Peter Goldstein is a professor at Juniata College in Pennsylvania in the USA. He has been
World Cup crazy since 1966. He will share his views about the past, present and future of
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Watch this space
Hello! My name is Peter Goldstein, I live in the USA, and I have the
incredible good fortune to be one of the columnists covering Korea/Japan
2002 for this website. During the tournament I'll be focusing on four
things: Africa, CONCACAF, the South Korean team, and statistics. With the
kickoff just a few days away, let's take a glance at some of the major
stories in these areas -- what we might look for in the next exciting month.
Africa's role at the World Cup has been controversial of late. They have
five guaranteed representatives, more even than South America, and some have
argued that African teams have failed to justify such a large
representation. This World Cup will be a real test for the confederation,
with its best team, Cameroon, picked to go far, and one of the traditional
powers, Nigeria, placed in the toughest group of all. Senegal, South Africa,
and Tunisia are not very highly regarded, and it must be remembered that as
of yet Africa has never managed to qualify more than one team for the second
round. Korea/Japan can be a significant breakthrough, or a major setback.
It doesn't help that the teams have been bedeviled by that old African
problem, a lack of organization. All 5 teams have at one point or another
seemed out of control, without the firm grasp of events necessary to succeed
at the World Cup. Both Nigeria and South Africa have tried out dozens of
fringe players without settling on a first 11; even now, this close to the
tournament, both teams have several players that might or might not start.
Tunisia was in complete disarray up until two months before the tournament,
when coach Henri Michel quit and was replaces by co-coaches Ammar Souayah
and Khemais Laabidi. They've had to select and organize the squad in short
order, and only now is the team starting to coalesce.
In Senegal the problem has been a lack of friendlies and some unsettled
hotel arrangements. Star striker El Hadji Diouf blasted the federation in
print the other day, and there's a sense that the vast improvement in
Senegalese football on the field has not been matched in the front office.
Finally, Cameroon, which had stressed organization in its buildup to the
tournament, found itself in the embarrassing situation of arriving in Japan
four days late because of disputes over pay and a failure to get approval to
fly over certain countries' airspace.
Will organizational failures play a role at Korea/Japan 2002? Are there any
other potential disasters in store? We'll just have to wait and see, but
should African teams struggle, you'll be sure to see such matters aired in
the world press. But hopefully, most of the action for the African teams
will be on the field. Here's a brief look at some of the more interesting
questions facing each team.
Senegal -- Coach Bruno Metsu has been fielding a 4-4-2, but the central
defenders have had problems lately, and he's experimented with a 4-3-1-2. In
this formation, captain Aliou Cisse moves from centerback to defensive
midfield, joining regulars Alassane Salif Diao and Pape Bouba Diop in a
three-man blanket to provide defensive cover. Pape Malick Diop takes Cisse's
place at centerback, and Khalilou Fadiga, usually on the left side of
midfield, moves into the center in an advanced playmaking role. This would
be a big test for Fadiga, who has a superb left foot but has never been a
true playmaker. Metsu may try this essentially defensive formation against
France, clearly the most difficult of their three group opponents. Of
course, the man to watch up front is 21-year-old sensation El Hadji Diouf;
if you haven't seen him play, you're in for quite a treat.
South Africa -- Jomo Sono has still not settled on a starting lineup,
although he appears committed to a 4-4-2. One of the most interesting
questions is at striker, with the surprise emergence of George
Koumantarakis. He's a natural target man, something most unusual for South
Africa, and he might cause some realignment of the regular forwards, at
times replacing the more usual pace-and-trickery of Siyabonga Nomvete and
Benni McCarthy. Sono has also stated his preference for an attacking
midfielder at the point of a midfield diamond, and there's a lot of
speculation about Steven Pienaar, a remarkable 20-year old with superb ball
skills and vision. Another much-touted youngster is midfielder Jabu Pule,
although at the moment he appears to be a bench player. The star of the team
may very well be Sibusiso Zuma, the right-sided midfielder with pace and
Tunisia -- The key for Tunisia is their youth. It's a veteran (the polite
word for "aging") team, and much of its success may depend upon whether the
younger players can contribute. They've already lost emerging midfield star
Oussama Sallami with an injury. That means a lot may rest on Slim Ben
Achour, who can fill an attacking midfield role in a 4-4-2. He had an
excellent game against Denmark this past week, and the coaches are
considering an attacking formation with Ben Achour next to longtime star
Zoubeir Baya. But if you see Hassan Gabsi there, you know they're sticking
with the older generation. Hatem Trabelsi, another young player who saw a
little time at France '98, needs to step up at right back or just possibly
in a defensive midfield role; Tarek Thabet is the veteran choice. At left
back Emir Mkademi is the possible new face. Up front, Ali Zitouni, only 21
and a classic penalty area striker, may push veteran Adel Sellimi to the
bench, but he's still feeling the effects of a long injury layoff.
