International: Impressive array of stars meet in Paraguay

Rivaldo, Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos are reunited to defend Brazil's title in 39th Copa America

The 39th Copa America will bring together a significant number of the world's biggest stars ù even though the tournament is limited to South America's 10 national teams and special guests Japan and Mexico. South American's top players have become fixtures in the European leagues, and a good amount of them have been called back for the tournament that kicks off in Paraguay June 29. Ronaldo, together with eight survivors from last year's World Cup, will be in Paraguay to defend the trophy Brazil captured two years ago in Bolivia. When Brazil meets Chile in first-round play, Ronaldo will confront Inter Milan teammate Ivan Zamorano, who combines on the Chilean frontline with another Italian-based star, Lazio's Marcelo Salas. Argentina, which has won a record 14 Copa America titles, should field a fair share of its foreign-based players ù Martin Palermo, the nation's top talent not yet scooped up by the Europeans, leads the contingent from local champion Boca Juniors ù although Coach Marcelo Bielsa left out France '98 strikers Gabriel Batistuta (Fiorentina, Italy) and Hernan Crespo (Parma, Italy). Goalie German Burgos, for one, doesn't believe the Argentine media's angry response to those two omissions is justified. "The only irreplaceable one was Maradona," he said. Meanwhile, Bielsa kept observers guessing on the eve of the tournament by leaving two roster spots open. Prodigal son Fernando Redondo, the Real Madrid star whom Daniel Passarella jettisoned for his refusal to wear short hair, is still in the running. However, Batistuta, Argentina's all-time leading scorer, is still struggling with injuries.

MLS stars in host's group

GROUP A: Unless goalkeeper Jose Luis Chilavert lifts his boycott in the last minute, host Paraguay will be without its biggest name The hero of Paraguay's second-round appearance in France '98 has protested his country spending money on the tournament in the midst of serious economic and social crises. Without its famous leader, the host will look to inspiration from others who made the France '98 campaign a success by Paraguayan standards: forward Jose Cardozo, the Mexican league's leading scorer; defender Celso Ayala; and midfielder Roberto Acuna. Defenders Carlos Gamarra, recently transferred from Brazilian Corinthians to Spanish Atletico Madrid, and Francisco Arce, who just won the Libertadores Cup with Palmeiras, are also included in the squad. Head coach Ever Almeida is also expected to initiate Roque Santa Cruz, a 18-year-old midfielder who is in the midst of a multi-million dollar move to Bayern Munich. D.C. United midfielder Marco Etcheverry and forward Jaime Moreno are expected to lead Bolivia, which has 12 players from its 1997 runner-up squad in its roster. Erwin "Platini" Sanchez, who plays with Portuguese club Boavista, scored three goals at the last Copa America and will team up with Etcheverry in the midfield. High-scoring Blooming forwards Limbert Gutierrez and Victor Hugo Antelo will hope a successful Copa America leads to more lucrative pastures abroad. Midfielder Nolberto Solano, who is known as "the Lord" at his English club, Newcastle, is Peru's best player. Forward Flavio Maestri, who plays for Chilean club Universidad de Chile, leads the attack. Coach Juan Carlos Oblitas will also depend on midfielder Roberto Palacios, of Mexico's UAG, in a quest to shed Peru's label as a perennial underachiever. Japan, the first team from outside the Western Hemisphere to play in the Copa America, is hoping that Brazilian-born Wagner Lopes is recovering from a severe ankle injury. He'll need him in the absence of Japanese superstar Hidetoshi Nakata, rested after a stellar first season in Italy. French coach Philippe Troussier has been under severe criticism despite guiding Japan to a runner-up finish at this year's U-20 World Cup, and may need an impressive Copa America to keep his job through the 2002 World Cup.

