense of Romania and Yugoslavia.

Quick Quote: "I’ve got the impression that [the public] in Slovenia is suddenly expecting miracles from us. Fans seem to have lost touch with the ground under their feet."-- Zlatko Zahovic

Forecast: Zahovic is the only world-class player Slovenia has, but if Katanec can keep the team’s mind on its task and keep it riding a wave of national pride, the smallest nation in the World Cup might cause the biggest surprise and reach the final 16.


World Cup Record: Played 3, won 0, lost 1, tied 2, goals for 3, goals against 6.

Best Finish: First round, 1998.

1998 Showing: Eliminated in the first round.

Coach: Jomo Sono. Starred as a player for the New York Cosmos in the old North American Soccer League, then went home to found a team he named Jomo Cosmos.

Players to Watch: Sibusiso Zuma; Lucas Radebe, Benedict McCarthy.

In Brief: To celebrate South Africa’s second consecutive World Cup appearance, the government minted special commemorative coins, including a one-ounce gold coin depicting a soccer player striking a ball. With top goal scorer Shaun Bartlett sidelined by an ankle injury, the coin is worth more than the Bafana Bafana’s (cq) chances.

Quick Quote: "I think the team now will start believing in themselves."—Jomo Sono.

Forecast: South Africa’s fortunes took a downturn last year when its soccer federation denied former coach Carlos Queiroz of Portugal sole say in picking the team and he quit. It could be three games and out.


World Cup Record: Played 40, won 16, lost 15, tied 9, goals for 61, goals against 48.

Best Finish: Fourth place, 1950.

1998 Showing: Eliminated in the first round.

Coach: Jose Antonio Camacho. A feisty defender who played 81 games for Spain, he has yet to make his mark as its coach.

Players to Watch: Iker Casillas; Fernando Hierro; Raul,

In Brief: A huge disappointment in ’98 when they crashed out in the first round, the Spanish have had four years to ponder that embarrassment. As veteran defender Hierro has said, "We must keep reminding ourselves that Spain has never won anything at the World Cup."

Quick Quote: "I want my players to go on the pitch with aggression. Any player who doesn’t have that aggression won’t play."—Jose Antonio Camacho.

Forecast: Spain will win the group, though not without difficulty, and then might face a rematch with Cameroon, which beat it in the 2000 Olympic Games final.



World Cup Record: Played 80, won 55, lost 14, tied 11, goals for 173, goals against 78.

Best Finish: Champion in 1958, 1962, 1970 and 1994.

1998 Showing: Lost in the final to France.

Coach: Luiz Felipe Scolari. A hard-nosed, uncompromising sort who cares more about the result than the quality of the display.

Players to Watch: Roberto Carlos; Rivaldo; Ronaldo.

In Brief: The disappearance of "jogo bonito," the "beautiful game," and Brazil’s corresponding slump has turned off its legion of fans, but Scolari signaled more of the same to come when he refused to include Romario in his roster. Brazil’s plan is to "strike first and fast," trying to score in the first 15 minutes or each game.

Quick Quote: "Brazil will play a tactical game and the show part will be missing."—Roberto Carlos.

Forecast: Brazil struggled to qualify, but the World Cup is its stage and it has an easy path to the quarterfinals, where France, Argentina or England will await.


World Cup Record: Debut.

Best Finish: Debut.

1998 Showing: Did not qualify.

Coach: Bora Milutinovic.

Players to Watch: Fan Zhiyi; Li Tie; Hao Haidong.

In Brief: It took the Chinese 44 years to qualify for their first World Cup and the players are apologizing even before the tournament begins. "We can’t deny that in the World Cup we are a new army and a weak team," the players said in an open letter intended to ward off public outcry should they fail. "Insufficient skills and experience means we are destined not to go far." That says it all. The speed, aggression and intensity of the World Cup will overwhelm the Chinese.

Quick Quote: "He [Milutinovic] is a very kind, very amusing old man, but he is also a coach of high caliber."—Fan Zhiyi.

Forecast: After taking four countries to the second round, Milutinovic’s luck is due to run out and China are facing a first-round exit.


World Cup Record: Played 4, won 2, lost 2, tied 0, goals for 4, goals against 6.

Best Finish: Second round, 1990.

1998 Showing: Did not qualify.

Coach: Alexandre Guimaraes. Played on Costa Rica’s memorable 1990 team.

