Matthew Monk is a school teacher
from the UK who has the World Cup as one of his greatest passions. He will share his views about the past, present and future of
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Bet on the Golden Generation
At long last the World Cup has started for real. Now
we know the groups and who could play who next June,
the tournament seems so much closer and much less
clear-cut. For the last three years France have
seemed invincible, but now we can see who they will
have to beat, their route looks much harder. The
opposite is true for Germany. Since 1996 they have
stumbled from one quick poor performance to the next,
but now they have a relatively easy route to the
quarter finals at least. Seeing the match schedule
for the first time is always an opportunity to look
ahead and predict what his going to happen. So here
goes - please note though that this is highly unlikely
to actually happen, so don't blame me when France get
knocked out in the first round!!
France should have no difficulty here; they have the
best attack in the world, and even their veteran
defence should be able to cope with this type of
opposition. Who finishes second though will be much
closer. Senegal will provide some excitement, and may
well develop in the African Nations Championships in
January, but the confined force of Denmark and Uruguay
will be too much for them. The crunch game will be in
Ulsan, when Denmark and Uruguay play. Denmark should
win - remember how they ran Brazil so close in France?
However I think they will draw, and that Denmark will
edge through on goal difference. Another key factor
will be that Denmark will play Senegal first. France
will beat Senegal in the opening game and therefore
Senegal will need something from their next game, and
will push too far forward. Ebbe Sand will exploit
this and knock them out. Also, Thomas Sorensen is one
of the best goalkeepers in Europe - Uruguay will come
close, Alvaro Recoba and Dario Silva will score goals,
but they will go home early. Final Placings: 1.
France; 2. Denmark; 3. Uruguay; 4. Senegal.
If Spain again fail to qualify for the knockout stages
of the tournament from this weak group, Raul,
Morienties, Mendieta et al, should retire straight
away. The Spanish have not been handed such an easy
group since Espana 82 - there is no Nigeria, Germany,
Czechoslovakia or Brazil waiting for them this time.
Again their key match will be against Paraguay, but
Chilavert is suspended this time, so although Roque
Santa Cruz will trouble them, Spain will beat them to
Second will come Slovenia. In Euro 2000 the utterly
unfancied Slovenes surprised many with their confident
attacking play, and with Zahovic on form they will be
too good for Paraguay and South Africa. According to
the coach of South Africa they will qualify from this
group! Slovenia comfortably knocked Romania out of
the European playoffs and may well push Spain close in
Gwangju. Final Placings: 1. Spain; 2. Slovenia; 3.
Paraguay; 4. South Africa.
Brazil are lucky. Against Bolivia they were
appalling, losing 3:1. Against Venezuela they were
workmanlike and struggled to beat the weakest team in
South America. They scrape into the World Cup with
their worst team for forty-five years, then get drawn
with Costa Rica, Turkey and China. Here is the
shocker. Turkey will win the group. They will
comfortably hold Brazil in the opening game (they may
well win, if they don't give too much respect to this
poor side) and will beat Costa Rica, something I don't
think Brazil will do. Brazil will still get through,
and it will be close, but they are ready to be beaten,
and will be beaten.
China will be lucky to score a goal, and Costa Rica
are unlucky to be drawn against Turkey. Final
Placings: 1. Turkey; 2. Brazil; 3. Costa Rica; 4.
Another weak group, that will be totally dominated by
the Europeans. I know Korea are at home, and I know
they played well in the Confederations Cup, but
Portugal will put at least three goals past them, and
Poland will spoil their opening party in Busan as
well. Poland have a great defence, and qualified with
ease. Even though their attack relies too much on
Emmanuel Olisadebe they will know too much for the
Koreans to slip up here. The USA shouldn't even
bother to turn up - if they score two goals in any
match it will be a major achievement. The big
showdown is Poland versus Portugal in Jeonju. Even
though Portugal should win, an attack of nerves could
see them settle for a point. This is the last big
chance for the Golden Team of the 1991 World Youth
Cup. They will go very far. Final Placings: 1.
Portugal; 2. Poland; 3. Korea; 4. USA.
Now this is a more competitive group. The Germans
should have been facing almost certain elimination in
the Second Round, so low have they fallen in recent
years. But their spirited victory over Ukraine in the
playoffs, and the world's best goalkeeper - Oliver
Khan - should see them past Ireland and Cameroon. Who
finishes second is much more open.
Saudi Arabia were a revelation in 1994, but since then
they have gone backwards, and they only just qualified
this time. We can count them out then. Ireland and
Cameroon will be much more competitive. Cameroon have
an excellent forward in Patrick Mboma, and Eto'o,
Geremi and Foe are all star players in Europe.