Brazil banks on discipline

GROUP B: Temperamental strikers Edmundo and Romario have been left out of the team by head coach Wanderley Luxemburgo. He said that discipline had been a major factor when he picked his squad. Romario, who broke down in tears when an injury forced him off of the Brazil roster days before France '98, had been expected to return after scoring 25 goals for Flamengo this year. Edmundo, who has never managed to hold down a regular place in the squad because of his fearsome temper, was also expected to get another chance. Luxemburgo underscored his emphasis on discipline by dropping Corinthians striker Edilson after he provoked a brawl in the Sao Paulo championship (see Around the World on page 23). He was replaced by a young Gremio striker Ronaldo de Assis Moreira. Luxemburgo still has the original Ronaldo, who missed two friendlies against the Netherlands with a thigh injury ù an injury unrelated to the knee injury that plagued his domestic season. Ronaldo should enjoy a France '98 reunion with Barcelona's Rivaldo, Real Madrid's Roberto Carlos and AC Milan's Leonardo. After a brave performance in France '98, where Chile was finally defeated by Brazil, 4-1, in the second round, head coach Nelson Acosta is rebuilding only slightly. He returns 13 World Cup players ù including national heroes Zamorano and Salas. Pedro Reyes, who struggled after a move from Colo Colo to French team Auxerre after France '98, and Francisco Rojas will lead the defense. Two years ago, Bora Milutinovic brought a mix of experience and youth to the Copa America, and Mexico finished third. His successor, Manuel Lapuente, isn't jettisoning the players with whom he reached the second round in France '98, but has added some youngsters. Daniel Osorno, a part of the young Atlas team that finished runner-up in the Mexican league and a member of Mexico's U-20 World Cup squad, scored two goals in his debut ù a 2-0 win over Egypt June 18. The 12 France '98 veterans include Luis Hernandez, Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Alberto Garcia Aspe, Ramon Ramirez, Salvador Carmona and Jorge Campos, though Campos faces a challenge in goal from Adolfo Rios ù the top Copa America keeper two years ago. Venezuela has only won one Copa America match in its history. But under Argentine head coach Jose Omar Pastoriza, it has beaten Ecuador and Peru and tied Denmark and Colombia. Forward Ruberth Moran, who scored five goals to help Estudiantes reach the Libertadores quarterfinals, will lead the attack with Daniel Noriega, who plays with Argentine club Union Santa Fe.

Asprilla gets another chance

GROUP C: While Bielsa keeps his fans guessing ù even Claudio Lopez, who scored 21 goals for Spain's Valencia, was in limbo a week before tournament kickoff ù Argentina can at least count on a solid defense. Inter Milan left back Javier Zanetti is in excellent form, and midfield ball-winner Diego Simeone brings years of experience to the squad. Playmaker Ariel Ortega, who sat out the June 13 loss to the United States, has a chance to redeem himself after his France '98 ended with a red card against the Netherlands. Colombia coach Javier Alvarez has recalled Faustino Asprilla, who may be Colombia's most talented forward ever, but who was thrown out of the France '98 squad after one game by coach Hernan Dario Gomez. Asprilla could team up with Victor Bonilla, who spearheaded the attack for Libertadores Cup runner-up Deportivo Cali. Alvarez has also recalled sweeper-keeper Rene Higuita. Although Victor Pua will be Uruguay's head coach, Passarella has crossed the River Plate to head the national team program and will supervise Pua's work, and replace him afterward. Uruguay will be testing a squad that includes seven players from its 1997 U-20 runner-up team. Ecuador goalie Jose Cevallos will play his fourth Copa America in Paraguay. Other big names in the squad are midfielder Alex Aguinaga and Argentine-born Ariel Graziani, both based in Mexico with Necaxa and Morelia, respectively. Coach Carlos Sevilla was relieved when 21-year-old star Ivan Kaviedes was able to overturn a court order, stemming from a paternity suit, banning travel abroad. Kaviedes plays forward for Italy Serie A club Perugia. by Soccer America Editor Amparo Sim=n
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