Players to Watch: Walter Centeno; Rolando Fonseca; Paulo Wanchope.

In Brief: Costa Rica’s team has been on a downward spiral ever since it qualified for Korea/Japan ’02 and the loss of defender Reynaldo Parks to injury only makes things worse. It opens against China, led by former Costa Rica coach Bora Milutinovic, and from there on it gets even tougher. "We played like turtles," bemoaned one Costa Rican newspaper after a recent warm-up loss to a Japanese club team.

Quick Quote: "We won’t be playing to entertain, we’ll be playing to win."—Alexandre Guimaraes.

Forecast: The Ticos peaked under Milutinovic at the Italia ’90 World Cup and do not have what it takes to get out of the first round this time around.


World Cup Record: Played 3, won 1, lost 2, tied 0, goals for 10, goals against 11.

Best Finish: Never beyond the first round.

1998 Showing: Did not qualify.

Coach: Senol Gunes. A fan of military analogies, whose spoutings include: "Everyone’s a captain, everyone’s a general. The team will be a good army, and when the time comes they will battle."

Players to Watch: Hakan Sukur; Yildiray Basturk; Alpay Ozalan.

In Brief: It was in 1954 that the Turks last played in the World Cup, but the success of their club teams in Europe in recent seasons has improved the lot of the national team, which reached the European Championship quarterfinals in 2000. Accomplished goal scorer Sukur, the so-called "Bull of the Bosphorus," holds the key to the second round.

Quick Quote: "I feel like a bomb ready to explode."—Alpay Ozalan.

Forecast: A second-place finish behind Brazil is expected. Anything less would be a failure.



World Cup Record: Played 25, won 13, lost 7, tied 5, goals for 39, goals against 29.

Best Finish: Third place, 1974 and 1982.

1998 Showing: Did not qualify.

Coach: Jerzy Engel. Running battles with the highly critical Polish media only motivate him more. "Life in the media and in a squad are two different things," he said.

Players to Watch: Jerzy Dudek; Tomasz Klos; Emmanuel Olisadebe.

In Brief: The Poles were regarded as a stronger threat before they lost warm-up games to Japan and Romania. Much depends on naturalized Nigerian striker Olisadebe at one end and Liverpool goalkeeper Dudek at the other.

Quick Quote: "World football has moved forward so much since Poland’s glory days. Still, I would be extremely happy to repeat those results."—Jerzy Engel.

Forecast: The Poles are physically imposing enough to bulldoze their way to second place in the group but internal strife and unfamiliar conditions could see them lose their way.


World Cup Record: Played 9, won 6, lost 3, tied 0, goals for 19, goals against 12.

Best Finish: Third place, 1966.

1998 Showing: Did not qualify.

Coach: Antonio Oliveira. In his second spell in charge after having quit after leading Portugal to the quarterfinals of the 1996 European Championship.

Players to Watch: Luis Figo; Rui Costa; Pedro Pauleta.

In Brief: The twin spurs prodding the Portuguese are their controversial loss to eventual champion France in the semifinals of the European Championship in 2000 and the fact that they will host that same tournament in 2004. It is also the last chance for this generation of players to make an impact at a World Cup.

Quick Quote: "Even if we do not win the World Cup, there is a belief among the squad that we can go a long way."—Luis Figo.

Forecast: Portugal will win the group and then beat Croatia or Mexico to reach the quarterfinals. After that, it’s up to Figo.


World Cup Record: Played 14, won 0, lost 10, tied 4, goals for 11, goals against 43.

Best Finish: Never beyond the first round.

1998 Showing: Eliminated in the first round.

Coach: Guus Hiddink. Coached the Netherlands to the semifinals in 1998, routing South Korea, 5-0, along the way, before taking on this, much different, challenge.

Players to Watch: Hong Myung-Byo; Yoo Sang-Chul; Seol Ki-Hyeon.

In Brief: No host nation has ever failed to advance to the second round. A recent run of six games without a loss, including a tie with England, has encouraged Koreans to believe that their team might not be the first to fail.

Quick Quote: "When the roots of the tree are different, it is no use just changing the leaves."-- Lee Young-Pyo.

Forecast: Who knows what midfielder Lee is talking about, but Korean fans should realize that their team has as good a chance as the Americans or Poles of reaching the last 16.


World Cup Record: Played 17, won 4, lost 12, tied 1, goals for 18, goals against 38.

Best Finish: Semifinalist, 1930.

