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SA Exclusive: WORLD CUP 2002 PREVIEW
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05/07/2002. War is said to unite nations. However, when it comes to uniting the world, no event can match the singular amalgamation of nations that result from the return of a World Cup. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, in case you have been hibernating for the past four years, the Cup of Life is back! If every time an individual watches a World Cup game is measured as one person, then no less than 48 billion people shall watch this grand spectacle that lasts all of June 2002.

It is never an easy task to predict the outcome of football games. What makes the World Cup so exquisitely enthralling is the fact that every game is an event in itself that can make or break a country's fortunes. A streak of good form could propel the smallest of nations into the spotlight, whilst a lapse for even a second can spell disaster for a top team. What does one expect from such a tournament? Lo Scrivano takes you on a journey to uncover precisely that.

They say the first event of a new WC is always reminiscent of the last action of the previous one. In 1994, the image of a pony tailed hero sunk to his knees flashed around the world as Roby Baggio missed from the spot to hand Brazil their fourth world championship. Sure enough, it was the very same man who struck from the spot in France 98 to give Italy a valuable point against Chile. One wonders what the world shall bear witness to in the France-Senegal opener this year. Manu Petit, who strode half the length of the Stade de France to sweep a third and final blow versus Brazil in the 98 final, is unlikely to get a start. Will it then be Zidane who will leave his mark again? I believe it will.

As one studies the plethora of stars that will assemble in Japan and Korea, come June, Zinedine Zidane will definitely be one that will be watched extra carefully. The two-time World Footballer of the Year, who has led France to back-to-back titles as World Champions and European Champions, is definitely in the running for player of the tournament. In Zidane's feet lies the capability to help France retain the most precious football title of all. Fresh from a world-record transfer that was dubbed ridiculous till late, Zidane has finally come into his own at Real Madrid and is fast increasing los merengues' odds of winning a ninth Champions' League title.

If Les Bleus have Zizou, then the likes of Brazil, Italy, England, Argentina, Spain and Portugal have their own licensed versions. Among the superfluity of star-names in these squads lie names that can change the outcome of a World Cup, let alone a game, with one moment of magic.

Let's start with the samba-boy, Vitor Ferreira Rivaldo. Oh, what do you say about this man? Obscure to say the least until 1996, Rivaldo has become one of the most dreaded strikers/playmakers in world football. His left-footed lawnmowers, preposterous long shots and dazzling overhead kicks are no longer regarded as genius, but are rather trademarks of the man. For me, all it takes is one look at his momentous hat trick versus Valencia last year to know that with one sweeping drive, he can change Brazil's fortunes.

Next on my list is Azzurri's golden boy, Francesco Totti. He led AS Roma (with some help from a certain Fabio Capello) to their first Italian title in 18 years last season and very nearly helped Italy to the European Championship in 2000. Dubbed by Italy boss, Giovanni Trapattoni as "Italy's key to WC 2002", Totti is just waiting to explode. He will face stiff competition from Alessandro Del Piero for a starting spot, but if Totti gets going, then stopping Italy may just become a tad to hard.

The $64 million transfer of Zidane to Real must have made no one happier than Luis Figo. For once, the spotlight was off the former world transfer-fee record holder. While the media and fans piled the pressure on the Frenchman, Figo has silently come into his own and become the compelling force that he was at Barca. For his country, Figo has been more than a leader. Part of the devastating midfield trio of Conceicao-Rui Costa-Figo, he has played a key role in changing Portugal's fortunes of late. Hailed by many as the finest player in the world, Figo's temperament, talent, and sheer ability to deliver under pressure has catapulted him to fame.

I could go on and on with names like David Beckham, Juan Sebastian Veron, Michael Ballack, Manuel Rui Costa and Hidetoshi Nakata, and that is quite simply the splendor of this magnificent event. So, what does one expect going into the opening round of the WC?

Argentina vs. England – The big 'un! An entire nation will look on as Sven-Go's England look to exact revenge on the side that heaped so much misery on them last time round. The man who was then declared a villain (David Beckham) is now skipper and pending fitness, will be key to England's chances of progressing. Argentina are clearly favorites as most bookmakers would suggest and admittedly I like them better than England. But, I would beg to differ with football writers worldwide who have already written off English hopes for the summer. I believe they are well and truly capable of putting one over their old foes, and if Becks returns, then they almost certainly will. Just call it intuition.

Germany vs. Cameroon – May not be your standard high-profile clash, but between perennial World Cup giants Deutschland and Africa's most talented and hopeful squad, I sincerely doubt you are going to be bored. Cameroon have a largely young squad, most of it comprised of the Olympic-winning side of 2000. Led by German Winfried Schäfer, the African Champions will look to achieve (or even better) their record at Italia 90. And, what better place to start than upset an unhinged German side. But, then again, Germany may have hobbled into the WC, but now that they are here, don't even think about writing them off!

