Here's our best, soccer-ball-gazing guess as to how the Cup will go: With Youri Djorkaeff (left) up front and the crowds behind them, the French will become the first hosts to win since the Argentines in 1978. For scouting reports on the U.S. and the other 31 teams, turn the page
Artists at Work
It may be like comparing two Monet renderings of the same scene, but Brazil's attack is even more talented than its offense of four years ago. Though it lost World Cup '94 MVP Romário to a calf injury, World Player of the Year Ronaldo (page 110), a striker, and running mate Edmundo are still amply supported by onrushing defender Roberto Carlos, whose free-kick sorcery is unparalleled. While those three hope to lead the way to the first repeat championship since the Brazilian teams' of 1958 and '62, the defense has been fallible in recent matches. After losing to the U.S. 1-0 in Los Angeles in February, Brazil fell to Argentina by the same score in Rio last month. The two South American antagonists could be headed for a semifinal rematch in France, and for Brazil the pressure to win—and win with style—might be too much. "It's like fighting with a drunk," midfielder Leonardo has said of his country's crushing expectations. "If we lose it's ridiculous, and if we win it's cowardice."
After Norway stunned Brazil 4-2 in Oslo last year, coach Egil Olsen announced that Brazil's midfield was "as organized as garbage" and crowed that the world champs would be unbeatable—but only if he were their coach. Bold Egil will put his team where his mouth is when the two sides meet on June 23 in Marseilles. Unbeaten in its qualifying matches, Norway is counting on 11 players from the English Premier League, including 6'4" striker Tore André Flo (nickname: Flonaldo), who scored twice in the victory over Brazil. The Norwegians' soft spot is goalkeeper: Frode Grodås spent his club season on the bench for England's Tottenham Hotspur.
Led by Spanish-based midfielders Mustapha Hadji and Noureddine Naybet, Morocco should improve on its 0-3 performance of '94, though the Atlas Lions' offense is still too static to move them beyond the first round. Scotland will be able to blame its eighth first-round exit in eight tries on slow, mechanical players (forward Kevin Gallacher is the best of a thin lot) or bad luck: For the third time, the Scots have drawn Brazil in their group.
Beware the Matador
If Italy's prayers are answered and Alessandro Del Piero lords over this World Cup like a young Nero, tabloids the world over may soon be screaming ALEX! the way they've roared LEO! of late. A stylish striker with a brooding profile, Del Piero is just 23, yet he scored enough times (21) for Serie A champion Juventus this season that Italians now call each of the goal's top corners the Zona Del Piero. Backing him up is forward Roberto Baggio, 31, a Buddhist who has been reincarnated after rarely appearing for Italy since starring in World Cup '94. As usual, the Azzurri's wealth of talent will probably need time to mesh, though a slow start could prove costly this time. A second-place finish in this group could mean a second-round showdown with Brazil.
Marcelo (El Matador) Salas of Chile was 16 in 1991 when his father, Rosember, reportedly offered Marcelo's services to the club Deportivo Temuco. His asking price? Soccer shoes and a practice uniform, which the club promptly refused. Last fall Argentine club River Plate sold Salas to Italian giant Lazio for $20 million, and in all likelihood this World Cup tournament will be the light-footed striker's launchpad to stardom: He and forward Ivan Zamorano are the most underrated scoring tandem in the field. Chile's fortunes will depend on whether it can make up for its no-name (and no-game) defenders and midfielders.
Striker Patrick Mboma was the leading goal scorer in Africa's World Cup qualifying, but Cameroon still hasn't righted the rudderless ship (0-2-1) that washed up on U.S. shores in 1994. Meanwhile, with the exception of Wolfgang Feiersinger, Austria's defenders are as slow as the Danube in January. They'll play three games and waltz right back to Vienna.
The Host with The Most
It rolls off the tongue like a smooth riff from a baritone sax: Zinedine Zidane. Get hip to it. Zidane, 25, plays like his name, gracefully roaming the offensive third, cuing passes with the touch of a pool shark. With Zidane and his Juventus teammate Didier Deschamps, France can lay claim to having the world's best midfield duo; in Lilian Thuram, it has a preeminent defender as well. Unfortunately for the host team, its top players are all suited to the same positions, which means Marcel Desailly and Youri Djorkaeff, midfielders for their Italian clubs, must shift to central defense and forward, respectively. If they can adjust, France clearly has the talent—and the home field support—to win the Cup.