1998 Showing: Eliminated in the first round.

Coach: Bruce Arena. Since taking over from Steve Sampson in 1998, Arena has compiled a 31-16-13 record, but he is only 6-11-5 outside the U.S. and only 2-5-1 against European opposition.

Players to Watch: Claudio Reyna; DaMarcus Beasley; Clint Mathis.

In Brief: All too much has been made of the three-losses-and-out shambles of 1998. The fact is, exactly the same thing could happen this time because the U.S. defense cracks under sustained pressure. That said, advancing is not impossible, merely difficult.

Quick Quote: "We aren’t going to Korea to have a vacation."—Bruce Arena.

Forecast: The battle plan is to hold the fort against Portugal, defeat South Korea and go for broke against Poland. It might work, but don’t bet the house.



World Cup Record: Played 14, won three, lost five, tied six, goals for 13, goals against 26.

Best Finish: Quarterfinalist in 1990.

1998 Showing: Eliminated in the first round.

Coach: Winfried Schafer. The 52-year-old German was hired last September as Cameroon’s fourth coach in 12 months, assigned to clean up the perpetual disarray that is Cameroon soccer. Believes with the right organization, Cameroon can reach the semifinals.

Players to Watch: Patrick Mboma, Samuel Eto’o, Marc-Vivien Foe, Geremi Njitap, Rigobert Song, Lauren Etame-Mayer.

In Brief: Many believe Schafer is the right man to harness the immense potential of Cameroon’s talent pool, which has produced two major titles_the 2000 Olympics, the 2002 African Nations Cup_in the last 21 months. At 40-1, the best longshot bet in the tournament.

Quick Quote: ``I don’t know what it is about Germans, but they know how to organize things.’’_Roger Milla, Cameroon’s 1990 goal-scoring hero.

Forecast: In with a good chance to equal the quarterfinal berth of 1990.


World Cup Record: Played 78, won 48, lost 16, tied 14, goals for 162, goals against 103.

Best Finish: Champion in 1954, 1974, 1990.

1998 Showing: Eliminated by Croatia in quarterfinals.

Coach: Rudi Voller. One of Germany’s greatest players, he scored 47 goals in 90 appearances for the national team. Had virtually no coaching experience when he succeeded Erich Ribbeck after Germany’s first-round ouster in the 2000 European championships, but guided the team past Ukraine for a spot in the 2002 World Cup.

Players to Watch: Dietmar Hamann, Christian Ziege, Michael Ballack, Oliver Kahn.

In Brief: Already in a down cycle, German soccer has received mostly disheartening news in recent weeks, with injuries knocking key players Sebastian Deisler, Mehmet Scholl, Christian Worns and Jens Nowotny out of the tournament. Odds of advancing would be better if Voller had a striker of Voller’s caliber on the squad.

Quick Quote: ``German football is a little depressed at the moment.’’_German soccer legend Franz Beckenbauer.

Forecast: Fails to reach the second round for the first time since 1938.


World Cup Record: Played nine, won two, lost three, tied five, goals for three, goals against seven.

Best Finish: Quarterfinalist in 1990.

1998 Showing: Did not qualify.

Coach: Mick McCarthy. Jack Charlton, who coached Ireland to the 1990 and 1994 World Cups, was a difficult act to follow, and McCarthy took his good time producing a follow-up, failing to qualify for either the 1998 World Cup or the 2000 European championships. The payoff came in 2001, when Ireland upset the Netherlands to qualify for the 2002 World Cup.

Players to Watch: Roy Keane, Robbie Keane, Shay Given, Jason McAteer, Niall Quinn.

In Brief: Roy and Robbie Keane, no relation, are two reasons for Irish optimism, provided Roy and McCarthy can shelve their personal differences for a few weeks. Quinn, 35, is a veteran of the 1990 quarterfinalists and would like to make a similar run before international retirement.

Quick Quote: ``Anybody who underrates Ireland in that group is a dead man.’’_Cameroon Coach Winfried Schafer.

Forecast: Will eliminate another traditional European power, Germany, for a second-round berth.


World Cup Record: Played seven, won two, lost four, tied one, goals for seven, goals against 13.

Best Finish: Second round in 1994.

1998 Showing: Eliminated in first round.

Coach: Nasser Al-Johar. This is Al-Johar’s second stint as Saudi Arabia’s coach, returning to the program in 2001 to salvage a struggling qualification campaign. In so doing, Saudi Arabia became the first Gulf nation to reach three consecutive World Cups.

