Twenty-two of the 24 teams in the final World Cup draw had to negotiate a qualifying competition that encompassed 141 national teams and 491 matches over 20 months. Here's a look at those 22 survivors, along with the two countries FIFA exempted from that daunting gantlet: the defending champion, Germany, and the host, the United States.
Thanks to his hairstyle, United States coach Bora Milutinovic is readily identifiable: As someone once said, he looks as if he has just gone for a motorcycle ride facing backward. But look beyond the coif, and Bora, as he likes to be called, is almost impossible to comprehend. Born in Serbia and a resident of Mexico, he speaks four languages, but has yet to master English—or at least reveal that he has—in the three years he has lived in the U.S. His remarks can be enigmatic (e.g., "American people are like American people"), and it's impossible to pin him down on tactical matters in any tongue. Even his players aren't sure which way they're pointed as they ride into the '94 World Cup. "When you play for Bora," says defender Alexi Lalas, "it requires an unbelievable leap of faith."
It's a leap that's worth taking, however. In 1986, when Mexico was the host nation, Bora guided the Tricolores into the quarterfinals of the Cup; four years ago he took tiny Costa Rica to the round of 16. The U.S. team's desultory 5-4-9 record in '94 is no Borameter: He has been tinkering with playing styles and juggling personnel with the aim of making the team more versatile.
The most disturbing aspect of the team's play recently has been its disorganization on D, but the arrival of 6'1", 190-pound Cle Kooiman should help. Kooiman starts in the Mexican first division for Cruz Azul, which means Blue Cross, which is appropriate: Kooiman is a grizzly enforcer who provides full coverage. With him patrolling the right side in a June 4 tune-up at the Rose Bowl, the U.S. shut out Mexico 1-0. Said Tony Meola, the likely U.S. starter in goal, "Defensively it's the best we've played in six months."
The U.S. will probably feature an alignment of four defenders, five midfielders and one forward. One reason for that is because the U.S. has its greatest concentration of depth and ability at midfield, especially if Bora deploys Tom Dooley (SI, May 30) there rather than at sweeper. Up front, forward Eric Wynalda should be the team's top scoring threat and the pivotal figure in the attack.
The U.S. players have made it their minimal goal to advance to the second round, a feat that will probably require at least one win (worth three points) or three ties (worth one apiece) in the first round. The U.S.'s best hope for a victory may be against the Swiss in the team's opener, at the Silverdome in Pontiac, Mich. With Bora's scheme based on ball possession, the U.S. will certainly be more fun to watch than it was in the '90 World Cup, when it played defensively in three straight losses. "We used to run after everybody else," says Tab Ramos, one of six U.S. veterans from that tournament. "Now the other team has to run after us a little bit."
Colombia was voted the world's most improved team in 1993, and no less a figure than Pelè (page 86) has reckoned it the best team in the '94 World Cup. Its one-touch passing game should run the opposition ragged in the steamy climes of Los Angeles, and the Colombians have momentum going for them, too: Since the start of 1992 they are 18-1-13, including a 5-0 victory over Argentina in Buenos Aires.
But in Cup play the championship seldom winds up in hands connected to feet as callow as Colombia's, so coach Francisco (Pacho) Maturana is trying to scale down the Andes-sized expectations among soccerphiles. "I don't agree that we should be considered the favorite," he says, "but you can count on one thing: Even if we don't win, people will enjoy watching us play."
Says Cesar Luis Menotti, who coached the Argentines to the '78 World Cup: "The Colombians represent the revival of football as spectacle. They're the antidote for the antifootball that has dominated the last World Cup competitions."
Easily the most identifiable Colombian is 32-year-old midfielder Carlos Valderrama, the two-time South American Player of the Year, who says his aerobatic blond afro is not that unusual on the Caribbean coast, where he was born and raised. Up front, Adolfo Valencia joins the explosive Faustino Asprilla, who excels not only in the air but also on the ground, turning a cartwheel after every goal he scores. "Together these three constitute one of the best attacks in the tournament," says Peruvian coach Miguel Company.
