World Cup 2002

May 30, 2002

Group A

Denmark

Best finish: Quarterfinalist, 1998.

1998 showing: Lost in the quarterfinals to Brazil.

Coach: Morten Olsen.

Players to watch: Ebbe Sand, Jon Dahl Tomasson, Thomas Helveg.

Outlook: Without giant goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, now retired from international play, and brothers Brian and Michael Laudrup, Denmark isn't what it was four years ago. Still, the Danes have plenty of heart and two top-notch forwards 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?

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.

France

Best finish: Champion, 1998.

1998 showing: Defeated Brazil, 3-0, in the final.

Coach: Roger Lemerre.

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

Outlook: 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.

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.

Senegal

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.

Outlook: 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, forward El Hadji Diouf, now being pursued by Liverpool.

Forecast: A woeful lack of warm-up games could be costly in this tough group. A first-round exit is almost guaranteed.

Uruguay

Best finish: Champion in 1930 and 1950.

1998 showing: Did not qualify.

Coach: Victor Pua.

Players to watch: Paolo Montero, Alvaro Recoba, Sebastian Abreu.

Outlook: 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.

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 to reach the second round, where they will bow out.

Group B

Paraguay

Best finish: Second round, 1986 and 1998.

1998 showing: Eliminated in the second round.

Coach: Cesare Maldini.

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

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

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 1998 showing.

Slovenia

Best finish: Debut

1998 showing: Did not qualify.

Coach: Srecko Katanec.

Players to watch: Zlatko Zahovic, Milenko Acimovic, Djoni Novak.

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

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.

South Africa

Best finish: First round, 1998.

1998 showing: Eliminated in the first round.

Coach: Jomo Sono.

Players to watch: Sibusiso Zuma, Lucas Radebe, Benedict McCarthy.

Outlook: 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 chances.

Forecast: South Africa's fortunes took a downturn last year when its coach, Carlos Queiroz of Portugal, quit after being denied sole say in picking the team. It could be three games and out.

Spain

Best finish: Fourth place, 1950.

1998 showing: Eliminated in the first round.

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