Players to Watch: Obedi Al-Dossary, Nawaf Al-Temyat, Talal Al-Meshal.

In Brief: Saudi Arabia surprised in 1994, reaching the second round, and disappointed in 1998, going three games and out. Temyat was voted 2001 Asian midfielder of the year, but the talent around him is too lean to advance in this group.

Quick Quote: ``I hope the players stay fit and perform in a way that portrays our football in its best light.’’_Nasser Al-Johar.

Forecast: Last in this demanding group.



World Cup Record: Played 57, won 30, lost 18, tied nine, goals for 100, goals against 69.

Best Finish: Champion in 1978 and 1986.

1998 Showing: Eliminated by the Netherlands in the quarterfinals.

Coach: Marcelo Bielsa. Is he the crazed obsessive who justifies the nickname ``El Loco’’ or a tactical wizard who has outfoxed the world with his unorthodox 3-3-1-3 formation? All of Argentina will have an answer, just as soon as the whistle blows on the June 30 World Cup final.

Players to Watch: Gabriel Batistuta, Hernan Crespo, Juan Sebastian Veron, Claudio Lopez, Ariel Ortega, Javier Zanetti.

In Brief: Along with France, the most talented team in the tournament. So much talent, in fact, that Batistuta, one the world’s best strikers, might not be able to crack the starting lineup. Too many skilled players and not enough positions on the field have scuttled Argentina more than once in past World Cups.

Quick Quote: ``In a country where the most important thing is the result, I have to follow the norm.’’_Marcelo Bielsa.

Forecast: Anything less than the semifinals would be a disappointment.


World Cup Record: Played 45, won 20, lost 13, tied 12, goals for 62, goals against 42.

Best Finish: Champion in 1966.

1998 Showing: Eliminated in second round by Argentina.

Coach: Sven Goran Eriksson. The first non-Englishman to coach the English national team, which was considered heresy_until Eriksson engineered a 5-1 defeat of Germany and brought England back to the World Cup. Has kept the tabloids busy tracking his full-field runs on the social circuit.

Players to Watch: David Beckham, Michael Owen, Paul Scholes, Emile Heskey, Sol Campbell.

In Brief: Had hopes of matching its 1990 semifinal run, until a) it saw its first-round draw and b) the midfielders started dropping. Beckham’s broken foot has been a cause of national hysteria and the loss of Steven Gerrard was a massive blow. Beckham is expected back no later than the Argentina game, a rematch England has pined for since the summer of ’98.

Quick Quote: ``Nothing (is) more important to England’s arrangements for the World Cup than the state of David Beckham’s foot.’’_England Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Forecast: If Beckham’s fit, onto the second round.


World Cup Record: Played eight, won four, lost four, goals for 13, goals against 13.

Best Finish: Second round in 1994 and 1998.

1998 Showing: Eliminated in second round by Denmark.

Coach: Adegboye Onigbinde. Late replacement for Shaibu Amodu, who came and went as Nigeria’s coach for the fifth time earlier this year. Onigbinde has been this route before as well, coaching the Super Eagles to the 1984 African Nations Cup final.

Players to Watch: Nwankwo Kanu, Jay-Jay Okocha, Taribo West, Celestine Babayaro.

In Brief: Highly skilled, as always, but straddling the precipice of implosion, as always. Upset Spain to win its World Cup group in 1998, then got pasted by Denmark, 4-1, in the next round. Capable of finishing anywhere, first to fourth, in this group.

Quick Quote: ``I know we’re in the group of death, but Nigeria (is) unpredictable. And it’s when people don’t expect anything from us that we’re at our best.’’_Nigeria striker Bartholomew Ogbeche.

Forecast: Third or fourth in this group.


World Cup Record: Played 38, won 15, lost 15, tied eight, goals for 66, goals against 60.

Best Finish: Third place in 1994.

1998 Showing: Did not qualify.

Coaches: Tommy Soderberg, Lars Lagerback. Soderberg replaced Tommy Svensson, who coached Sweden to the ’94 semifinals, in 1997. Lagerback was promoted from assistant to co-manager after Sweden qualified for the 2000 European championships. Together, they guided Sweden to the top of its 2002 qualification group with an 8-0-2 record.

Players to Watch: Fredrik Ljungberg, Henrik Larsson, Magnus Hedman, Patrik Andersson, Anders Svensson.