King Carol was the first general secretary of Romania's soccer federation, and he personally chose the players for his country's team in the first World Cup competition, in Uruguay in 1930. The sport has been important in Romania ever since, so much so that after the team suffered a 5-2 loss to the Czechs and Slovaks late in the qualifying for this World Cup, coach Cornel Dinu got the boot. His replacement, former national team star Anghel Iordanescu, took over a squad led by creative midfielder Gheorghe Hagi, who is known as the Maradona of the Carpathians.
The Carpathians part of that moniker is a misnomer, for Hagi hails from the Black Sea port town of Constanta, but the Maradona comparison fits: Hagi has a low center of gravity, a knack for dribbling in close quarters, a powerful left foot and the same uniform number (10) as the Argentine star. Alas, he also has a Maradonan temper. In Spain, where Hagi played for Real Madrid, he had run-ins with referees and defenders alike, and in a recent exhibition against Northern Ireland, after being upended by an opponent, Hagi was ejected and suspended for spitting in the player's face. Hagi's team is similarly temperamental: One moment the Romanians arc fluid dazzlers, playing a Latin style; the next they'll make a Transylvanian transformation that has them either ranting or disinterested.
When Switzerland's English coach, Roy Hodgson, decreed in March that he would prohibit his players from having sex from the time they arrive in North America, on June 7, until their stateside business is concluded, a cynic might have added that the Swiss are so passionless that it's hardly necessary to proscribe the world's other most popular sport. For morale's sake Hodgson has since relaxed the ban, permitting conjugal visits of wives and girlfriends in hotel rooms after the opening match, against the U.S. on June 18, and after the final group match, against Colombia on the 26th. When it heard the news, the Swiss tabloid Blick roared, ROY'S BOYS CAN DO IT TWICE.
The best of Roy's Boys is Stephane Chapuisat, a leftfooted striker who dazzles as a dribbler. He plays professionally in Germany and wasn't around in January when the Swiss handed the U.S. a 1-1 tie by inadvertently knocking the ball into their own goal. The mantle of being the one team in this group that the U.S. is supposed to beat should give the Swiss that much more motivation—and perhaps something to celibate...celebrate.
Not since the two numskulls in Hume Alone has there been a criminal element as inept as the crew that abducted Edevair Souza de Faria at gunpoint in Rio last month and demanded a $7 million ransom. Faria is the 62-year-old father of Romario, the incomparable striker for Brazil, which is hell-bent on winning an unprecedented fourth World Cup. With Romario's psyche at risk, 300 million eyes were quickly on the lookout, and within a week Faria was rescued by police.
It has been 24 years since Pelè led samba-dancing Brazil to its third championship, and on the foot of 5'6" Romario rests its best opportunity for a fourth. He is the team spark plug who scored both goals and just missed another pair in a crucial 2-0 qualifying win over Uruguay in September. But Romario, 28, is not known for his diplomacy: He has called Pelè "mentally retarded." And he has only grudgingly consented to line up alongside the spindly Bebeto, 30, an elegant playmaker with a delicate touch around the net.
Coach Carlos Alberto Parreira has deftly blended the glorious attacking style of the "60s with a newer, more nimble defense. And Brazilians like the results—a poll revealed that two thirds of them believe that the Cup will be theirs.
Roger Milla was invited to join Cameroon's national team four years ago at the request of president Paul Biya, even though Milla was 38 and apparently past his prime. During three weeks of Cup competition, though, he scored four goals, and he launched into a shimmy after each one that made your average NFL sack dance look about as funky as a slow waltz. The Indomitable Lions touched oil similar demonstrations of joy back home by reaching the quarterfinals, the furthest any African nation has ever advanced. Naming Milla to the 1990 team remains the last popular thing Biya has done. So Milla, now 42, has again come out of retirement—some say at presidential insistence—only this time his presence has become controversial. As the team's administrative director, he's technically in charge of coach Henri Michel, who hasn't concealed his ambivalence over having Milla back.
