Peter Goldstein


 
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 this event.

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    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

    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 attacking verve.

    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 team.

    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.


CONCACAF

    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.


South Korea

    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 squad.

    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 for goal.

    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?


Statistics

    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 this continues.

    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 than Italy.

    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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