U.S. gets powerful Germany in World Cup opener in June Prickly Yugoslavia, Iran also in Americans' draw

December 05, 1997|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

Powerful, seeded Germany, and politically prickly Yugoslavia and Iran will be the U.S. national soccer team's opening-round opponents in next June's World Cup finals in France.

That was determined in yesterday's internationally televised draw in Marseilles, France, for the 32 teams left to compete for the World Cup.

On paper, the draw gave favored and defending champion Brazil and home-team France relatively easy opening-round opposition. It created several seemingly balanced groups, as well as a "group of death," pitting seeded Spain against formidable Nigeria, new South American power Paraguay, and Bulgaria, the 1994 World Cup's fourth-place finisher.

In terms of difficulty, U.S. coach Steve Sampson rated the Americans' draw as being in the middle of the eight groups of four teams aligned yesterday.

Sampson predicted in his second two-continent telephone news conference of the week that his team will need at least five points -- off a win and two draws -- or six from two wins in three games to meet its goal of advancing to the second round. The top two teams in each group advance.

Sampson welcomed the prospect of playing the Germans, who, making their 12th appearance, are one of the World Cup's pedigree teams.

"It gives us a little bit of an edge in confidence, because there will be no surprises," Sampson said, noting that 11 American players have played for or are now on teams in Germany's rigorous pro leagues. "This is a team we will know very well -- all the individual players' strengths and weaknesses."

The Americans, however, have never beaten any German team, East, West or unified. The countries last met in two 1993 friendlies preparing for the next year's Cup in the United States.

The U.S. team has never played Yugoslavia or Iran, a challenge but one hardly insurmountable with seven months to scout, analyze videotape and prepare, Sampson said. The luck of yesterday's draw will allow the Americans to watch Yugoslavia and Iran play one another a day before they and Germany meet.

If the American group -- labeled "Group F" -- has a weak link, it would be Iran. The Iranians barely became the final qualifier for the tournament by scoring two goals in the final 15 minutes to tie -- and, thus, eliminate -- favored Australia in a playoff in Melbourne, Australia, last weekend. The result touched off street celebrations in Iran.

The Yugoslavs include many players paid top-dollar by first-rate European club teams.

World Cup draw

Here's how the 32 teams in next summer's World Cup finals were grouped yesterday in Marseilles, France, in a draw to determine opening-round competitors. Each team will play the other three in its group once.

Group A: Brazil, Scotland, Morocco, Norway

Group B: Italy, Chile, Cameroon, Austria

Group C: France, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Denmark

Group D: Spain, Nigeria, Paraguay, Bulgaria

Group E: Holland, Belgium, South Korea, Mexico

Group F: Germany, United States, Yugoslavia, Iran

Group G: Romania, Colombia, England, Tunisia

Group H: Argentina, Japan, Jamaica, Croatia

U.S. Round 1 schedule

Date Opponent Site

June 15 Germany Paris

June 21 Iran Lyons

June 25 Yugoslavia Nantes

Pub Date: 12/05/97

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