Sweden is preternaturally hardworking, rarely takes risks and never seems to lose sight of the national trait known as jantelagen, which is a certain modesty and humility. Until striker Tomas Brolin, furious at press reports last year suggesting that he had an alcohol problem, refused to play in the team's final two World Cup qualifiers last fall, only one Swedish player had ever declined a summons to play for the national team—and then only because he didn't feel he deserved a spot. Brolin is back now, but Sweden's best player is Martin Dahlin, a leonine striker who provided the winning or tying goal in three of Sweden's last four qualifiers.
Like the fledgling republic itself, Russia's national team has been rocked by an attempted coup. Doing his best Boris Yeltsin imitation, coach Pavel Sadyrin survived the call for his head by 14 players upset with his old-school coaching methods and with their cut of the Russian federation's equipment contract. Most of the players returned after a five-month boycott, but four stars—most notably, Manchester United's Andrei Kanchelskis—refused to come back. The team's only hope is that the returnees will use the World Cup as a chance to audition for huge contracts like the refuseniks have in other countries. "If you bet a dollar on us, we could win you a million," says Nikita Simonyan, a star on the 1958 Soviet World Cup team. Our advice: Bet a ruble.
During World War II, France's Jules Ri-met, who was a founder of the World Cup, kept the trophy hidden under his bed so that the Germans wouldn't seize it. His ploy worked then, but since 1954, when the Germans won their first Cup in a stunning upset of Hungary's Magnificent Magyars, they have seized it often. Germany has been in five of the last seven finals and won two of them, including the last one. And coach Berti Vogts's team is a favorite to become the first nation since Brazil in 1962 to successfully defend its Cup title.
The Germans don't excel in any particular phase of the game, but they have no particular weakness either. What they do have are individual standouts, such as striker Jürgen Klinsmann (page 92), midfielder Andreas M‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áller and Lothar Matth‚Äö√†√∂¬¨√üus, who, 33 years old and coming oil' knee surgery, has moved from mid-field to sweeper, where smarts are at least as important as speed.
Vogts, a feisty fullback who was known as the Terrier in his playing days, is still much more beloved for his defensive play against Dutch star Johan Cruyff in the 1974 final than for anything he has done as coach of his first World Cup team. Indeed, many fans believe the group that Vogts is bringing to the States, with 12 holdovers from 1990, is too old. Berti bashing is so popular a national pastime that even Rudolf Scharping, the Social Democrats' candidate for chancellor, recently declared, "Vogts is out of it," as if he were delivering a position paper.
Yet Vogts has kept an edge on a team that as defending champ didn't have to qualify. He has the allegiance of his players, and he recently had his contract extended by the German Soccer Federation. Any team set on taking the Cup out from under Germany's bed will have to wrest it away from the Terrier.
Those dismissing Bolivia's chances like to cite a number: 12,000. That's how many feet above sea level the National Stadium in La Paz is, a withering altitude that gave the Bolivians a huge home field edge during qualifying. In four matches there they were undefeated, and they dealt Brazil its first qualifying-round defeat ever. That shocker so absorbed the villagers in Ixiamas, about 200 miles north of La Paz, that a straw roof set ablaze by a firecracker went unnoticed until the match ended. By then some 40 homes had burned down.
The Bolivians, though, played at a lower level on the road, going 1-2-1 and getting slammed 6-0 in Brazil. Still, coach Xabier Azkargorta believes his team is capable of defeating Germany in its World Cup opener, just as Cameroon shocked Argentina in its 1990 opener. A doctor from Spain, Azkargorta has a Yosemite Sam mustache and a ready wit: When he learned that two club teams refused to release players to him for pre-Cup training, he said, "I'm as baffled as Adam on Mother's Day."
