Sweden is preternaturally hardworking, rarely takes risks and never seems to lose sight of the national trait known as jantelagen, which is a certain modesty and humility. Until striker Tomas Brolin, furious at press reports last year suggesting that he had an alcohol problem, refused to play in the team's final two World Cup qualifiers last fall, only one Swedish player had ever declined a summons to play for the national team—and then only because he didn't feel he deserved a spot. Brolin is back now, but Sweden's best player is Martin Dahlin, a leonine striker who provided the winning or tying goal in three of Sweden's last four qualifiers.
Like the fledgling republic itself, Russia's national team has been rocked by an attempted coup. Doing his best Boris Yeltsin imitation, coach Pavel Sadyrin survived the call for his head by 14 players upset with his old-school coaching methods and with their cut of the Russian federation's equipment contract. Most of the players returned after a five-month boycott, but four stars—most notably, Manchester United's Andrei Kanchelskis—refused to come back. The team's only hope is that the returnees will use the World Cup as a chance to audition for huge contracts like the refuseniks have in other countries. "If you bet a dollar on us, we could win you a million," says Nikita Simonyan, a star on the 1958 Soviet World Cup team. Our advice: Bet a ruble.
During World War II, France's Jules Ri-met, who was a founder of the World Cup, kept the trophy hidden under his bed so that the Germans wouldn't seize it. His ploy worked then, but since 1954, when the Germans won their first Cup in a stunning upset of Hungary's Magnificent Magyars, they have seized it often. Germany has been in five of the last seven finals and won two of them, including the last one. And coach Berti Vogts's team is a favorite to become the first nation since Brazil in 1962 to successfully defend its Cup title.
The Germans don't excel in any particular phase of the game, but they have no particular weakness either. What they do have are individual standouts, such as striker Jürgen Klinsmann (page 92), midfielder Andreas Möller and Lothar Matthäus, who, 33 years old and coming oil' knee surgery, has moved from mid-field to sweeper, where smarts are at least as important as speed.
Vogts, a feisty fullback who was known as the Terrier in his playing days, is still much more beloved for his defensive play against Dutch star Johan Cruyff in the 1974 final than for anything he has done as coach of his first World Cup team. Indeed, many fans believe the group that Vogts is bringing to the States, with 12 holdovers from 1990, is too old. Berti bashing is so popular a national pastime that even Rudolf Scharping, the Social Democrats' candidate for chancellor, recently declared, "Vogts is out of it," as if he were delivering a position paper.
Yet Vogts has kept an edge on a team that as defending champ didn't have to qualify. He has the allegiance of his players, and he recently had his contract extended by the German Soccer Federation. Any team set on taking the Cup out from under Germany's bed will have to wrest it away from the Terrier.
Those dismissing Bolivia's chances like to cite a number: 12,000. That's how many feet above sea level the National Stadium in La Paz is, a withering altitude that gave the Bolivians a huge home field edge during qualifying. In four matches there they were undefeated, and they dealt Brazil its first qualifying-round defeat ever. That shocker so absorbed the villagers in Ixiamas, about 200 miles north of La Paz, that a straw roof set ablaze by a firecracker went unnoticed until the match ended. By then some 40 homes had burned down.
The Bolivians, though, played at a lower level on the road, going 1-2-1 and getting slammed 6-0 in Brazil. Still, coach Xabier Azkargorta believes his team is capable of defeating Germany in its World Cup opener, just as Cameroon shocked Argentina in its 1990 opener. A doctor from Spain, Azkargorta has a Yosemite Sam mustache and a ready wit: When he learned that two club teams refused to release players to him for pre-Cup training, he said, "I'm as baffled as Adam on Mother's Day."
"I have chosen a competitive team," says Javier Clemente, coach of Spain, "it fills all the requirements of a good team: strength, speed, technique, resistance, agility—and it's friendly, cheerful and joking." The last of those attributes may be part of Spain's problem. Despite having a pro league that is surpassed in talent only by those in Italy and Germany, Spain has seldom asserted itself in the Cup, in part because most of the top strikers in La Liga are brought in from other countries. Awkward, long-legged Julio Salinas is the best homegrown scoring threat. Still, a favorable draw should see Spain through to the second round.