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Scouting Reports


Group A
Artists at Work

It may be like comparing two Monet renderings of the same scene,
but Brazil's attack is even more talented than its offense of
four years ago. Though it lost World Cup '94 MVP Romario to a
calf injury, World Player of the Year Ronaldo (page 110), a
striker, and running mate Edmundo are still amply supported by
onrushing defender Roberto Carlos, whose free-kick sorcery is
unparalleled. While those three hope to lead the way to the
first repeat championship since the Brazilian teams' of 1958 and
'62, the defense has been fallible in recent matches. After
losing to the U.S. 1-0 in Los Angeles in February, Brazil fell
to Argentina by the same score in Rio last month. The two South
American antagonists could be headed for a semifinal rematch in
France, and for Brazil the pressure to win--and win with
style--might be too much. "It's like fighting with a drunk,"
midfielder Leonardo has said of his country's crushing
expectations. "If we lose it's ridiculous, and if we win it's

After Norway stunned Brazil 4-2 in Oslo last year, coach Egil
Olsen announced that Brazil's midfield was "as organized as
garbage" and crowed that the world champs would be
unbeatable--but only if he were their coach. Bold Egil will put
his team where his mouth is when the two sides meet on June 23
in Marseilles. Unbeaten in its qualifying matches, Norway is
counting on 11 players from the English Premier League,
including 6'4" striker Tore Andre Flo (nickname: Flonaldo), who
scored twice in the victory over Brazil. The Norwegians' soft
spot is goalkeeper: Frode Grodas spent his club season on the
bench for England's Tottenham Hotspur.

Led by Spanish-based midfielders Mustapha Hadji and Noureddine
Naybet, Morocco should improve on its 0-3 performance of '94,
though the Atlas Lions' offense is still too static to move them
beyond the first round. Scotland will be able to blame its
eighth first-round exit in eight tries on slow, mechanical
players (forward Kevin Gallacher is the best of a thin lot) or
bad luck: For the third time, the Scots have drawn Brazil in
their group.

Group B
Beware the Matador

If Italy's prayers are answered and Alessandro Del Piero lords
over this World Cup like a young Nero, tabloids the world over
may soon be screaming ALEX! the way they've roared LEO! of late.
A stylish striker with a brooding profile, Del Piero is just 23,
yet he scored enough times (21) for Serie A champion Juventus
this season that Italians now call each of the goal's top
corners the zona Del Piero. Backing him up is forward Roberto
Baggio, 31, a Buddhist who has been reincarnated after rarely
appearing for Italy since starring in World Cup '94. As usual,
the Azzurri's wealth of talent will probably need time to mesh,
though a slow start could prove costly this time. A second-place
finish in this group could mean a second-round showdown with

Marcelo (El Matador) Salas of Chile was 16 in 1991 when his
father, Rosember, reportedly offered Marcelo's services to the
club Deportivo Temuco. His asking price? Soccer shoes and a
practice uniform, which the club promptly refused. Last fall
Argentine club River Plate sold Salas to Italian giant Lazio for
$20 million, and in all likelihood this World Cup tournament
will be the light-footed striker's launchpad to stardom: He and
forward Ivan Zamorano are the most underrated scoring tandem in
the field. Chile's fortunes will depend on whether it can make
up for its no-name (and no-game) defenders and midfielders.

Striker Patrick Mboma was the leading goal scorer in Africa's
World Cup qualifying, but Cameroon still hasn't righted the
rudderless ship (0-2-1) that washed up on U.S. shores in 1994.
Meanwhile, with the exception of Wolfgang Feiersinger, Austria's
defenders are as slow as the Danube in January. They'll play
three games and waltz right back to Vienna.

Group C
The Host with The Most

It rolls off the tongue like a smooth riff from a baritone sax:
Zinedine Zidane. Get hip to it. Zidane, 25, plays like his name,
gracefully roaming the offensive third, cuing passes with the
touch of a pool shark. With Zidane and his Juventus teammate
Didier Deschamps, France can lay claim to having the world's
best midfield duo; in Lilian Thuram, it has a preeminent
defender as well. Unfortunately for the host team, its top
players are all suited to the same positions, which means Marcel
Desailly and Youri Djorkaeff, midfielders for their Italian
clubs, must shift to central defense and forward, respectively.
If they can adjust, France clearly has the talent--and the home
field support--to win the Cup.

