No, it’s not the Group of Vowels but since we’ve done Group A, B, C, and D, I owe you an E Group discussion now. So the conversations continue and I haven’t heard directly from Jason yet about the stats. Let us quickly then maneuver to Group E which will include the Battle of Brugge among other games. Anytime Holland has to play Belgium, love is in the air and not on the soccer field. When you stir in second-round World Cup qualification into the mix, it’s fair to expect total commitment, effort beyond the call of duty, and passion in abundance. Whether we get a decent soccer match remains to be seen, as it will be a case of the result being more important than the product on display. It could be argued that this game might peter out tamely into a scoreless affair with both teams happy with a point. But I don’t think that’s going to be good enough in this Group. All four teams are genuine contenders for round two and even beyond round two. As is now conventional, let’s take them one at a time.
Holland invented “Total Football” in the ’70s and took it to two of that decade’s World Cup Finals before losing on both occasions to the host nations Germany and Argentina. I was a big fan and reveled in the team’s entertainment. It brought joy to the world of football and engrossed millions through the exhilarating performances of Johan Cruyff, Neeskens, Van Hanegam and many others. A predictable lull followed until Ruud Gullit and Marco Van Basten led the Dutch to European Championship victory in Germany 1988. This time around, it’s Bergkamp’s and Overmars’s (Kluivert may or may not be there) turn to set the orange tone. The team is multi-talented. It won its qualifying Group almost too easily, and looks set for contention all the way.
The team members still play with liquid grace and are easy on the eye. The qualifying included two “easy” victories over the Belgians, who must have felt a little ill on seeing the finals draw. Providing they can avoid other issues from unduly influencing them and can stay focussed on football, they should clear the first hurdles and progress to round two.
The truth about Belgium. It is ranked 31 in the world. Thirty-two teams make the finals and it is one of them. The Belgians did not impress in qualifying round matches. They beat the Republic of Ireland 3-2 on aggregate in a play-off and could have easily been eliminated at that point. It now requires a huge effort in June for them to go further. This is one of the great things about soccer in that I know they will be disciplined and hard to beat. They will get chances to win games and it’s up to the opposition to get past them. My feeling is they will still be ranked 31 after the dance is over.
Mexico’s team is not ranked fourth in the world for nothing. I’m sure it must have done something to deserve this. I’m just not sure exactly what or why the team is rated so highly. Now before any Mexicanos jump down my throat, let me say that I understand FIFA rules and regulations as good as the next guy and I’m sure the results were achieved to justify their ranking etc. I trust the system. But fourth? Come on. Vast experience and deep-rooted passion make it hard to predict with consistency. At the team’s very best, it is a match for any. Conversely, the team members are prone to temperament problems when the going gets tough and they are not playing at the Azteca in front of their own. The going will get tough in this group and they could potentially perform quite miserably in France. A lot hinges on their opener against the South Koreans. The “right” result will obviously set them up well, but I fear for their future if the “wrong” result should transpire. The reality is that, if this World Cup was being played in Mexico, their number four ranking might be taken seriously. Since it‘s being played a long way from home, however, their ranking is crazily overrated and they won’t frighten anybody in France.
South Korea now has more appearances at the World Cup finals than any other Asian nation. This will be their fifth such appearance. So far, the South Korean team never got past the first round at any finals, or won a game for that matter. In 1954, they were beaten 9-0 by Hungary (no doubt Puskas inspired) and then 7-0 by Turkey. Now I honestly don’t remember Turkey beating anybody 7-0. Then again, I wasn’t born when it happened. Later, a 1-1 draw with Bulgaria (Mexico 1986) was achieved but in Italy 1990 they lost all three games. USA 1994 witnessed a brilliant effort against Germany before eventually losing 3-2, unluckily I felt. They drew 2-2 with Spain and 0-0 with Bolivia. More importantly, they achieved these results with flair and no little excitement. So you can see the progress made through their experiences They are looking forward, political problems aside, to co-hosting World Cup 2002 and will be anxious to do well in France to justify pre-qualification. They will be determined to reach the second round this time and naturally this is what makes this Group interesting and the real reason the Battle of Brugge cannot be tied gently but rather must be won.