Nigeria -- When Festus Onigbinde kicked Sunday Oliseh off the team, he
helped to restore order in a fractious side, but he left a huge hole at
defensive midfield. He's tried several players there, with the most
intriguing being youngster Justice Christopher. Mutiu Adepoju, a much more
experienced player, is the conservative choice. The most intriguing tactical
development is the possible move of star striker Nwankwo Kanu into attacking
midfield. This would leave more room up front for younger-than- young
Bartholomew Ogbeche and the spectacular Julius Aghahowa, he of the backflip
goal celebration. A big question mark is the condition of left back
Celestine Babayaro; he's been training with the Chelsea doctors in England
and may or may not be fully fit. And will Taribo West be able to contribute
despite a relative lack of club football? A possible weakness is at keeper,
where Ike Shoronmu, the apparent #1, has been shaky. But there's nothing
shaky in central midfield, where Jay Jay Okocha will continue to direct the
Cameroon -- Now that they've finally touched down in Japan, this is a team
with the look of a winner: lots of talent, a settled lineup, everyone
seemingly healthy. If there's one thing to look out for, it might be the
condition of striker Patrick Mboma, who was struggling to reach full fitness
at the end of the Premier League season. Signs are good right now, but he's
the oldest player on the squad, and might need occasional rest. Of course,
we'll all be keeping an eye on the captain, defender Rigobert Song, the man
who was red-carded in the last two World Cups: his control will be vital to
a team with high aspirations. Things to watch for during play: forward
Samuel Eto'o dropping deep to set up attacks; left wingback Pierre Wome,
usually defensively oriented, moving up more in attack against vulnerable
teams; Marc-Viven Foe covering the whole pitch.
The Confederation of North and Central American and Carribean Association
Football (now you know what it stands for) has a much lower profile than
Africa, and there's little controversy surrounding its 3-team
representation. There are some fascinating confederation issues in play --
Jack Warner, the president, has been accused in the Sepp Blatter corruption
scandal, and Mexico, the confederation's flagship team, has been making
noises about bolting for South America -- but these aren't likely to affect
the tournament itself. So let's get to the football.
Costa Rica -- The big question for the ticos is conditioning. The spring saw
a battle between the federation and the Costa Rican league over fixture
congestion, with charges that the national teamers were playing too many
games. In recent friendlies the team has looked tired and unfocused,
although the latest performance, against Belgium, was fairly strong. The
biggest individual question surrounds Paulo Wanchope, star striker and the
best player on the team. He's been recovering from a serious knee injury,
and although he's been improving rapidly, it's not yet clear if he can go 90
hard minutes. On the tactical front, the question is how many forwards to
play. Costa Rica is a natural attacking team, but coach Alexandre Guiamares
has said he may play more conservatively at the World Cup. If he goes with
two forwards, it'll probably be Wanchope and Ronald Gomez; if three, Rolando
Fonseca, who has been out of form, may join them. On defense, watch to see
if Mauricio Wright can successfully replace injured captain Reynaldo Parks.
Also look for exciting young striker Winston Parks in a substitute role.
United States -- This is a crossroads tournament for the USA. With the
domestic league now in its seventh year, a new crop of talented young
players has arisen, and they'll be the key to any success. Forward Clint
Mathis is the big star; last week he was on the cover of the prestigious
magazine Sports Illustrated, only the second time in history for a men's
national team player. In addition, an injury to Chris Armas, the starting
defensive midfielder, has opened up a spot, and with some midfield
reorganization the likely beneficiaries are 20-year old Landon Donovan on
the right or 19-year-old DaMarcus Beasley on the left. They'll provide most
of the excitement in the midfield, and the extent to which they play will
tell you how much coach Bruce Arena is willing to risk. Also look to see if
Arena goes with veterans like Brian McBride and Joe-Max Moore or exciting
youngster Josh Wolff up front. The biggest weakness is the back four; see if
centerback Jeff Agoos gets beat for pace or if a fading David Regis can keep
his starting spot on the left side. And though Americans have long since
become exhausted by the eternal Brad Friedel vs. Kasey Keller keeper debate,
it might be new to you.