"I have chosen a competitive team," says Javier Clemente, coach of Spain, "it fills all the requirements of a good team: strength, speed, technique, resistance, agility—and it's friendly, cheerful and joking." The last of those attributes may be part of Spain's problem. Despite having a pro league that is surpassed in talent only by those in Italy and Germany, Spain has seldom asserted itself in the Cup, in part because most of the top strikers in La Liga are brought in from other countries. Awkward, long-legged Julio Salinas is the best homegrown scoring threat. Still, a favorable draw should see Spain through to the second round.
Neither speed nor fitness nor a blitzkrieg offense will get South Korea into the second round. The only team from the Far East is far too short on experience; only Kim Joo Sung, a ponytailed striker from the German second division, plays in Europe. By qualifying for three straight World Cups, South Korea can lay claim to being the soccer colossus of Asia. However, no Asian team has won a Cup match in 28 years.
There is an old saying that an Argentine is an Italian who speaks Spanish, thinks he's French but who would like to be English; which is to say that he suffers from a mild identity crisis. But many more complexes get added to that one when Argentina slips on its cleats and hoists its flag.
Consider the deprivations and depredations Argentine soccer has suffered since losing the first World Cup final, to Uruguay, its poorer neighbor, in 1930. The country had to watch Italy win the next two Cups with teams that featured three native Argentines of Italian extraction. The two greatest Argentine players of all time, Alfredo di Stefano and Diego Maradona, made their marks playing for club teams in Spain and Italy, respectively. When Argentina finally won a World Cup, in Buenos Aires in 1978, the Argentines didn't let anyone forget it. Over the years they have developed a reputation as peacocks, bullies and the grandmasters of maladroit gall. Small wonder that they're as disliked as their stylish neighbors, the Brazilians, are loved.
If the human ego is, as Colombia's Gabriel García Màrquez has written, "the little Argentine inside us all," right now the little Argentine inside Argentina is hurting. The gauchos were the runner-up in the last World Cup yet only made the held as the 24th and final team to qualify this time around—and then only in a wildcard playoff with Australia. In recent World Cup tune-ups, a distracted Argentina tied Chile and lost to Ecuador, two nonqualifiers. Claudio Caniggia, the chain-smoking striker, returned in May from a 13-month suspension for cocaine use. And Maradona spent the past year never showing up for practice.
Yet in the past four World Cups, Argentina has won twice and reached the final game a third time, sometimes after looking as unimpressive going in as this outfit has. The presence of Maradona could cut either way. Now 33, overweight, and sluggish in the midfield, he could wind up being a ball and chain. Or he could be a rallying point. When Japan refused to allow Maradona to enter the country for an exhibition last month, citing his own cocaine-related past, the entire team voted to boycott the game. Says coach Alfio (Coco) Basile, "Inside the group, everything; outside the group, nothing." Great. A siege mentality. Just what the Argies need—another complex.
Nigeria has a pool of players that's more talented than any other in Africa, and virtually every starter plays for a first-division team in some European country. Now they're ready to show why everyone believes Nigeria is the first African country that stands a chance to win soccer's biggest prize. Striker Rashidi Yekini, who scored nearly half his team's goals in qualifying, and forward Daniel Amokachi are among the few sure starters on a very deep team. Charged with blending all this talent is a blunt Dutchman named Clemens Westerhof. At one point last fall it was rumored that Westerhof was about to be canned by the country's sports minister, Alex Akinyele. But instead it was Akinyele who got sacked after a military coup, and Westerhof's job was safe.
Like all good Hellenic odysseys, Greece's first trip to the World Cup is structured around a hero's triumphant return home. Coach Alketas (Alkis) Panagoulias was born in Greece, attended Upsala College in East Orange, N.J., married a Brooklyn girl and has guided both Greece's national team (1971 through '81) and the U.S.'s (1983-85). Panagoulias, 60, has resided for the last 12 years in Vienna, Va. "In Greece they call me the American," he has said. "In America, they call me the damn Greek."'
