Group A: Denmark and Senegal have
Denmark: A small country in Northern Europe with a
large, powerful, arrogant neighbour to their South. Remind
you of anywhere? The Danes have done remarkably well in
what is only their third World Cup. They are not cowed by
reputations, play as a unit and are well-organised. This despite
the fact that their squad is scattered all over the continent
from Aberdeen to Athens. A hard team to beat and a better
template for Scotland than the Irish model.
Senegal: Magnificent in that opening match against
the French, proved their victory was no fluke against Denmark
and were again terrific in the opening spell against Uruguay.
The second half in that game may be a suggestion that this
particular whirlwind is starting to blow itself out. That
said, clearly the best of the African countries, which came
as a surprise to no one who knows football but clearly perplexed
the likes of Gazza who must have thought that "Senny
Gall" used to read the ITN News
Uruguay: Their old cynical selves. Beaten by Denmark,
they played for a draw against 10-man France, reasoning that
they could qualify by beating Senegal. They didn't and didn't
deserve to, regardless of the penalty incident. Only came
alive in the final 45 minutes of their last match. They had
the talent to go further but not the will to change the habits
France: Biggest disappointment of the tournament. Deservedly
beaten by Senegal, they compounded their problems with Henry's
needless sending-off against Uruguay. Perversely, their best
football came after that. Woeful against Denmark. Possess
the top scorers in England, Italy and France yet couldn't
score once in 270 minutes. Their team grew old together.
The worst ever performance by defending champions. A sad end
to a glorious era.
Group B: Spain and Paraguay have
Spain: While other leading countries stumbled all over
the place, the Spanish, for once, progressed almost serenely.
Three games, three wins, coming from behind against Paraguay.
Maybe this is the year that Spanish international football
finally begins to reflect its success at club level. Against
that is the relative weakness of their group and the fact
that they have conceded goals in every game.
Paraguay: Lucky to qualify. Led in both their opening
games only to draw with South Africa after being two up and
lost by two against Spain. Probably just as well they went
behind against Slovenia. Still in the tournament but not for
much longer. Keeper Chilavert less of a character than
a loud-mouthed buffoon. The George Foreman look-a-like
isn't quite as agile with his punches and could do with hitting
the canvas quicker too.
South Africa: Deprived of an unlikely qualification
by Paraguay's late goal against Slovenia. Did well to beat
the Slovenes themselves and to draw 2-2 with Paraguay after
being 2-0 down. Fought like lions against Spain, losing 3-2.
This was the country Scotland felt they were on a par with,
counting themselves unlucky to lose 2-0 to on the Far East
tour. A heroic defeat leading to losing out on goal difference?
Sounds just like Scotland all right.
Slovenia: Little was expected of them and they didn't
disappoint. Lost all three games but were never turned over.
Did marvellously well to get there at all. Enjoyed their World
Cup while we sit at home, along with the Dutch, Romanians,
Bulgarians, Greeks, Hungarians, Czechs, Austrians, Swiss,
Norwegians etc etc . So no criticism from here.
Group C: Brazil and Turkey have
Brazil: Favourites by default after the exits of France
and Argentina. Difficult to gauge if they're the real thing
or not. Scored plenty of goals in the group but were lucky
to beat Turkey and their defence was exposed with frightening
ease by Costa Rica. Good to see Ronaldo back scoring
goals after his much-publicised problems. Less so to see the
cheating Rivaldo doing the same.
Turkey: Did what they had to do to get through. Ridiculous
penalty decision robbed them of a point against Brazil. Though
its unfortunate on the Costa Ricans, it would have been a
travesty if the Turks hadn't qualified. Going to take a good
team to beat them.
Costa Rica: Our nemesis from 1990 again played well.
Took care of China with ease, good draw against the Turks
and recovered from a disastrous start against Brazil to make
a game of it, only going out on goal difference. This little
country continues to amaze with what they can do at World
China: Vying with the Saudis for 'worst of the tournament'
title. Even the legendary coaching skills of Bora Milutonivic
couldn't coax a goal out of the Chinese, let alone a point.
Tempted to say what more could be expected when you've got
an ex-Dundee player in the team. First time in the finals
but, like Arnie, they'll be back.
Group D : Japan and Belgium have
Japan: Hosts have made the most of their
advantage and have played well in all three games. That said,
it was only poor refereeing that saw them pick up the points
Belgium: Scotland's conquerors progress through to
the last 16. They did well to hold Japan, were lackustre against
Tunisia but beat the Russians when the chips were down and
they needed to win, even though they left it late.
Russia: Another of the game's under-achievers. Refereeing
errors cost them dearly against Japan after a good start against
Tunisia. But they failed in their last match against Belgium
when a draw would have been enough.
