Matthew Monk

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 this event.

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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!!

Group A

    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.

Group B

    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 qualify.

    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.

Group C

    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. China.

Group D

    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.

Group E

    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.

Group F

    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 win.

    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.

Group G

    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.

Group H

    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 laughable.

    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.

Second Round

    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 versus Poland.

    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: Tunisia 0.

    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: Croatia 1.

Quarter Finals

    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.

Semi Finals

    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 Semi Final.

    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 little better.

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 generation.



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