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Highlights and Lowlights of the '98 World Cup

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 19, 1998; Page D3



Washington Post soccer writer Steven Goff, who just returned from covering the World Cup in France, picks his highlights and lowlights from the tournament.

All-Star Team:

Goalkeeper: Jose Luis Chilavert, Paraguay
Defenders: Marcel Desailly, France; Lilian Thuram, France; Frank de Boer, the Netherlands
Midfielders: Edgar Davids, the Netherlands; Ariel Ortega, Argentina; Dunga, Brazil; Zinedine Zidane, France
Forwards: Davor Suker, Croatia; Ronaldo, Brazil; Brian Laudrup, Denmark
Honorable Mention: GK Edwin van der Sar, the Netherlands; GK Fabien Barthez, France; D Celso Ayala, Paraguay; MF Jay-Jay Okocha, Nigeria; MF Sunday Oliseh, Nigeria; MF Rivaldo, Brazil; F Christian Vieri, Italy; F Marcelo Salas, Chile; F Luis Hernandez, Mexico.

Biggest Surprises:

Mexico, Paraguay and Croatia. The first two seemed headed for the exit before the tournament even started, but Mexico rediscovered its soul, used three straight comebacks to tie Netherlands for group title and nearly upset Germany in round of 16. Paraguay, an unsophisticated defensive side, beat out highly rated Spain and 1994 semifinalist Bulgaria to advance, then took France to double overtime. As for Croatia, don't let the rookie tag fool you; despite being from a new country, the Croatian players have been well seasoned in the top European pro leagues. They finished second in an easy first-round group, then upset Romania and Germany to advance to semifinals.

Biggest Disappointments:

Spain, Belgium and United States. Spaniards, considered outside threats to win the championship, never fully recovered from opening loss to Nigeria; Belgians, historically consistent if unspectacular, failed to advance past the first round for the first time in 28 years; regressing Americans had one goal, no wins, no points, no plan.

Best Team Not to Advance:

Morocco. Second-best African team deserved better.

Worst Round-of-16 Team:

Chile. Advanced with three ties and then was routed by Brazil, 4-1.

Best Group:

E. Round-of-16 berths for Netherlands and Mexico weren't determined until final seconds on next-to-last day of first-round play.

Worst Group:

C. France coasted past novices South Africa and Saudi Arabia and did just enough to beat Denmark.

Players Nearing Stardom:

England F Michael Owen, Brazil MF Denilson, Romania F Adrian Ilie, Germany MF Dietmar Hamann, Yugoslavia MF Dejan Stankovic.

Players Gracefully Defying Age:

Germany D Lothar Matthaeus (37), Scotland GK Jim Leighton (39).

Unsung All-Stars:

France MF Emmanuel Petit, Italy MF Luigi Di Biagio, Netherlands MF-F Phillip Cocu, Mexico MF Jesus Arellano, Brazil MF Cesar Sampaio, Denmark MF Martin Jorgensen, Morocco F Salaheddine Bassir, U.S. MF Frankie Hejduk, Tunisia GK Chokri Ouaer, Iran MF-D Mehdi Mahdavikia, Cameroon GK Jacques Songo'o.

Disappointing Players:

Italy F Alessandro Del Piero, Colombia MF Carlos Valderrama, U.S. MF Claudio Reyna, Germany MF Andreas Moeller, Bulgaria MF Hristo Stoichkov.

Best Matches:

Brazil 3, Denmark 2; Argentina 2, England 2 (PKs); Nigeria 3, Spain 2.

Worst Matches:

Paraguay 0, Bulgaria 0; Italy 1, Norway 0; Netherlands 0, Belgium 0. Zzzzzzz.

Best Goals:

Michael Owen's spectacular run against Argentina; Sunday Oliseh's 30-yard volley to lift Nigeria over Spain; Argentina's perfectly executed free kick against England; Mexico F Cuauhtemoc Blanco's side-footed volley against Belgium.

Last-Minute Heroics:

Romania D Dan Petrescu in 90th to beat England; Mexico F Luis Hernandez in injury time to tie Netherlands; Netherlands MF Edgar Davids in 89th to beat Yugoslavia; Netherlands F Dennis Bergkamp in 89th to beat Argentina; Austria D Ivica Vastic in injury time to tie Chile; Austria F Toni Polster in injury time to tie Cameroon.

Best Big Venue:

Marseille, with 60,000-seat Stade Velodrome situated between white cliffs and Mediterranean in soccer-crazed city.

Best Small Venue:

Montpellier's Stade de la Mosson, with modern and cozy, 35,500-seat stadium and elegant city center. (An ideal model for MLS?)

Best Fans:

Scotland's Tartan Army. The team took first-round exit again, but its supporters spread good will and cheer (and a few unnecessary lifts of the kilt) without any drunken violence. Runners-up: Brazil, Jamaica.

Worst Motivational Ploy:

After winning their first two games, every Romanian player dyed his hair blond. The team proceeded to tie Tunisia and get eliminated by Croatia.

Worst/Best Fans:

England. Hooliganism returned to international soccer in the form of two days of rioting in Marseille, but most of the time, the English turned each stadium into a French version of Wembley with synchronized song and unconditional support.

Long Way for Almost Nothing:

Thousands of Japanese fans made the trip for their country's first World Cup and saw three losses, one goal. Then again, so did the U.S. fans.

Best Quotes:

Argentina's Juan Sebastian Veron, commenting on playing against England poster boy David Beckham: "He's too handsome. I don't know whether to kick him or kiss him."

Asked about his success in four World Cups, Nigeria Coach Bora Milutinovic responded: "I am Bora. I am a lucky man."

Italy's Christian Vieri: "Goals are like children. They are all beautiful."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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