Mexico -- Coach Javier Aguirre will go with a 3-5-2, but the midfield
remains unsettled, even this close to the tournament. In part that's because
right wingback Jesus Arellano and inside right Joahan Rodriguez will miss
two and one games respectively due to suspension; still, the problems run
deeper. There's no one in the middle to create; if oldtimer Alberto Garcia
Aspe gets a start, it's evidence that Aguirre is dissatisfied with his
options. Gabriel Caballero, who plays on the right side, was a controversial
choice (he's a naturalized Argentine); his play in the run-up has been
ordinary, and he may be feeling the pressure. Up front Francisco Palencia
figures to partner Cuauhtemoc Blanco, but if the midfield problems get too
serious, Palencia may go to midfield and Jared Borgetti will move into the
second striker spot. Aguirre surprised a lot of people by calling veterans
Jorge Campos and Luis Hernandez into the squad; Campos is only the third
keeper, but Hernandez might see some time as a late substitute. If you're
looking for the best player on the field for Mexico, watch defender Rafael
Marquez: intelligent, mobile, technically fluent.
Four months ago South Korean fans and officials were desperate. Guus Hiddink
had been with the squad for over a year, and results on the field were
uniformly disastrous. The nadir was the Gold Cup, where the team failed to
win a game against less than full-strength CONCACAF opposition. As he
switched lineups daily and accustomed his squad to Total Football, Hiddink
pleaded patience -- and now, a few days before the tournament, South Koreans
are delighted. For the home team has come together spectacularly, with a
smashing victory over Scotland, a draw with England, and a near-draw with
mighty France. They appear to be peaking at exactly the right time, and in a
relatively weak group, they're now a good bet to make the second round.
One key to Hiddink's approach has been the treatment of young players.
Korean tradition mandates a fairly strict elder-younger hierarchy, but
Hiddink's European methods have allowed the kids far more freedom to express
themselves on and off the field. Two young stars that have developed
dramatically are Song Chong-gug and Kim Nam-il. Song is an exciting two-way
player who will probably start on the right of midfield in a 3-5-2; Kim is a
defensive midfielder who has proven himself the best ball-winner on the
The attack, seemingly dormant for months, now has several options. If he's
healthy, target man Hwang Sun-hong will be one of the strikers. Seol Ki-hyun
and Ahn Jung-hwan, both in excellent form, can provide the quickness and
trickery. One indicator of Hiddink's tactics will be how much action Yoon
Jung-hwan sees: he's the best playmaker on the team, but not the most
tenacious defender, and when he's on the field it means Korea will be going
A side story here will be the rivalry of South Korea and Japan. To put it
kindly, the countries don't like each other much, and will be trying to
surpass each other in every facet of the tournament. The battle probably
means even more to the Koreans, who have at times suffered considerably
under the Japanese yoke. Some Korean players have said publicly that their
main goal at the tournament is to do better than Japan, and you can be sure
the Japanese don't want that to happen. At the very end of the France-South
Korea friendly, the referee ignored what looked like a clear penalty for
handball that would have meant a chance for Korea to tie the score. Can you
guess the referee's nationality?
I live for statistics; don't you? If you do, check out the earlier articles
"The Group Stage--An Analysis (1)" and "The Group Stage -- An Analysis (2)".
If you don't, what's wrong with you? Either way, there are lots of
statistics we can look at to try to tell the tale of the tournament.
If we want to measure the teams' willingness to attack, the most important
statistic, as always, will be total goals. But it doesn't stop there.
Another significant stat is first-half goals as a percentage of total goals,
which measures how early the teams are willing to get it going. First-half
goals have been in irregular but steady decline, and we'll look to see if
A similar consideration will be the extent to which defensive teams tend to
have more success than offensive teams. In recent years, teams that allow
the fewest goals in their group have done better than teams that have scored
the most; we'll look at that trend.
Another interesting topic is the extent to which the 3-1-0 system, now in
its third cup, makes a difference in group play. In one of those earlier
articles, I argued that it doesn't make much difference at all -- but the
fact is that in 1998 it came into play more than it ever would have in
earlier cups. It may be that the teams are starting to tie their strategies
more into the 3-1-0 system.
We'll also be looking at individual teams and the way their performances fit
the historical pattern. Brazil has a history of scoring and allowing far
more goals in the knockout rounds than in the group stage; will this
continue? And then there's England, whose group stage games have the lowest
average goals of any team to appear in 5 or more group stages -- lower even
This is only the beginning: get a stat freak going, and he never stops. I'll
control myself for the moment, but expect some analyses of obscure
significance and frightening detail.
So that's a quick look at some of the issues on my beat; many more are bound
to pop up unexpectedly, and be sure that we'll keep track of them here. And
a final note: one of the great things about this job is the way it allows
you to make contact with football fans across the world. Since I started
writing for this website, I've heard from people in Chile, India, Australia,
Germany, Mexico, South Africa, Brazil, England, etc. -- even the United
States! Please e-mail me if you have any comments about my columns or about
the tournament in general. I'll be pretty busy watching and writing and
watching and writing and watching and writing, and it may take me a couple
of days, but I'll answer every one.
So enjoy the tournament, and as they say, watch this space!
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