OVER TO SEOUL – Frontline

The ultimate spherical of the World Cup in soccer, performed for the primary time in Asia, opens on Might 31 within the capital of South Korea, which co-hosts the occasion with Japan.

BILLIONS of individuals, transcending geographical boundaries and time zones and distinctions resembling color, caste and creed, look all set to be united, by means of the subsequent few weeks, by one mantra, the World Cup. Soccer’s best occasion, the World Cup’s closing spherical, being held for the primary time in Asia, could have its kick-off on Might 31 in Seoul.

This World Cup can also be the primary to be hosted by two nations – South Korea and Japan. Of the 32 groups which might be within the fray for the coveted FIFA Cup, 29 have emerged from an arduous sequence of 779 qualifying matches held between March 4, 2000 and November 25, 2001. There are three direct entrants – the holders France and the 2 host nations.

The Seoul Stadium, the venue of the opening match.-AFP

Certainly, Korea and Japan appear to have left no stone unturned of their preparations to host the occasion; they’ve tried to iron out the political variations that existed between them through the years and work hand in hand for the success of the World Cup. They spent a mind-boggling $2 billion for the 20 new stadia – 10 in every nation.

Every stadium is marked by architectural splendour and has amenities that far outstrip the perfect of what has been supplied to gamers, officers, spectators and the media until date. This additionally indicators the beginning of a brand new period within the historical past of Asian sport: the full operational price for the event is now anticipated to the touch a staggering $1,200 million, the bills on the stadia excluded.

The winner of the event will take residence $5.33 million, nearly 70 per cent greater than what France was awarded when it knocked Brazil off the pedestal in Paris in 1998. The French, by the way, are as soon as once more the favourites for the title, alongside Argentina, Brazil and Italy. Portugal and England are rising as exterior bets.

Within the post-Conflict period, no staff aside from Brazil has gained back-to-back World Cups and no staff has gained three main titles in a row in world soccer up to now. However then, the French, who added the European championship two years in the past to their tally of world titles, have appeared invincible in latest occasions and will rewrite file books as they emulate the 1958 and 1962 World Cup triumphs of the Brazilians.

France boasts of the exceptional abilities of Zinedine Zidane, arguably the perfect participant within the recreation right this moment, and a superb line-up comprising Fabian Barthez on the purpose, Lilian Thuram, Marc Desailly, Bixente Lizarazu and Frank Lebeouf in defence, Patrick Vieira because the defensive defend, Emmanuel Petit and Laurent Robert within the midfield, and Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet upfront. They match effectively into the 4-1-3-2 system that was adopted by Roger Lemerre, the French supervisor, by means of the higher a part of the final three years with distinctive success.

The French are anticipated to walk by means of Group A within the first spherical the place they face Denmark, Uruguay and Senegal. (Senegal makes its World Cup debut this 12 months together with Ecuador, China and Slovenia.) However the champion aspect may land in hassle within the second spherical as it’s grouped with Argentina, England and Brazil in the identical half of the 64-match fundamental draw. Thirty-two matches are scheduled to be performed in every of the 2 host nations.

With two groups every from the eight preliminary teams qualifying for the second spherical, the French are scheduled to fulfill within the pre-quarterfinals the runner-up within the “Group of Dying” (Group F), which may very well be Argentina, England, Nigeria or Sweden. And past that, the 1998 winner may meet Brazil within the quarterfinals and Argentina within the semifinals if Argentina avoids assembly the Les Blues within the second spherical.

Whereas a closing between the French and the fancied Argentineans, in Yokohama, Japan, on June 30, is thus dominated out, a possible menace to the 2 sides and likewise Brazil is Italy, a three-time winner. Italy has been fortunate to get a beneficial draw. Nonetheless, it’s tipped to face Cameroon or Germany, and Portugal or Spain on its path to the title spherical, every able to springing a shock.

But, it’s exhausting to put in writing off Argentina. It stormed into the ultimate spherical because the winner of the South American qualifying matches with as many as 4 matches to spare. It’s a staff that seems to be extra formidable than France. Though each match in its group can be as intensely fought as a cup closing, the two-time winner may nonetheless rule the roost right here and past if its key gamers – Gabriel Batistuta, Hernan Crespo, Juan Sebastian Veron, Roberto Ayala, Diego Simone, Ariel Ortega and Javier Zanetti – produce the identical magic as within the qualifying spherical.