In Brief: In Larsson, who led all European club players in scoring in 2001, and Ljungberg, whose late-season scoring binge led Arsenal to the English Premier League and F.A. Cup titles, Sweden has more offensive punch than the ’94 semifinalists. Andersson, captain and key to the backline, appears ready after tearing knee ligaments in February.

Quick Quote: ``If (Larsson) just plays his game and the rest of the team pull their weight, we will be more than satisfied.’’_Lars Lagerback.

Forecast: No surprise if Sweden reached the second round.



World Cup record: Played seven, won five, lost two, goals for 11, goals against five.

Best finish: Third place in 1998.

1998 showing: Third place.

Coach: Mirko Jozic. Replaced Miroslav Blazevic, the architect of Croatia’s third-place finish in ’98, in January 2001 after Croatia opened World Cup qualification with draws against Belgium and Scotland. Conservative and defensive-minded, Jozic guided Croatia to a 5-0-1 record during its final six qualifiers.

Players to watch: Alen Boksic, Robert Prosinecki, Davor Suker, Robert Jarni, Robert Kovac.

In brief: Croatia was the surprise of the ’98 World Cup, reaching the semifinals in its first attempt. Many of the key components of that squad—Suker, Jarni, Prosinecki among them—are now in their 30s, weighting down hopes for a repeat run in ’02.

Quick quote: "I wish we had five players who are younger, faster and better than Prosinecki. But we don’t."—Mirko Jozic.

Forecast: Second in the group, quarterfinals a possibility.


World Cup record: Debut.

Best finish: Debut.

1998 showing: Did not qualify.

Coach: Hernan Dario Gomez. En route to guiding Ecuador to its first World Cup, Gomez was attacked, pistol-whipped and shot in the leg by a group of men angered over the decision to leave the son of the country’s former president, Abdala Bucaram, off the national under-20 team. Gomez soon resigned, only to return after the nation’s fans, his players and Bucaram urged him to reconsider.

Players to watch: Ivan Kaviedes, Agustin Delgado, Alex Aguinaga, Ulises de la Cruz.

In brief: Amazing but true, Ecuador finished second behind Argentina in the South American World Cup qualification group, one point ahead of Brazil. With a suspect defense, finishing second in this group appears beyond the team’s reach.

Quick quote: "It’s important that the public are aware that Ecuador are going to the World Cup to learn."—Hernan Dario Gomez.

Forecast: Bottom of the group.


World Cup record: Played 66, won 38, lost 15, tied 13, goals for 105, goals against 62.

Best finish: Champion in 1934, 1938, 1982.

1998 showing: Eliminated by France in quarterfinals.

Coach: Giovanni Trapattoni. The most successful coach in the history of Italy club soccer, having won seven Italian League championships, two Italian Cups, one European Cup and three UEFA Cups. Firm believer in the future-is-now philosophy, which explains why he left the sainted hero of World Cups past, 35-year-old Roberto Baggio, off the 2002 squad.

Players to watch: Francesco Totti, Christian Vieri, Alessandro Del Piero, Alessandro Nesta, Paolo Maldini, Fabio Cannavaro, Gianluigi Buffon.

In brief: Should win this group with ease. After that, would likely face the United States or Poland in the second round, Cameroon in the quarterfinals and either Spain or Portugal in the semifinals. A path to the final is well-paved for Italy.

Quick quote: "Every player has some genius, but there’s only one Van Gogh, and there is nobody like Totti."—Giovanni Trapattoni.

Forecast: Has the talent—and more importantly, the draw—to win it all.


World Cup record: Played 37, won eight, lost 21, tied 8, goals for 39, goals against 75.

Best finish: Quarterfinalist in 1970, 1986.

1998 showing: Eliminated by Germany in second round.

Coach: Javier Aguirre. Salvaged Mexico’s dead-in-the-water qualification campaign by replacing Enrique Meza last June and going 4-0-1 down the stretch. Has sacrificed traditional Mexican flair for a more pragmatic get-the-result tactical approach.

Players to watch: Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Francisco Palencia, Rafael Marquez, Gerardo Torrado.

In brief: The midfield lacks a true playmaker, reducing strategy to the essentials of defending and getting the ball to Blanco and Palencia. That might succeed against CONCACAF rivals, but Italy and Croatia offer a different dilemma altogether.

