Cooper also strongly disagreed with Italian coach Cesare Maldini's postgame characterization of penalty kicks as a lottery. "Penalties still test the three qualities needed in a footballer: technique, physical conditioning and mental conditioning," Cooper said.
Nonsense. How would that explain an exquisitely skilled team like Italy losing on penalty kicks in three consecutive Cups? Or England going out the same way in two Cups this decade and in the '96 European championship? Last Friday, Maldini offered what was surely a better reason. "It seems like we might be cursed," he said.
U.S. Coaching Vacancy
It's Time for Arena Football
If U.S. Soccer Federation president Alan Rothenberg follows through on his intention to hire a foreigner as the national team coach, he'll be making a mistake. What more could D.C. United coach Bruce Arena do to deserve the job? He's the Vince Lombardi of MLS, having won the league's first two championships, and he has shown he can develop young players both with United ( Jaime Moreno, Eddie Pope, Tony Sanneh) and at Virginia (five NCAA titles in a six-year stretch). Arena's single foray into international soccer was as coach of the '96 U.S. Olympic team, which went 1-1-1 but didn't escape the first round.
So far, the foreign coaches believed to be candidates for the national team job are unimpressive. Former U.S. coach Bora Milutinovic may have alienated even more American players than the recently ousted Steve Sampson. Portugal's Carlos Queiroz couldn't qualify his own country for World Cup '94, so why would anyone think he could help the U.S.? Former Brazil coach Carlos Alberto Parreira became the first coach in memory to be fired during the World Cup when Saudi Arabia dumped him last month. What's more, while Arena was building an MLS powerhouse, Queiroz went 12-12 as coach of the New York/New Jersey MetroStars in '96 and Parreira went 13-19 with the MetroStars the following year.
The debate has centered on whether the U.S. should hire a foreigner because of his international experience or a supposedly inferior American because of his nationality. Here's a different take: Arena is the best man for the job—period.
Is There a New World Order?
In hindsight Croatia's shocking 3-0 tour de force against Germany in the quarterfinals last Saturday shouldn't have been so startling. Croatia's roster includes four players from Yugoslavia's storied 1987 under-20 world champion team and nine starters who perform in one of the world's top four leagues ( Italy, England, Spain or Germany). Moreover, Germany was the oldest team in the Cup (average age: 30.3), and its lineup had hardly changed since Euro '96. In that tournament Germany eliminated Croatia 2-1 in the quarterfinals. "We learned a lot from that game," said Croatian defender Slaven Bilic last Saturday. "They have only one creative player, Thomas H�ssler. If you stop him, you only have to deal with the flanks, and we concentrated on them very well tonight."
In fact, the truly stunning development in Lyons was the Germans' uncharacteristic churlishness after the match. They targeted their wrath at Norwegian referee Rune Pedersen, who had ejected German defender Christian W�rns in the 40th minute for a bone-rattling foul on striker Davor Suker. "He is responsible for this picture of misery," German defender Lothar Matth�us said of Pedersen. Prominent in that locker room picture was W�rns, who bawled ceaselessly despite being consoled by German chancellor Helmut Kohl. "It's a joke," W�rns muttered later.
In a Cup that had been short on surprises until last weekend, Croatia's win may have signaled the beginning of a new world order in soccer. Three countries with a combined eight world championships ( Argentina, Italy and Germany) lost in the quarters to three countries that have never raised the trophy ( the Netherlands, France and Croatia, respectively). Suker sized up the moment when he compared Croatia's victory with its loss to Germany two years ago. "It was David meeting Goliath then," he said. "Now, who is who?"