Group C preview
Brazilian bullies have eyes on prizePosted: Friday May 31, 2002 4:40 PM
By Scott French, Soccer America
Ronaldo is back, and so is Bora, but only one of them will matter much when Group C kicks off June 3 in Ulsan. It's a quartet with a distinct top (BRAZIL) and bottom (CHINA), promising an intriguing battle for the second sweet-16 spot.
Brazil is, no matter its struggles since France '98, among the contenders for the trophy, which would be its fifth. It may not be reward enough to soothe millions of critics back home.
As always, there exists impeccable talent -- Ronaldo, finally past a horrendous string of injuries, plus Rivaldo, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldinho, Juninho Paulista, Denilson -- but the style and grace that long defined Brazilian soccer are gone. Coach Luis Felipe ("Big Phil") Scolari, the fourth coach in a muddy qualifying campaign, prefers futebol brucutu -- "bullyboy soccer" -- in which the object is to disrupt and destroy, foul and waste time. Midfielder Emerson Ferreira, a brutal tackler, is Scolari's ideal.
Questions about defense remain, but Brazil's form has improved in 2002, and Ronaldo's play the past month offers great promise.
TURKEY, in its first World Cup since 1954, could offer the boys in gold a real challenge. The Turks are a rising power possessing fine talent, but dismal depth, their Italy-based stars' lack of first-team playing time, and bad blood from fierce domestic rivalries could be their undoing.
Coach Senol Gunes, a former Turkish national team goalkeeper, can count on the experience of goalkeeper Rustu Recber, defender Alpay Ozalan and forward Hakan Sukur, who has shined at Parma after flopping at Torino and Inter Milan. Playmaker Sergen Yalcin's absence, with torn knee ligaments, saps the squad of creativity. Youngsters Emre Belozoglu and Yildiray Basturk could fill the void.
Injuries have dampened COSTA RICA's chances. Forwards Paulo Wanchope and Hernan Medford and defenders Reynaldo Parks and Jervis Drummond are questionable for the Cup. Their absence would make unlikely a repeat of Italia '90, Costa Rica's first Cup, when the Ticos topped Scotland and Sweden to reach the second round.
Coach Alexandre Guimaraes, who presided over a superb final-round qualifying campaign, was part of the '90 team. He'll rely on Rolando Fonseca, Greece-based Ronaldo Gomez, creative midfielder Walter Centeno and possibly 20-year-old Udinese forward Winston Parks, whose Tico career splashed impressively this spring.
Bora Milutinovic, who guided Costa Rica in 1990 (and has taken three more teams to the second round) has done what he can to temper the expectations of China's supporters, setting humble goals for the country's first World Cup: 1. score a goal; 2. tie a game; 3. win a game. The first is attainable; the others, we'll see.
The Chinese have some skill, and they are well-drilled, but depth, creativity and especially experience are lacking. Any success will depend upon its defense, with 6-foot-7 keeper Jiang Jin and English First Division vets Fan Zhiyi and Sun Jihai on the back line, and the influence of Li Tie in midfield.
Scott French is senior editor at Soccer America magazine.