The 16th World Cup has added a wrinkle: the golden goal. After the first round, if a match is tied at the conclusion of regulation time, 30 minutes of sudden death will be played before the teams resort to penalty kicks. Just who might boot these coups de grace in France? Here are some likely candidates.
In Italy he's known as the Phenomenon; in Spain, as the Extraterrestrial. Rock-ribbed and granite-muscled, he is merely a striker who, at the tender age of 21, has not only twice won the World Player of the Year award but also been compared in stature with Johan Cruyff, Diego Maradona and Rom�rio. But unlike those worthies, Ronaldo (page 112) may turn out to be the Promethean player of not just one decade but two.
Alessandro Del Piero
True, he flopped in the 1996 European Championships, and, yes, he didn't score during Cup qualifying. But by his play at striker with Italian giant Juventus—a breathtaking mix of power, guile and intuition—the dashing Del Piero, 23, has convinced his demanding countrymen that when the Azzurri have their backs to the wall, he'll be there to take the lead.
Like any self-respecting Frenchman, midfielder Zidane, 25, seldom misses an opportunity to strike. "I must dribble as little as possible," he says. "One, two, three touches—no more—and a pass at the right moment." Born to Algerian immigrants in Marseilles, he refined his game in refined locales ( Cannes and Bordeaux) before bringing steam to Juventus's attack.
The world has trod heavily upon the Union Jack since England won its only Cup in 1966. Now comes the 27-year-old Shearer's chance to return pride to the English side. A ruthless forward who forsakes flair for workaday precision, this anti-Brazilian crosses the Channel with only one goal in mind. "First is first," he says. "Second and third are nowhere."
At Euro '96, Seedorf and several teammates alleged that coach Guus Hiddink favored Holland's white players. That issue apparently settled, Seedrof, a native of Suriname, could establish himself as the nation's best midfielder since Cruyff. Only 22, he has already been the foundation of two European club champions, Ajax of Amsterdam and Real Madrid.
The newspapers used to say unkind things about the 6'3" Bierhoff: that he was slow, unskilled, un-German. Then, at 28, he netted the tying and game-winning goals at the 1996 European Championships. Last season, for Udinese, he scored more times than anyone else in Italy—more than Ronaldo, more than Del Piero, more than the doubters back home believed he ever could.