However their defence will leak goals again (just like
1998) and if Ireland play with a quarter of the spirit
that knocked out Holland they will be too strong.
This would probably be the closest group at a normal
World Cup, but the next group is truly a 'group of
death'. Final Placings: 1. Germany; 2. Ireland; 3.
Cameroon; 4. Saudi Arabia.
And so on to the 'Group of Death' (or life if you
listen to the Nigerian coach). This is the strongest
group since 1982, and the Brazil, Argentina, Italy
battles. There are no favourites here, regardless of
what people think of Argentina. A lot will depend on
which Swedish side turns up. Will we see the side
that always qualifies well and that did so well at
Euro 92 and USA 94, or the shadow team that
capitulated at Italia 90 and Euro 2000? In the heat
of this battle, I think it will be the latter. The
key fixture is the very first, England versus Sweden.
If England finally beat the Swedes after 33 years of
trying not only will they kick-start their tournament,
but they will probably knock Sweden out as well.
Maybe I am being blind to England's undoubted
deficiencies in defence, but I fully expect Michael
Owen and Emile Heskey to be far too strong for them,
and England to win 2:0.
Argentina against Nigeria will hopefully be a repeat
of the 1994 classic, although neither team is as
strong now. This seems a stupid statement, given that
Argentina have Crespo, Zanetti, Ortega, Gonzalez,
Batistuta and Veron, but where is the Maradona or
Kempes they have needed in the past? Argentina will
beat Nigeria, again by the odd goal, and will go on to
draw with England again - probably in a dull, cagey
affair. Remember though, in February 2000 England
should have beaten Argentina at Wembley, and if they
hit the form of the recent Germany game, they will
The final games will be decisive. I predict Nigeria
will beat Sweden, and so will have a chance to qualify
against England. England though will only need a
draw, and will play accordingly. An increasingly
anxious Nigeria will leave gaps in defence (remember
Italy in 1994, and more importantly Denmark in 1998)
and England will capitalise to win. In the other
game, Argentina will beat Sweden, but Sweden will
score - Henrik Larsson is good enough to score against
anyone, and they will be playing for pride by this
stage. So in the end it will come down to goal
difference to separate England and Sweden, and I think
England playing Sweden first will help them - or maybe
I am just hoping this will happen? Final Placings: 1.
England; 2. Argentina; 3. Nigeria; 4. Sweden.
After the excitement of Group F, Group G will be all
about the stifling nature of Italian cattenaccio.
Italy will beat Ecuador and Croatia, although not by
more than one goal each time, and do just enough to
draw against Mexico to qualify. Croatia, Ecuador or
Mexico could all go through in second place, although
Ecuador will have too little experience to knock out
perennial qualifiers Mexico and the third best team in
the world just four years ago - Croatia. Mexico will
find that their defence will need to be stronger this
time - Croatia will not allow them back into a game
like Holland did in 1998. Final Placings: 1. Italy;
2. Croatia; 3. Mexico; 4. Ecuador.
Finally, to the weakest of the groups. Host nation
Japan will join Korea as the only hosts to be
eliminated in the group stage. Indeed, Japan will be
lucky to get a goal in every game. Japan have no
tradition of football, and were useless in 1998, so
the pressure of expectation will just see them
collapse even faster. Russia (as the Soviet Union)
were always fancied to do well from 1966 to 1990, but
they never really had a long run (or any luck) at a
tournament. This time they should qualify fairly
comfortably, although the Second Round is as far as
they will go. Belgium astonished me when they beat
the Czech Republic in the playoffs. I watched both
games, and couldn't believe the Czechs never moved up
a gear to knock out the solid, but very dull Belgians.
The Belgian team is still the same as Euro 2000 and
France 98, and how they expect to progress is
The biggest beneficiaries of this weakest of groups
will be Tunisia. Drawn against Korea or Mexico they
would have gone out, but in this company they will
find an unlikely route to become the only African (and
non- American or European) side in the Second Round.
In 1998 they pushed Romania close, and competed
against England for 90 minutes. A lot will depend on
the African Nations Championships in January. A
strong showing could see Tunisia win this group; a big
loss would see Belgium sneak in. Final Placings: 1.
Russia; 2. Tunisia; 3. Belgium; 4. Japan.
This is utterly hypothetical now, but I'm having fun
at least! Up first would be Germany against Slovenia
- another winnable game for the Germans. This will be
very close though, and expect Germany to need all the
skill of Deisler and Didi Hamann to get through, which
they would do. Germany 2: Slovenia 1.
Next, the big game - France against Argentina. Many
people would say this will be the World Cup Final, but
Argentina have been squeezed out by England on goal
difference already. Here in Niigata, France will be
too strong all round, although Argentina will score
against the French defence. This match will be
similar to the Holland-Argentina quarter final from
1998, although France will not need extra time -
France 2: Argentina 1.