Konstantinos Trivellas, president of the Hellenic Football Federation, just kept calling him—until Panagoulias finally agreed to take over the national team in 1992. Under him the team was undefeated in its eight qualifying matches, despite scoring only 10 goals. Its defensive orientation is encapsulated in Panagoulias's cryptic exhortation: "Back up carefully, with patience, craftiness and a constant chase forward."
On the day the 1992 European Footballer of the Year award was announced, a reporter went to interview Bulgaria's Hristo Stoichkov, a star forward for FC Barcelona. Such attention is usually reserved for the winner—in this case Marco Van Basten of Holland—but because Stoichkov is known for his incendiary temper, the writer wanted to witness his reaction to finishing second. Stoichkov disappointed him by acting calmly. Then in his very next game Stoichkov exploded, drawing two yellow cards for an expulsion in the first seven minutes. For Bulgaria to win its first World Cup game ever, Stoichkov will have to rein in his emotions while unleashing the power and speed that could make him a star on the sport's ultimate stage.
Leading Italy to anything short of a World Cup victory is like mounting the stage at La Scala with a case of laryngitis. "The problem is, we have 50 million advisers," said former forward Gianni Rivera, who, with his teammates, was met at the airport by 600 outraged fans hurling overripe tomatoes following a loss to North Korea in the 1966 World Cup.
The current coach, Arrigo Sacchi, knows how Rivera felt, because right now all 50 million advisers are in angry agreement about his stewardship of the national team. Over the two years leading up to this World Cup, Sacchi has tried out 71 players in untold numbers of formations and never started the same lineup twice. "I prefer to change things around," Sacchi says with a shrug. "That way I can be sure of having the players who are playing their best and are best suited to our opponent." But what started as a low murmur last fall, when Italy needed a goal with 12 minutes to go against Portugal in its final qualifier to earn a spot in the draw, has turned into a howl—especially after the Italian nationals lost an exhibition game in April to a fourth-division club team.
To win two World Cups during the 1930s, the Italians used one defensive scheme, the mètodo (method). Afterward they developed the catenaccio (bolt), which helped increase the use of the sweeper, a development that has contributed to the doom of entertaining, goal-scoring soccer. But Sacchi, a former shoe salesman who never played the game professionally, has introduced a more offensive mind-set. In forward Roberto Baggio (SI, May 16) he has the best player in the world, a Buddhist with a ponytail who scored six goals during 10 qualifying games. And Sacchi also has an insoluble defense, anchored by Franco Baresi, who has been described as being "on first-name terms with the ball." However, in a country where Silvio Berlusconi, the owner of AC Milan, was recently elected prime minister, running atop the ticket of a party that took its name from a soccer cry, Forza Italia (Let's Go, Italy), expectations are cruelly high. Any result that falls short of them will bring on tomato season.
"Contagious crap," is how Egypt's coach characterized the long-ball tactics of Irish counterpart, Jack Charlton, during the 1990 World Cup. Since 1986 Ireland has lost only 10 of 76 games, but it has done so with a style of play that, except back home, is universally unloved. Love 'em or hate 'em, Jack's Lads beat Bolivia, Holland and Germany, three formidable teams, in their last three Cup tune-ups. Of Charlton, it has been said he has created a laboring team for a laboring people. But it's also an immigrant team for an immigrant people, and there's no more appropriate stage for such a troupe to perform on than America. "Everybody is playing away from home," says Charlton. "But it will be more home to Ireland than many others."
Also at home—or close to it—will be Mexico, of which 19th-century president Porfirio Díaz once said, "Poor Mexico, so far from God, and so close to the United States." After the team's glittering 9-2-1 run during qualifying, many Mexicans have been recalculating their distance from the Almighty and rejoicing at their proximity to the U.S., where they will easily be accorded second-most-favored-nation status.
The draw pits the smaller Mexicans against three rough-and-tumble European teams. Still, the size difference might play to the Tricolores' strength, because their ground-bound attack is built on fancy footwork and constant pressure. Jorge Campos, the dimpled and diminutive goalkeeper, reflects the team's daredevil attitude with his fluorescent wardrobe and restless feet. As defender Ramon Ramirez, considered by many observers to be the team's best all-around player, puts it, "We like to take risks."
