The new FIFA rankings place France in first place, Argentina second, Brazil third, Portugal fourth and Columbia fifth. After analysing the new ratings, one may make some predictions as to the possible outcome of the first round, composed of eight groups of four countries.
66% of the teams present in the World Cup Finals are inevitably in the top 30. 80% of the top 10 are present, the exceptions being Columbia and the Netherlands, while 75% of the top 20 are through, Yugoslavia, Romania and the Czech Republic joining the first two countries in the list of notable absentes.
By groups, the current rankings of the teams approved for the World Cup Finals in 2002 are the following:
Group A: France (1) and Denmark (18) should overcome Uruguay (22) and Senegal (65) on current form. Group B: Spain (7) and Paraguay (13) to leave Slovenia (25) and South Africa (34=) in the cold. Group C: Brazil (3) and Turkey (23) face Costa Rica (30), the most-improved team in the last year, and China (54), as famous for Kung-Fu kicks as for good football. Group D: Portugal (4), the USA (24) and Poland (33) will hope that the Korean team (42), the hosts along with Japan, does not benefit too much from home crowd support. The Portuguese team is tipped as a possible winner, being a mixture of talent and experience, with a seasoned coach, Antonio Oliveira. The USA is a growing force in world football, while Poland is weaker than in previous years at 33, but the Polish League provides a lot of collective experience. An interesting group. Group E: European sides Germany (12) and Ireland (17) should have the edge over Saudi Arabia (31) and the Cameroon (38). Group F: Another interesting group. Argentina (2), certainly, along with one other from England (10), enjoying a good run with Swedish coach Sven-Goran Eriksson , Sweden (16) and the flamboyant Nigeria (39), which on a good day produce some footballing magic. Group G: Italy (6) and Mexico (9) should overrun Croatia (19) and Ecuador (37), although Croatia (locally known as Hrvatska) can produce an excellent result on their day. Group H: Russia (21) and Belgium (20) face host nation Japan (34=) and Tunisia (28). Another more balanced group but the first two teams have every prospect of passing to the second phase, if their concentration levels remain at a peak throughout the three matches.
Whoever wins, draws or loses, the World Cup in Football is supposed to be an event which is held in the spirit of sportsmanship and goodwill. Hooliganism and bad play on the field will hopefully become a relic of the past, as the game moves on to capture new crowds and to gain a fresh image.
Timothy BANCROFT-HINCHEY PRAVDA.Ru