Saudi Arabia's Saeed al-Owairan scored the prettiest goal of
World Cup '94 when he dribbled past five Belgians on a 60-yard
run to glory. The story goes that King Fahd rewarded Owairan, a
midfielder, with pile of cash and a new Mercedes, and then the
trouble started. During Ramadan in '96, Saudi authorities caught
him drinking and banished him to a detention center for about
six months. "I have learned," says Owairan, who rejoined coach
Carlos Alberto Parreira's team last December. The Saudis have
learned, too: Reaching the second round is entirely possible.
They did it in 1994, and they'll do it again in the draw's
weakest group.

Legendary French midfielder Michel Platini once called Michael
Laudrup of Denmark "the greatest player in the history of the
game--in practice." Ouch. Known equally for breathtaking moves
and choking in the clutch, the Laudrup brothers (midfielder
Michael and forward Brian) won't take the Danes past the first
stage. A bad sign for first-time qualifier South Africa: MLS
castoffs Shaun Bartlett and Doctor Khumalo made its roster.

Group D
The Fearsome Foursome

What is it with Spain? Soccer's most notorious underachiever
breezes through the opening round only to cave in when the
matches acquire fractional prefixes (e.g., the 1994
quarterfinals, when it lost to a less talented Italian side).
Undefeated in Cup qualifying, the Spaniards have veterans
Fernando Hierro and Luis Enrique anchoring a solid midfield. But
the X factor will be Raul, a 20-year-old star for Real Madrid
whose scintillating scoring touch has inspired the press to
rechristen his club Raul Madrid. "He can be one of the stars of
the World Cup," predicts Pele.

If Nigeria becomes the first African nation to win the Cup, some
of the credit should go to the Cleveland Clinic Hospital, where
6'7" striker Nwankwo Kanu underwent open-heart surgery in
November 1996 to repair his malfunctioning aorta. Doctors told
Kanu, the hero of Nigeria's '96 Olympic gold medal team, that
his career was over, but in April he played 90 minutes against
Germany. "No one could have broken my spirit," said Kanu, whose
Super Eagles will soar if their coach, former U.S. mentor Bora
Milutinovic, can organize the defense.

"I want to score at least one goal in the World Cup," says Jose
Luis Chilavert, who happens to be Paraguay's goalkeeper. Don't
laugh. Chilavert's 36 career goals have come on penalty shots
and free kicks, including a game-tying bender in a 1-1 draw
against Argentina two years ago. Chain-smoking midfielder Hristo
Stoichkov is back for 1994 semifinalist Bulgaria, but too much
internal squabbling and a nightmare draw mean Hristo will be
hristory before the second round.

Group E
Low Country Clash

While playing for Inter Milan in 1994-95, the Netherlands'
Dennis Bergkamp was dubbed Beavis for his blond hair and bland
demeanor. The following season Bergkamp, a striker, split (heh
heh) for English club Arsenal, which he led to this year's
Premier League title. Bergkamp's Butt-head, so to speak, is Marc
Overmars, his teammate at Arsenal who forms part of a
frighteningly skilled Dutch midfield with Ronald de Boer, Edgar
Davids and Clarence Seedorf. Always a treat to watch, the Dutch
should storm through their first-round matches, but a shaky
defensive line figures to keep keeper Ed van der Sar busy and
prevent the Clockwork Orange from ticking deep into the

"When a child has left home and comes back knocking on your
door, you open it," says Belgium coach Georges Leekens. The
"child" that Leekens is referring to is 32-year-old prodigal
playmaker Enzo Scifo, who crawled back to the team last month
after vowing in February never to play for Leekens again after
he had failed to call Scifo in for a friendly. If Scifo, a.k.a.
the Belgian Waffler, can display his 1994 form, his fourth World
Cup appearance will extend to the second round. The Red Devils
are powered by striker Luc Nilis, but they're plagued by a
painfully slow-footed defense that surrendered six goals in two
qualifiers to Low Country rival the Netherlands.

Since February Mexico has lost to club teams in two countries
and to Chile's under-23 team, causing pundits back home to give
the Tricolores a new name: Tritanic. True enough, whenever the
Mexicans cross the Atlantic, disastrous things happen. In eight
tries they have never won a World Cup match in Europe, and
thanks to coach Manuel Lapuente's curious decisions--for
example, he left the country's alltime leading scorer, Carlos
Hermosillo, off the team--they may not this year, either. Their
best chance will come against South Korea, which is winless in
11 Cup matches. Suggestion to the Koreans: Suit up coach Cha
Bum-Kun, who during the 1980s became the leading foreign-born
scorer in the history of the German Bundesliga.