Tunisia: Another example of the stagnation in African
football. Never looked remotely like qualifying even though
they were not that far behind the other teams in the group.
Group E: Germany and Ireland have
Germany: All the sterotypes apply. Methodical, reliable,
hard-working. They're not going to be rolled over like they
were in Munich by you-know-who. Showed character by beating
Cameroon despite playing with ten men for much of the match.
Will be hard to beat but will miss their injured stars when
they come up against the big boys.
Ireland: For the third time in the past four tournaments
Ireland have reached the knockout stages. But all their fanatical
supporters, can't hide the fact that this is a deeply boring
team to watch if you're not Irish and don't want to become
a patronising 'plastic paddy' for the duration of the competition.
This team plays for draws/penalty shoot-outs and is adept
at getting them. Great spirit allows them to overcome quality
Cameroon: Flattered only to deceive. Will rue not burying
the Irish when they had the chance. Were cumbersome and lacked
invention in their matches against the Saudis and the Germans.
Overrated and living on a reputation forged at past tournaments.
Saudi Arabia: Surely the worst side to appear in the
Finals for the past twenty years. Automatic qualification
for both co-hosts led to places in the Finals being up for
grabs in Asia for teams patently not up to the mark. Severely
hampered by the nature of the regime they live under which
more or less forces all their top players to stay at home,
thus depriving them of any meaningful competition at club
Group F: Sweden and another team have qualified
Sweden: This may come as news to anyone watching the
BBC and ITV in the UK, listening to Radio
Five Live, or reading the English press,
but Sweden actually won this group! Great qualities
of character and spirit in coming from behind in their first
two group games and again in holding off Argentina until losing
a late penalty goal. Showed the so-called superstars where
to get off.
E***and: OK, played remarkably well for an hour against
Argentina but pedestrian in their other two matches. Lucky
to draw with Sweden and their game against Nigeria was scheduled
far too early at a 7.30 am kick-off. Should have been at 2.00
am. That way it would have served some purpose by helping
the nation's insomniacs get a decent night's rest. Will
be hard to beat, having won two, lost one and drawn seven
of their last ten but from now on draws after 120 minutes
mean penalty shoot-outs. Not exactly their strong point.
Argentina: Another surprise casualty. First early dismissal
for 40 years. But they had it coming. Arrogant beyond belief,
more so even than the side above. Thought they only had to
turn up to win. Sure they were really impressive in qualifying
but their lack of experience against European opposition exposed
their flaws. One game against Wales isn't proper preparation
for a World Cup.
Nigeria: Another African country living on past glories.
Defence badly exposed by Sweden. Their last match was a travesty.
They hardly bothered to make an effort and long before time
up had settled for a 0-0 draw and a point rather than attempt
to win the game, even though they were already out of the
Group G: Mexico and Italy have
Mexico: Not that long ago the Concacaf
teams always finished last in the group. Mexico provide
proof of the continuing improvement in North and Central America
and their success in topping this group was fully warranted.
What happens when they face a side which doesn't allow them
so much free time on the ball may be another matter. But this
Mexican side won't depart from the tournament easily.
Italy: Must have wondered what they had to do to score
after no fewer than four controversial offside decisions denied
them goals. The Italians may just have squeezed through but
it would still take a brave soul to predict who can eliminate
them. One nagging problem is their defence. An uncustomary
worry for the Azurri but it looks nowhere near as solid
as in past competitions. That said, they've been ousted on
penalties in the last three tournaments and their luck must
Croatia: Beat one of the favourites but lost to unranked
South Americans. Shades of '78! The Croats are not
the team they were in France four years ago. They showed that
in their two drawn matches with Scotland in the qualifiers.
They are no great loss. Especially their tablecloth and
bib strips - surely the worst football colours ever.
Ecuador: They came, they saw, and if they didn't quite
conquer, at least they had a go in all their games and ended
up with a well-deserved win against Croatia in their final
match. Although needing a miracle to qualify themselves, Ecuador
showed teams like Nigeria how to approach the last game. They
return home with both pride and dignity intact.
Group H: South Korea and the USA
South Korea: Proved that their demolition of Scotland
was no fluke by beating both European sides in the group.
Like Japan, used home advantage well. Unfazed by pressure
of unrealistic expectations of their supporters.
USA: Taken apart by the Poles in their last match but
that breathtaking opening half hour against Portugal will
live long in the memory. Deserved to go through on the strength
of that alone.
Portugal: Overshadowed by the demise of France and
Argentina, nevertheless Portugal are one of the big disappointments
of this tourney. Shattered by defeat against the Americans,
they recovered well against Poland, only to lose the plot
in their last game having two players sent off.
Poland: A huge letdown. Lost easily in their first
two games and only came alive, beating the US, after they
had been eliminated.