World Cup Draw: Evaluating the potential opponents

By Paul Kennedy Managing Editor in Pusan, South Korea The 2002 World Cup will take place Saturday, Dec. 1, in Pusan, South Korea, in ceremonies to begin at 5 am ET (live radio coverage on Futbol de Primera Spanish-language network; live online at and on television with taped coverage on Univision -- East feed: 11 am ET; Central feed 10 am CT; Mountain Feed: 10 am MT; West Feed: 9 am PT). Here's an analysis of the 24 potential U.S. opponents in the first round. In parentheses is the strength of the potential opponent in comparison to the United States, based on the team it is expected to field at the World Cup and how it matches up against the United States (Eg.: the United States would be a 2.5-goal underdog against France.) It is a testament to the tough task Bruce Arena has ahead of him that there's no team the Americans would be favored against. On the other hand, they would clear underdogs against only eight teams. POT#1 FRANCE (-2.5) Defending champion has skill, pace and size -- all the things the U.S. doesn't handle well. ARGENTINA (-2.0) Lost its last two games to the United States. Will not lose a third time. BRAZIL (-1.5) Will do much better in finals than it did in qualifying. Has played the U.S. five times (all one-goal games) since USA '94. ITALY (-1.5) U.S. would be hard-pressed to break down Azzurri's defense. Scheduled to host the United States in February. SPAIN (-1.5) Has history of underachieving. Combines skill and hard play that give U.S. fits. Think Costa Rica. JAPAN (-1.0) One gets mixed signals. Did well at Confederations Cup. Pressure could crush them, though. GERMANY (-0.5) U.S. won last two meetings quite easily. Germans won't underestimate Americans again. Plays U.S. in March. SOUTH Korea (even) Arguably the weakest team ever to host the World Cup. Will face the U.S. twice in next six weeks. POT#2 ENGLAND (-1.5) U.S. doesn't match up well against English. Who can stay with Michael Owen? PORTUGAL (-1.5) England and Portugal are class of Europe's unseeded teams. Portuguese have best team since '66. BELGIUM (-0.5) Not a particularly glamorous team. Beat the U.S. rather easily in last two meetings. CROATIA (-0.5) Third in France in '98. Must rebuild for 2002. DENMARK (-0.5) Made quarterfinals in '98. Has almost totally been rebuilt for 2002. POLAND (-0.5) Back after a 16-year absence. Emmanuel Olisadebe will give U.S. headaches. SWEDEN (-0.5) Has undergone makeover since finishing third at USA '94. TURKEY (-0.5) Making first appearance since 1954. Ran all over Austria (6-0 on aggregate) in playoffs. IRELAND (even) U.S. matches up pretty well with Irish. Keys are two Keanes: Roy and Robbie. RUSSIA (even) Doesn't possess skill of the (Ukraine-dominated) USSR teams of '80s. Still, U.S. could struggle with its athleticism. SLOVENIA (even) No-name team scraped into World Cup. POT#3 URUGUAY (-0.5) Has nasty streak that isn't pretty to watch. PARAGUAY (-0.5) Chilavert suspension for first two games could destroy Paraguayans. ECUADOR (even) Has never lost in eight games to the U.S. SAUDI ARABIA (even) Quite good in '94; disaster four years later. CHINA (even) Bora will know how to play U.S.
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