Group F
Belief in Miracles a Must

The expectations are the same. Ergo, the challenge has grown. To
repeat its feat of World Cup '94, in which it reached the second
round, the U.S. will have to work a lot harder. Under a new
format, which incorporates 32 teams instead of 24, the Americans
can no longer advance by finishing third in their four-team
group as they did in 1994 (only the top two teams will survive
in '98). What's more, they will have to outplay either
powerhouse Germany or Yugoslavia, a dark-horse contender for the
championship. "My dream is to get to the third round," says U.S.
coach Steve Sampson. "My hope is to get to the second."

Sampson's hopes and dreams--not to mention his job--rest on a
team that he has radically overhauled since April. He dumped
captain John Harkes. He benched defenders Marcelo Balboa and
Alexi Lalas. He junked a porous zone defense and installed a
man-marking formation with three defenders, six midfielders and
one forward. It's a measure of Sampson's hubris that three of
his likely starters (defender David Regis and midfielders Chad
Deering and Frankie Hejduk) didn't play in the final round of
World Cup qualifying, while another, midfielder Brian
Maisonneuve, appeared in only one match.

For the most part the tinkering has worked. The new alignment
maximizes the U.S.'s speed on the wings, enhances cohesion in
the back and lets playmaking midfielder Claudio Reyna turn the
field into his own canvas. In four tune-up matches using the
3-6-1, the Americans scored five goals and yielded none.

For the Americans to be more than Occidental tourists, though,
Kasey Keller must continue to prove he's one of the world's top
goalkeepers; Thomas Dooley, the new captain, has to keep the
defense poised under pressure; and striker Eric Wynalda must
rediscover his scoring punch (not including penalty kicks, he
has netted just one goal for the U.S. since March 1997). The
probable scenario for a second-round berth: lose the opening
match to Germany, beat Iran and upset Yugoslavia (or tie the
Yugoslavs and hope to advance on first-round goal differential).
"There's no reason we can't beat these teams," says Reyna, 24,
who missed the 1994 Cup with a hamstring injury. "Everyone's
picking Germany and Yugoslavia to make the next round, but the
best team doesn't always win."

Dooley concedes that he has nightmares about Germany's 6'3"
uberstriker Oliver Bierhoff, who led Italy's Serie A with 27
goals last season. "The Germans are fast in the midfield with
Andreas Moller, but if that isn't working, they'll try playing
long balls," Dooley warns. "Bierhoff is the tallest player on
the field, and he can knock the ball down to anyone inside the
penalty box." Up front, Bierhoff will pair with Jurgen
Klinsmann, 33, who is said to be considering a move to MLS after
playing in his last Cup. Fifth-place finishers four years ago,
the venerable (some might say ancient) Germans are unlikely to
miss the semifinals in consecutive tournaments for the first
time in 48 years.

The knock on Yugoslavia is that its players are too easily,
well, balkanized. "Sometimes they fall apart on big occasions,"
says U.S. midfielder Preki Radosavljevic, a naturalized American
who was born in Belgrade. "In 1982 they had a really good team,
but they had a lot of internal fighting and didn't make the
second round." This time, however, they can rally around striker
Predrag Mijatovic. The top European goal scorer in Cup
qualifying, Mijatovic has shown he can hold his poise on the
world stage, having booted the game winner in Real Madrid's 1-0
victory in the Champions League final last month. Not for
nothing are the Yugoslavs known as the Brazilians of Europe.
Witness their 7-1 and 5-0 thrashings of Hungary in their
make-or-break qualifying playoff last year.

The men who run the soccer federation of Iran have much in
common with that Great Yankee Satan, George Steinbrenner. After
a 7-1 loss to Italian club AS Roma on May 19, Iran fired its
third coach in seven months. Former national teamer Jalal Talebi
inherited a team with a bit of skill: Midfielder Karim Bagheri,
the leading goal scorer in Cup qualifying (he had seven in a
17-0 defeat of the Maldives), is one of three Iranians who play
in the German Bundesliga. "The hardest thing for me has been
taking over so close to the finals," says Talebi, who should be
looking for a job come June 25, the day Iran completes the first
round--and its tournament.

Group G
A Child Shall Lead Them?

