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World Cup Roundup France ’98 off to roaring start

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Jay Mwamba

Only a week into a World Cup finals whose only Irish participant is assistant referee Eddie Foley, and France ’98’s fare has included all the major ingredients of a memorable tournament.

There have been outstanding games, like Nigeria’s stunning comeback win over Spain, an exhibition of the Scots dogged ill-luck, and one of soccer’s blights – hooliganism – rearing its ugly head again. And there’re still three weeks of play remaining. Here’s a synopsis of the first week’s action:

German efficiency

Skipper Juergen Klinsmann had a goal and an assist as Germany’s all-around efficiency prevailed over the United States in a Group F match in Paris on Monday. Andy Moeller (9th) was the beneficiary of Klinsmann’s assist, before the classy striker sealed the win (66th) from close range.

Germany lead Group F on goal difference over Yugoslavia, who needed a second-half Sinisa Mihajlovic free kick to subdue a surprisingly dangerous Iran, 1-0, in St. Etienne at the weekend.

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English glory and infamy

The marksmanship of England’s Alan Shearer and Paul Scholes against Tunisia in Marseille was overshadowed by the actions of English hooligans in the famous port city on Monday.

England won, 2-0, and top Group G, ahead of Rumania, who repeated their USA ’94 conquest of Colombia with a stupendous Adrian Ilie goal in Lyon.

Regg’ Boyz undaunted

Not even a 3-1 drubbing by fellow debutantes Croatia in Lens could dampen Jamaica’s festive spirit in Group H. The Regg’ Boyz were level 1-1 at the break after Robbie Earle had canceled out Mario Stanic’s match-opener. But second-half goals by Robert Prosinecki and Davor Suker earned Croatia full points.

The win moved Croatia to the top of the group, ahead of Argentina, who had Gabriel Batistuta (28th) to thank for their 1-0 decision over gutsy Japan in Group H.

Unlucky Scots

Scotland’s World Cup hoodoo appeared to resurface on the opening day in Paris. The Scots had hardly broken a sweat when Brazilian midfielder Cesar Sampaio (3rd) nodded in a corner kick.

There was a bit of karma when Sampaio gave away a penalty (32nd) that John Collins neatly tucked away. But the Fates would deprive the brave Celtic warriors of a vital point in Group A when Tommy Boyd’s own goal (73rd) spelled doom.

Morocco and Norway shared second place in the group going into Tuesday’s matches after a scintillating 2-all tie in Montpellier. Twice the speedy Atlas Lions led, through Moustafa Hadji (38th) and Abdeljilil Hadda (59th), and twice Norway fought back to draw level, first through a Youssef Chippo own goal (45th) and then courtesy of Dan Eggen (62nd).

Baggio sequel

Roberto Baggio, sans pony-tail this time, and his Azzurri compatriots were back to their old escape artist ways in Group B. Baggio had to convert a late and dubious Italian penalty in a 2-2 draw with Chile, whose Marcelo Salas had both goals. Christian Vieri got Italy’s first.

In Toulouse, neither Cameroon’s rejuvenated “Indomitable Lions” nor an aged Austrian squad could capitalize on the Italy result to lead Group B. They also split points after young Pierre Njanka’s marvelous solo goal (77th) was canceled out by veteran striker Toni Polster in stoppage time.

Stage fright

Debutantes South Africa blamed their 3-0 defeat by hosts France in Marseille on stage fright. Marseille-based defender Pierre Issa, who scored two own goals, was the chief culprit. Christophe Dugarry (35th) accounted for the other goal by an impressive French side.

Denmark slipped into second place in Group C after edging Carlos Alberto Parreira’s Saudi Arabia 1-0 in Lens on Marc Rieper’s header (68th). The Saudis lost more than a match. They lost money, gifts and Islamic prayer mats after their hotel rooms were broken in during the game.

Eagles soar

In the match of the week, Olympic champs Nigeria twice came from behind to beat Spain, 3-2, in a Nantes thriller. Mutiu Adepoju and Garba Lawal kept the Super Eagles in the Group D fray, after Fernando Hierro and Raul twice had Spain ahead, before Sunday Oliseh’s blast won the match for the Africans.

Nigeria went to the top of the group following the goalless draw between the Jose Luis Chilavert skippered Paraguay and aging Bulgaria.

Dour Belgium

The team that beat Ireland in playoffs for France ’98 was excoriated for its dour defensive performance in a 0-0 tie with Holland in Group E. Belgium’s biggest achievement was getting Dutch goal-poacher Patrick Kluivert ejected for elbowing defender Lorenzo St’lens.

Mexico held on to the group leadership with their 3-1 romp over South Korea, after the early ejection of goal scorer Ha Seok-ju (30th) in Lyon. Ricardo Pel’z (51st) and Luis Hernandez (75th, 84th) connected for the Mexicans.

Week 2 highlights

(all games at 3 PM EST): In Montpellier today (June 17), Baggio and Co. face an early crunch match against defensive specialists Cameroon. This is no mismatch. The two sides tied 1-1 in their only other meeting, in Spain ’82. Live on Univision and ESPN.

On Friday, June 19, with Nigeria expected to run Bulgaria’s veterans ragged, highly touted Spain face Paraguay in a must-win affair in St. Etienne. (Univision and ESPN)

On Sunday, June 21, it’s Iran vs. USA. The most intriguing match, outside the final for many fans. The U.S. need to win to stay alive, but the plot could thicken, going by the Iranians’ form against Yugoslavia. (Univision and ABC)

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