Italy vs. Croatia – Italy have traditionally made it hard for themselves to get past the opening stages of big competitions. But once past that hurdle, they tend to do well. In one of their round-robin matches, the three-time world champions meet a team that is surely not what it was four years ago, but still makes for stiff competition. Led by their veteran golden boot holder, Davor Suker, and a defence composed of champions like Juventus' Igor Tudor, Inter Milan's Dario Simic, Bayern's Robert Kovac and Leverkusen's Boris Zivkovic, Croatia can definitely spring a surprise for the second WC in a row.

Few, except for maybe a handful of Croatian supporters expected the little country to go far in the last World Cup. I actually, happened to be one of the few who believed they would get that far. No, I didn't think they were spectacular, or especially gifted. But I did have tremendous faith and respect for a certain Davor Suker. Suker snatched the golden boot from favorites like Vieri, Batistuta and Ronaldo and propelled his country to within a whisker of making a historic final. In fact, had it not been for Lilian Thuram's first ever goals (yes, he had never scored for France and he scored two!!) for his nation, Suker may well have led them to an incredible first ever world cup.

So, who will repeat their success this time round? Most people are so deeply engrossed in studying former world champions or so obsessed with club football, that they might easily have overlooked the emergence of yet another surprise package. People of the world, allow me to introduce to you: Turkey.

With a population of close to seventy million, Turkey has enough people to fill every major stadium across Europe, but that's not even it! If you have had the misfortune of never seeing a Turkish league game, then you have no idea what the world is in for. Comparable only to the maddening crowds of La Bombonera in Argentina, Turkish fans beat the rest of the world hollow when it comes to supporting their team. Jumping, screaming, scrapping and quivering from minute one to end, they have become the epitome of frenzied fanatics. But, there is far more than just that to these passionate fans. They have become the twelfth man that has so often won the game for their club/country, and if enough of them can make it out to Asia, then I would consider the Turks a potent force to reckon with.

Of course, it is players and not fans alone that take a team places. And believe me, Turkey has no shortage of them. With the industrious Okan and Hasan Sas, the versatile Ümit Davala and Hakan Ünsal, Leverkusen maestro Yildiray Basturk, and Inter's scintillating prodigy Emre Belezoglu, Turkey have one of the most talented midfields in Europe and with Hakan Sükür providing the firepower up front, it could well be the case of Sükür taking over where Suker left off. Mark my words: Watch out for these Turks!

Talking about Turkey's midfield maestro Emre Belezoglu leads one to think about yet another exciting topic. Who will be the most eye-catching youngsters of the World Cup? Last time round, it was undoubtedly Michael Owen who was hailed as a superstar after his wonder goal against Argentina. I believe Germany's Michael Ballack and Argentina's Javier Saviola may be the ones making the headlines this time round. While Ballack has exemplified consistency and brilliancy in the German and Leverkusen midfield all season long scoring an astonishing 21goals for his club (he is a defensive midfielder), Saviola has been a gem for Barcelona netting 16 league goals in his very first season at the Catalan club. Both players have been key to their respective clubs domestic and European campaigns and will have the huge weight of expectation on their shoulders as they look to lead their countries to success on the big stage.

But, it is not these two geniuses that I wish to spend time on today. I wish to open the world's eyes to another prodigy: Senegal's Elhadji Diouf.

At twenty-one years of age Diouf has already taken Europe by storm and has been named the African Footballer of the Year 2002 ahead of Bayern's Samuel Kuffour. His goals and assists have gone a long way in propelling this club Lens to the top of Le Championnat with one week to go. Djouf also hammered home two hat-tricks, which were part of a nine-goal haul that eventually led Senegal to a historic WC qualification. Senegal may definitely be one of the favorites to get swamped in the opening round, but while Elhadji is around, rest assured that it won't be easy.

Elhadji will surely hope that his 270 minutes are spent well, but after that even he will have to turn his eyes to the trio of favorites, all clad in Blue, and wonder: Who will win the World Cup? Italy, France and Argentina appear to be the favorites at this time (according to pundits & bookmakers alike). But, I have done some calculation and it appears that France may have a slightly harder route to the final this time. Argentina and Italy may actually be the most likely final.

Sure, even Nostradamus would have had a hard time predicting the winner, but I would like to leave you with my pick for WC 2002. With what I believe to be the best defence in the world, two playmaking maestros in Totti and Del Piero and hungry, proven, and on-song goal machines like Vieri, Inzaghi and Montella, they cannot be anything but favorites. So, like Sir Alex Ferguson said, "I think Italy have the strongest team and they will win the World Cup."

Wherever you are in the world: Asia, Africa, Oceania, Europe or the Americas, no matter what team you support, in exactly one month time, you will be in the middle of a storm unparalleled to anything nature can whip up. 736 players from 32 nations will come together to provide the world with the most delicious soul food ever known to mankind.

So, SoccerAge friends and fans, Lo Scrivano's advice is: Cheer till you drop, scream till you pop, and most importantly enjoy every pass, dribble and shot. The Cup of Life is here!


1,199 Posts

GREAT JOB:) :) :)

XT Post Number King
111,120 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
thanks for soccerage... :D but that article is really hella long...
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