Now that England's favorite lout, Paul Gascoigne, has been left
off the team, can anyone fill the playmaking spot in coach Glenn
Hoddle's midfield? His likely choice is the pretty-boy fiance of
Posh Spice, David Beckham, who has a brilliant long-range shot
but was voted his country's most overrated player in a recent
survey. Alan Shearer is a capable if robotic finisher, but the
man (or rather, boy) to watch is 18-year-old Michael Owen. A
baby-faced wisp with 10.9-second speed in the 100 meters, Owen
will come off the bench but might even start if Shearer's
partner Teddy Sheringham struggles. Finishing first in the group
is imperative for England to avoid a second-round date with
nemesis Argentina.

Anghel Iordanescu of Romania is the only World Cup coach who
holds the rank of army general, but his unflinchingly martial
approach prompted three veterans, including 1994 stalwart Florin
Raducioiu, to refuse to play for him. The Romanians were
undefeated in a weak qualifying group (9-0-1), but their cast is
better suited for Cocoon III than round 3 of the Cup. All of
their stars are over 30, though creative spark Gheorghe Hagi,
33, still has some of the moves that made him one of Cup '94's
most electrifying players.

After Colombia's Anthony De Avila netted the game winner in a
qualifier against Ecuador last year, he dedicated it to the
former kingpins of the Cali drug cartel. Sadly, some things
never change in Colombia, which is still reeling from the murder
of defender Andres Escobar after he scored an own-goal against
the U.S. four years ago. Expectations are much lower this time,
not least because Colombia's success depends on the creaky legs
of 36-year-old midfielder Carlos Valderrama. As for Tunisia, its
orange-cone defense and temperamental stars (midfielder Zoubeir
Beya threw a tantrum after being removed from an African Nations
Cup match in February) mean the Tunisians' first World Cup trip
in two decades won't last long.

Group H
El Nuevo Maradona

Daniel Passarella was a defender in his playing days, but since
taking over as Argentina's coach he has become a redoubtable
rightwinger. Passarella introduced new rules--no earrings, no
homosexuals and no long hair--the last of which alienated
striker Gabriel Batistuta (who finally chopped his locks and
rejoined the team) and midfielder Fernando Redondo (who refused
and is staying home). Lately the Argentines have looked sleeker
than any team in the world, beating Brazil, Chile and Yugoslavia
in the past four months. If they reach their fourth final in the
last six Cups, their engine will be elusive midfielder Ariel
Ortega, 24, who wears Diego Maradona's old number 10. "There
will be a couple of new names on everyone's lips by the end of
the tournament," says Batistuta, "and one of them will be

Coach Miroslav Blazevic of Croatia is a firm believer in
astrology, which is both good and bad. Good: One of his
astrologists predicted Croatia's critical qualifying victory
against Ukraine last year. Bad: Another one told Blazevic he
would suffer a heart attack during the World Cup. Since then,
Croatia's stars have been strangely out of alignment. Ace
striker Alen Boksic won't play after undergoing knee surgery,
and his replacement, Igor Cvitanovic, was thrown off the team
last month after mouthing off to Blazevic. If Robert Prosinecki
can dazzle in the midfield, Croatia could ride a favorable draw
all the way to the quarters.

Jamaica coach Rene Simoes likes to wear the words JESUS SAVES on
the back of his T-shirt. Unfortunately for the Reggae Boyz,
goalkeeper Warren (Boopie) Barrett is no savior. With eight
British imports, however, Jamaica might win its match against
fellow first-timer Japan. The World Cup 2002 cohost (with South
Korea) has an emerging star in 21-year-old freewheeling
midfielder Hidetoshi Nakata, who dyes his hair red and listens
to the Sex Pistols. But a team-wide lack of confidence--coach
Takeshi Okada says he's not good enough for the job--will keep
the Rising Sun below the horizon.

COLOR PHOTO: GERARD RANCINAN[Alexi Lalas wrapped in American flag--T of C]

COLOR PHOTO: CLIVE BRUNSKILL/ALLSPORT Flo-mentum An inviting target up front, Norway's 6'4" Flo (9) will play alongside a brother and a cousin. [Tore Andre Flo in game]

COLOR PHOTO: STU FORSTER/ALLSPORT Chile bean Salas, deft with his head as well as his feet, has a market value of $20 million, which would go up with brilliant Cup play. [Marcelo Salas]COLOR PHOTO: DAVID CANNON/ALLSPORT Soaring scorer Daniel Amokachi is a top Nigerian striker, but the Super Eagles' porous defense will keep them from flying too far. [Daniel Amokachi in game]

COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY Brief trip? Unless Cobi Jones and his U.S. mates outplay Germany or Yugoslavia, their stay in France won't last past the first round. [Cobi Jones]