That said, look for middle-of-the-pack teams Austria, Belgium, Colombia, Czechoslovakia, Scotland, Sweden, Uruguay and Yugoslavia to reach the second round along with an elite eight of Argentina, Brazil, England, Holland, Italy, the Soviet Union, Spain and West Germany. The Cup champion should emerge from the elite group because though early World Cup games are often defensive, the team that wins the Cup must have striking power: e.g., Diego Maradona for Argentina in 1986, Paolo Rossi for Italy in '82 and so on back to Pelé and beyond.
The elite eight all have striking power. Spain features Emilio Butragueno, El Buitre, "the Vulture," who pounces on every opportunity; the U.S.S.R. has Oleg Protasov; England can turn to both Gary Lineker, the top scorer in the '86 Cup finals, and 23-year-old Paul Gascoigne, a.k.a. Gazza, whom some in England are calling the new Maradona. Argentina has the old (soon to be 30) Maradona, West Germany the duo of Jürgen Klinsmann and Thomas Hässler, and Brazil both Romario and Careca. Italy can field a once again healthy (after a fracture of the right foot in December) Gianluca Vialli or recent discovery Salvatore Schillaci. Holland, 4 to 1 at the betting shop, has the most accomplished goal-scorer in the world, Marco Van Basten, and Ruud Gullit, he of the dreadlocks and the brilliant playmaking skill. Gullit appears to have overcome a nagging knee injury.
If the Cup were being played in any other country, Holland almost certainly would be favored. But because of the Germans' consistency over the years—they've made it to the final in five of the 13 previous World Cups—the coldly cerebral forecast puts West Germany against Italy in the final, with the home side the winner.
But who wants to be coldly cerebral? The final that soccer romantics, like me, would like most to see is Holland against Brazil. So let's make it a prediction: Given a fit Gullit, the Dutch defeat the Brazilians to win il Mondiale.