Thu, May 30, 2002 - Page 14 News List

How will the teams fare at this year's World Cup finals?

By Jules Quartly  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

1. Brazil

The "Three R's" and a mean defense could propel Brazil toward a record fifth World Cup success -- and Ronaldo may get the chance to exorcise the demons left over from France '98.

From the most recent practice sessions at the country's training base in Ulsan, South Korea, it looks as if coach Luiz Felipe Scolari will play the Three Rs: Ronaldo in the center, Rivaldo on the left and Ronaldinho on the right.

Four goals against Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur last weekend and Ronaldo's first international strike in two-and-a-half years could presage a shower of goals in these finals.

It looks as if the former "best player in the world" has recovered from a series of injuries just in time to display his talent on soccer's greatest stage.

Though a relative veteran with three World Cup campaigns behind him, the "Phenomenon" is still only 25-years-old and might reasonably be expected to be at his peak -- if he doesn't break down.

But the foundation for Brazil under the aggressively defense-minded Scolari will be Edmilson, Cafu, Junior, Lucio and Roque at the back. With Edilson in front, Roberto Carlos on the left and a string of good goalkeepers behind, Brazil's defensive wall should be difficult to breach.

2. Italy

With an embarrassment of riches up front and a rock-solid defense that let in just three goals in eight games during qualifying, the "Azzuri" could benefit from a relatively trouble-free run-in to the final.

They say there are no easy matches at the World Cup, but Italy will not fear the other teams in Group G -- Croatia, Ecuador, Mexico -- and in the next round will likely play the runner-up from Group D, one of the weaker groups.

A quarterfinal matchup with Germany could be on the cards and if so, then it has the firepower to go all the way.

Coach Giovanni Trapattoni has won just about everything there is to win in European club football and would love to crown his career with international success.

3. Argentina

Argentina has been made the second favorite to win the Cup, with British betting agency William Hill offering odds of 9-2 for the team to win. And after a near error-free qualifying campaign, soccer legend Diego Maradona rates his compatriots' chances highly.

Coach Marcelo Bielsa has developed a well-balanced side with a strong team spirit in the four years he has been at the helm.

Preparations have been near to ideal and, unlike many other teams, there have been few injury concerns.

He has also had the luxury of being able to tinker with his final formation and has a choice of players in vital areas, in goal and in attack.

4. Cameroon

Olympic champions and Africa Nations Cup winners, the "Indom-itable Lions" were the first to qualify for the World Cup, but were the last to arrive.

Rows over bonuses, cancelled flights and getting stranded in Bombay, India, did not stop Cameroon from getting the best of a 2-2 draw with England last weekend.

Coached by German Winfried Schaefer, Cameroon has the players and the heart to go a long way in the competition.

5. France

While it is the 10-3 favorite to win come June 31, a thigh injury to Zidane has forced France to think the unthinkable: A World Cup odyssey without its talisman.

The French papers have been dismissive of their country's chances without "Zizou" and they could be right.

While Ronaldo froze at the Stade de France and later faced an inquiry into why, it was Zidane who was the difference between the two sides, scoring two goals and lifting his country to soccer's pinnacle in 1998.

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