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This Heavyweight Round of 16 Is a Real Knockout

By William Gildea
Washington Post Columnist
Saturday, June 27, 1998; Page D4




PARIS — Now we get to the serious part of the World Cup finals. The field has been trimmed from 32 to 16. Sorry for the reminder, but the Americans have been lumped with the Saudi Arabians and South Africans and the 2002 World Cup co-hosts Japan and South Korea and other pretenders, and sent packing. The real contenders will step forward Saturday to do battle in the first of the knockout rounds — a single loss from here on and a team is counted out.

Starting with the round of 16 — eight games over four days — each contest must be won or lost, no ties allowed. The winner of four more games will take the Cup July 12. Four might not seem like a lot, but all the heavyweights that came into France '98 still are left. On Saturday, defending champion Brazil will face rival Chile, and Italy will try to cool off Norway, which has advanced beyond the first round for the first time with its upset of Brazil.

Here's a quick look back at round one. Biggest casualty: Spain. Other busts: Belgium, 1994 semifinalist Bulgaria, the United States. Best victory: Nigeria's 3-2 comeback that sent Spain reeling. Tough customer: Romania, with a 2-0-1 record. Mystery guest: Paraguay, advancing instead of Spain with two scoreless ties and a victory over Nigeria. Trying its best: Mexico, at 1-0-2. Feeling at home: France, 3-0. Friendly nations: Argentina, the power in Group H, shut out Japan, Jamaica and Croatia, all playing in their first finals. Still expected to be heard from: Brazil's Ronaldo, with only one goal so far. Big shots: Gabriel Batistuta of Argentina and Christian Vieri of Italy with four goals each. Great expectations: Nigeria is one victory from a possible quarterfinal matchup with Brazil.

The odds from London favor, in order, Brazil, France, Argentina, the Netherlands and, dead even, Germany and Italy; odds on the unpredictable Dutch dropped when they swamped South Korea, 5-0.

Brazil will have to be alert here Saturday at Parc des Princes because Chile always has been eager to do in Brazil. Chile takes its hopes from a 4-0 trouncing of Brazil in the 1987 Copa America. "We have great respect for Brazil, but we will not have the attitude of a team that has done its job because we want more," Chile's Uruguayan-born coach, Nelson Acosta, told reporters Friday. Marcelo Salas of Chile scored three goals in the first round.

Italy's fans and team never take anything for granted and, naturally, are leery of the Norwegians, unbeaten in their last 19 matches and who humiliated the Blues, 6-0, in an under-21 match in 1991. The two also met in the first round of the '94 World Cup, with Italy winning, 1-0. More goals are expected in this game in Marseille. Norway features a towering striker in Tore Andre Flo. The Italians can answer with four forwards of note: Vieri, Roberto Baggio, Alessandro Del Piero and Filippo Inzaghi.

Italy scored seven goals in its 2-0-1 first round.

France will take on Paraguay in Lens in one of two games Sunday, sending the local media into a tizzy. "Who Is This Paraguay?" headlined L'Equipe, with an accompanying article urging quick research into this unexpected foe that materialized ahead of Spain and behind Nigeria in Group D, the so-called "group of death." This will be the second, and critical, game that France's top player, Zinedine Zidane, will miss because FIFA's disciplinary body booked him for two games as the result of a tackle that, while sharp, appeared to call for no more than a yellow card.

Nigeria, the 1996 Olympic champion, will play Denmark at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis in the other Sunday game, which the Super Eagles' coach, Bora Milutinovic, admitted the other day to be looking toward even before his team's loss to Paraguay.

When Nigeria did or did not go all out and Paraguay won, the Spanish went home even though they blasted Bulgaria, 6-1, on their way out.

"In a way, I am already concentrating on the second-round match," said Milutinovic, before calling on some of his reserves in the 3-1 defeat to Paraguay.

"The Danes should be ready for defeat," said midfielder Finidi George. "It's the only way to show the African presence and repay our fans after losing to Paraguay." Milutinovic has been emphasizing that an entire continent supports the Eagles: "We are the only African team to reach this stage and now we feel we have to justify the African presence in the tournament," he said. "It's not that we are under any pressure, but we realize that every African will expect us to beat Denmark and reach the quarterfinals."

Germany's star striker, Juergen Klinsmann, predicted success against Mexico Monday in Montpellier. "We are capable of moving up a gear," he said, "and we can beat any team here." By finishing first in Group F, the Germans avoided having to play the Netherlands this early. The Dutch, the Group E winners, will play Yugoslavia Monday in Toulouse. Still, Germany will face a fired-up team in Mexico. Its coach, Manuel Lapuente, has told his players: "Do not lose faith. With faith you move mountains."

Tuesday will bring Argentina against England at Saint-Etienne, while Romania will play Croatia in Bordeaux.

Until then, a farewell tip of a France '98 cap goes to Rene Simoes, the Jamaican coach, who rallied his team after beatings by Croatia and Argentina. Outplayed Friday by Japan, Jamaica nevertheless went home a winner, 2-1. That was Japan's first World Cup goal and the Reggae Boyz' first World Cup victory. "We have had three wonderful games and learned a lot," Simoes said.

And here are a few other voices still echoing from the first round:

Pele, on the English hooligans in Marseille: "What these fans are doing is that they come to a game to fight, to cause trouble, to make war. This is disgusting."

Spain's coach, Javier Clemente, on his team's ouster despite its rout of Bulgaria: "It is a bitter victory and sad that the players should be knocked out after such a great performance."

Norway's Tor Andre Flo, with Ronaldo in mind after scoring against Brazil: "Just call me Flonaldo."

The Brazilian daily newspaper Lance, fearing that Brazil's players needed shaking up after their arrival in France: "Give them Viagra."

Yugoslav Coach Slobodan Santrac, when asked what he thought would happen when his team played the U.S.: "We went into the game knowing that we could win the game or lose the game or tie the game." Any other questions?

Finally, the cheers from Sam's Army. The faithful American fans who followed their team to the bitter end and deserved the salute they got from the U.S. players after their last game Thursday night. The last chant heard in Nantes was "U-S-A."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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