One can expect a sense of irony from a Marxist-Leninist who says he has earned more money from poker than soccer. So it's not surprising that Norway's coach, Egil Olsen, known as el Drillo for his incessant dribbling as a player, has constructed an English-style, air-based attack that renders the drillo nil-o. With 6'5" target man Jostein (the Lighthouse) Flo heading long balls onto his forwards' feet, the Norwegians suddenly look formidable for their first Cup apperance in 56 years.
The English influence is pervasive on the team: Flo, keeper Erik Thorstvedt and seven other Norwegians suit up in Britain's Premier League. While many consider the overly direct, punt-and-grunt approach there tedious, if not passe, Olsen doesn't. He used it to beat and tie England during qualifying.
It took one of the world's most permissive societies to develop soccer's least rigid style, the Netherlands' concept of "total football." It's what the passing game is to basketball, a scheme in which everyone on the team can and does perform any required task. The Dutch players flourish individually as a result of this system, with more than 90 of them playing in top professional leagues in 15 countries.
But there's a flip side to their freedom. Players occasionally refuse to leave the field when substituted for. Bickering undid Holland in the World Cup four years ago. And star Ruud Gullit quit the team at the end of last month, reportedly because he was upset with cliquishness among his teammates and with coach Dick Advocaat's aggressive strategy. Taking up the slack during qualifying was striker Dennis Bergkamp, 25, who's now mentioned among the best players in the world. He's the latest in a string of Dutch superstars, going back through Van Bas-ten and Gullit to Johan Cruyff.
"Pantyhose?" said comic Robin Williams at December's World Cup draw in Las Vegas as he pulled from a drum one of the plastic shells containing a country's name. The team within turned out to be Saudi Arabia, where a woman's unmentionables are truly unmentionable, and where even the length of the men's soccer shorts has been a subject of some debate. The Saudis' captain and star is a 35-year-old striker of Sudanese extraction named Majed Abdullah, a.k.a. the Desert Pelè. Abdullah grew up in Jeddah, too poor to afford a ball, so he knotted together a wad of old clothes to kick around. Today he makes nearly $1 million a year. Abdullah and his teammates have had four coaches in eight months: a Brazilian, a Saudi, a Dutchman and now Argentina's Jorge Solari, who was hired on the personal recommendation of Argentine president Carlos Menem to King Fahd.
One month before Morocco's crucial qualifying match against Zambia, forward Mustapha Hadji was asked to play for France, where he has lived since he was 13 and now plays in the second division. However, Abdelleh Blinda, the newly appointed Moroccan coach, had scouted Hadji by then and prevailed on him to suit up for the Lions of the Atlas. Hadji, a 22-year-old former boxer, spoke no Arabic and could only hum the Moroccan national anthem, but he played splendidly in the 1-0 win over Zambia in Casablanca.
After beginning its bid to qualify with six straight wins, Belgium almost reached its Waterloo, losing two of its next three games and salvaging a berth in the Cup field with a 0-0 draw against the Czech Republic. The Red Devils, as they are called, have a national tendency toward schizophrenia; both the Flemish- and the French-speaking citizens want to place their stamp on the team. Fortunately, coach Paul Van Himst, a four-time national player of the year, not only commands respect from both constituencies but also speaks both tongues. Van Himst also communicates well with temperamental midfielder Enzo Scifo, whose skill at exploiting foes' weaknesses will be vital to an often punchless team. But then, the Red Devils don't need much offensive sorcery. In Michel Preud'homme, they have one of Europe's top goalkeepers.
So, who will win? A select group has passed the Cup around the 14 times it has been awarded, and by mid-July the semi-finalists should include the usual suspects: Brazil, Germany and Italy, three of only six countries to have won soccer's greatest prize. But in the end a new champion will emerge. Look for Colombia's name to gain fame for something other than coffee and cocaine.