England will benefit from winning their group, and
will meet Denmark. Historically these games have been
close, but England will be flying after eliminating
Sweden and Nigeria, and just like their opening match
will navigate a tough looking match 2:0.
Fourth up is Spain against Ireland. Ireland will have
eliminated Holland and Cameroon by this point, but
this is not going to be a repeat of 1990 - Spain are
too good for the Irish, and will win at least 2:1.
Which will be the same score in the next match, Italy
Poland will view qualification for the Second Round as
a bit of a bonus, and against the defensive Italians
their lack of firepower in attack will count against
them. After a tight, dull game, the Italians will
score the winner in Extra Time - our first Golden
Goal, and a final score of Italy 2: Poland 1.
So far, so good, and we move on to the least
anticipated game of the tournament. FIFA must be
hoping that Brazil play Japan here in Kobe, but
instead Turkey will play Tunisia. Turkey are fast,
mobile and good defensively, and will win. Turkey 2:
Now to Brazil. Difficult qualification has brought
complaints all round at home, and Ronaldo has to
partner Rivaldo in attack even though he is not fit.
Russia take the lead, and look like finishing off the
Brazilian myth once and for all. Then late in the
second half, Roberto Carlos hits a thirty-yard
screamer to get Brazil back in the game, and as Russia
try to hold on for penalties, Rivaldo weaves some
magic, and wins the game. Russia 1: Brazil 2.
Finally, 19 days into the tournament we reach the
first rest day with Portugal versus Croatia. This is
a no-contest; Portugal score early in both halves and
add a third just near the end. Croatia may get a
consolation goal, but it will be to late - Portugal 3:
Two days later, and France get us started again by
beating Turkey. Turkey will be hard to beat, but
Henry, Trezeguet, Zidane and Viera are truly
world-class players. In the end it is quite
comfortable; France 3: Turkey 1.
Later that day, Germany at last meet a strong side and
go out. It is a very close game though - Italy are
too defensive and Hamann and Deisler almost give
Scholl the chance to score the winner in Extra Time,
but in the end it comes down to penalties and (just
like Euro 2000) Italy win.
Just six games left now, and every match from here on
out could be the final. First, Spain play Portugal.
Spain would have won this game at any other World Cup
(except 1966), but here in Gwangju, Portugal are too
strong. Raul and Mendieta come close to getting a
late equaliser, but Portugal hold on to win 2:1
Which brings us to the biggest quarter final, England
versus Brazil. Brazil are still racked by internal
troubles, and England are most peoples' favourites
after several strong performances. Ronaldo finally
hits form though, and torments England. At half time
it is England 0: Brazil 2. Then just when Brazil seem
through, Michael Owen hits back with the fastest
hat-trick in World Cup history, and wins the match for
England 3:2. Unlikely? Yes. Impossible? No. Brazil
are still capable of scoring goals, but are a shadow
of the side seen at previous World Cups. England
scored five against Germany while qualifying, and
should have scored more. Brazil will lose to someone
before the Semi Finals, and it will be the first
really good team they play.
By now I think I may have been wrong somewhere, but
three of these four sides are certain to reach the
Semi Finals. First up would be Italy against
Portugal. Italy have been solid and typically
defensive up to here, and try to do the same in the
Portugal though are too strong and Figo gives Portugal
the lead early in the second half. As the game plays
out, Italy finally throw players forward, but as often
happens leave too much space at the back and Paolo
Maldini finishes his international career by giving
away a penalty, which Figo converts to make up for
1966 and put Portugal into the World Cup Final.
The next day, France and England complete the first
all-European semi final line-up since 1982. England
have played well so far but France are too strong for
the tired English, and a goal in each half knocks
England out. In the final ten minutes Michael Owen
grabs his eighth goal of the tournament to win the
Golden Boot, but it is the end of the road for England
and France reach their second successive final.
Italy beat England 1:0 in the Losers' Final, but as
reserve teams play it is meaningless and unnecessary -
Sepp announces that next time a penalty shootout
contest will replace it. Luckily, the final is a
2002 World Cup Final
Portugal won the World Youth Championship in 1991 in
front of 120 000 in the Estadio da Luz, but never
really fulfilled that promise until Euro 2000 when
they comfortably beat England, and should have beaten
France in the semi final. Now they finally reach
their potential, and win the first World Cup Final to
be held outside of Europe or The Americas. France
play well, and should have scored through Henry, but
Figo and Rui Costa control the midfield, and Joao
Pinto scores late in the first half.
France try to come back, but like Brazil in 1998 they
have no answers in midfield. Figo adds another late
goal and confirms his place as the best player in the
world, and wins the World Cup for his golden
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