Quick quote: "The ultimate goal is to do better in the World Cup than any of the previous Mexican teams."—Javier Aguirre.

Forecast: Those are the semifinals Aguirre’s talking about. That’s the pipe dream. Here’s the reality: Mexico will be hard-pressed to reach the second round.



World Cup record: Played 32, won nine, lost 16, tied seven, goals for 40, goals against 56.

Best finish: Fourth place in 1986.

1998 showing: Eliminated in first round.

Coach: Robert Waseige. Underwent quadruple bypass surgery during World Cup qualification, which had nothing to do with Belgium’s lack of reliable goal scorers. As evidenced by Belgium’s recent 2-1 victory over France in Paris, has a knack for squeezing a lot out of a little.

Players to watch: Marc Wilmots, Gert Verheyen, Wesley Sonck.

In brief: Belgium is the only country to have qualified for the last six World Cups without hosting or having won the tournament. Like goalposts and grass fields, the Belgians are always there—and usually just as exciting.

Quick quote: "We don’t have superstars. There’s no Beckham or Owen. We all need each other."—Robert Waseige.

Forecast: Should they win the weakest group in the tournament, the Belgians would probably face Turkey in the second round. The quarterfinals, believe it or not, are not out of the question.


World Cup record: Played three, won zero, lost three, goals for one, goals against four.

Best finish: First round in 1998.

1998 showing: Eliminated in first round.

Coach: Philippe Troussier. Nicknamed "the White Witch Doctor" while bouncing around Africa—he has coached South Africa, Nigeria and Burkina Faso—Troussier landed in Japan in 1998, entrusted with guiding the co-hosts to the second round. That would probably entail winning a World Cup game, something no previous Japan coach has been able to manage.

Players to watch: Hidetoshi Nakata, Shinji Ono, Junichi Inamoto, Atsushi Yanagisawa.

In brief: Troussier has a capable midfield, led by Nakata, who plays for the Italian club Parma, and Ono, who won the UEFA Cup while playing with the Dutch club Feyenoord. But just as importantly, he also has a favorable draw and the home-field advantage. It should add up to a berth in the round of 16.

Quick quote: "Japan have never won a match at the World Cup, but I believe the players will want to write a new chapter in Japanese football history this summer."—Japan Football Assn. president Shun-ichiro Okano.

Forecast: Japan makes history and makes the second round.


World Cup record: Played 34, won 16, lost 12, tied six, goals for 60, goals against 40.

Best finish: Fourth place in 1966.

1998 showing: Did not qualify.

Coach: Oleg Romantsev. Coached Russia to its last major tournament, the 1996 European championships, but resigned after failing to reach the second round. Returned after Russia failed to qualify for the 1998 World Cup and got the job done, bringing Russia back to the World Cup with a 7-1-2 qualification record.

Players to watch: Vladimir Beschastnykh, Yegor Titov, Alexander Mostovoi, Valeri Karpin, Ruslan Nigmatullin.

In brief: Beschastnyhk, a forward, is an exciting talent and Mostovoi is valuable and versatile, playing both sweeper and striker during qualifiers. But the run-up has not been promising. Russia has lost four of five games this year and was booed in Moscow after losing to Yugoslavia in a penalty shootout during its World Cup send-off match.

Quick quote: "The class of our players is not as high as that of the world’s top teams. Our chances depend on team play and our ability to raise squad morale to the highest level before the start of the tournament."—Oleg Romantsev.

Forecast: In this group, second round is a possibility for all except Tunisia.


World Cup record: Played six, won one, lost three, tied two, goals for four, goals against six.

Best finish: First round in 1978, 1998.

1998 showing: Eliminated in first round.

Coaches: Ammar Souyah and Khemaeis Laabidi. The co-coaches are a stopgap following the sudden resignation of Henri Michel in March. Their task: Try to get the weakest team in the tournament out of Japan without too much embarrassment.

Players to watch: Zied Jaziri, Zoubeir Baya, Khaled Badra.

In brief: Michel resigned after a dismal performance at the Africa Nations Cup in January; Tunisia did not score in three matches and failed to reach the quarterfinals. Veteran goalkeeper Chokri El Ouaer followed shortly after, claiming he was retiring from the national team because of back problems. Bending over to retrieve the ball out of his own net in Japan would have only exacerbated the condition.

Quick quote: "We have weaknesses everywhere—tactically, technically, mentally, physically."—Henri Michel.

Forecast: Three defeats and out.