Brazil, in distinction, had a poor run within the qualifying spherical earlier than it ensured that its file was intact. (Brazil is the one aspect that has performed in all World Cup closing rounds.) However bolstered by the return of Ronaldo, its key striker, from harm to aggressive soccer, Brazil seems fairly a reworked aspect. It ought to breeze its well past the primary spherical, the place it’s drawn along with Turkey, China and Costa Rica in Group C. In the hunt for a file fifth title, the Brazilians are thereafter slated to fulfill the runner-up of Group H, which is comprised of Japan, Russia, Belgium and Tunisia. Aside from Ronaldo, the important thing figures within the staff are Roberto Carlos, Emerson, Ronaldinho Gaucho and Rivaldo. Nonetheless, doubts stay concerning the health stage of Rivaldo, who performs for FC Barcelona at club-level.

Expectations of Italy’s progress from the underside half of the draw are based mostly on the positive mix of youth and expertise the staff has. It’s drawn in Group G together with Croatia, Mexico and Ecuador within the preliminary league, whereby solely Croatia, a shock semifinalist at France ’98, seems able to inflicting an upset. Subsequently it may very well be both South Korea, the US or Poland within the second spherical, relying upon which amongst these three groups will emerge behind Portugal, the doable topper in Group D.

The true problem for the Italians may very well be a gathering with both Cameroon or Germany within the quarterfinals and probably Portugal or Spain within the semifinals. Italy appears to have the best males in every division to beat these obstacles – the skilled trio of Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Nesta and Fabio Cannavaro in defence forward of custodian Gianluigi Buffon, and Gianlucco Ambrotta, Franceso Coco, Luigi di Biagio and Damiano Tommasi in midfield. The Italians play in a singular 3-4-1-2 system, and this could go away the extremely proficient Francesco Totti enjoying the position of an extra creator behind the 2 strikers, Christian Vieri and Filippo Inzaghi.

With Cameroon and Germany (drawn in Group E together with Eire and Saudi Arabia) now pale shadows of their former selves, Italy ought to waltz its approach into the semifinals and probably go all the best way if it efficiently tackles Portugal. Nonetheless, that may very well be a touch-and-go affair, with the resurgent Portuguese themselves boasting of a positive line-up, together with Luis Figo, FIFA Participant of the 12 months, and the equally sensible Manuel Rui Costa, Jorge Costa, Nuno Gomes and Joao Pinto.

Portugal, which performs swift and dazzling soccer, is predicted to emerge unscathed from Group D and once more from its doable assembly with Croatia within the second spherical. Spain, with the irresistible Raul on the helm, may very well be the doable opponent for Portugal within the quarterfinals, if the previous manages to depart behind its picture as a perennial underachiever in world soccer and deal with Paraguay, Slovenia and South Africa in Group B within the first spherical.

Each Paraguay and Slovenia are doable giant-killers, and may they progress, that might result in a situation that might additionally have an effect on the possibilities of Cameroon and Germany past the opening part, simply as England, with David Beckham and Michael Owen in lead roles, may disturb the equations within the high half of the draw with an impressed show.

Within the occasion, just one factor seems sure: the co-hosts, South Korea (which is but to realize its first win in 5 appearances), and Japan (which is enjoying in its second World Cup) are unlikely to progress past the primary or second spherical. The truth is, entry into the second spherical by certainly one of these two groups itself can be an enormous increase for Asian soccer in its effort to hitch the large league, so overwhelmingly dominated by European and South American nations.

In any other case, the one consideration that Asian soccer may probably achieve through the event can be from the presence of Bora Milutinovic, the ‘miracle man’ from Serbia who as coach of the Chinese language staff shall be making his fifth straight World Cup look. He guided Mexico, Costa Rica, the U.S. and Nigeria within the final 4 editions.

The World Cup, proper from 1930, has remained both with Europe or with South America, eight occasions in every case. The large query now’s, which approach will it journey from Asia? May it’s France, Italy, Argentina or Brazil?

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