By Paul Freelend
If one had to select a musical work to describe the goings on so far in the FIFA 2002 World Cup, Josef Haydn’s “Surprise Symphony” would seem an apt choice.
From the opening match and onwards, surprises and shocks have been multiple during the group stages. Pre-tournament favorites have failed to impress while more unfancied sides have turned group tables on their respective heads.
A run-down of the results so far:
Group A – Papa Bouba Diop and Senegal stunned defending champions France 1-0 in the opening match of the tournament. France, missing key playmaker Zinedine Zidane through injury, looked disjointed while World Cup rookies Senegal got their goal through Diop and held on for the win. Following a 2-1 win over Uruguay and a 1-1 draw with Senegal, Denmark lead the group while Senegal are second and both France and Uruguay have a point each from their 0-0 draw.
Group B – Spain cruised to 3-1 wins over Slovenia and Paraguay to become the first team to advance to the round of 16. South Africa, after rallying to tie Paraguay 2-2 in their first match, edged Slovenia 1-0 to claim its first-ever World Cup win and move into second place with one match remaining. Slovenia’s debut in the World Cup has been one to forget as head coach Srecko Katanec and star midfielder Zlatko Zahovic got into a heated argument after losing to Spain – an argument that saw Zahovic booted from the squad and Katanec say he would resign his post after the tournament.
Group C – Despite Rivaldo’s theatrics and some close calls, Brazil has held firm as the class of the group. Costa Rica, on the other hand, has battled its way into second place after a 2-0 win over China and a 1-1 draw with Turkey. Brazil was the second team to qualify for the knockout rounds after 2-1 and 4-0 wins over Turkey and China, respectively, and a tie against the Ticos will be enough to assure it of the top spot.
Group D – This group leads the way in topsy-turviness as the teams who were supposed to just make up the numbers have suddenly vaulted to the top of the table. Co-hosts Korea, considered the weakest of the top seeds, cruised to a 2-0 win over Poland while the United States stunned runaway favorite Portugal 3-2. Korea’s win was its first ever in the World Cup while the U.S. got its first World Cup win since 1994 and its first away from American soil since 1950.
Group E – Storylines are plentiful in this group as the race to advance goes down to the final day. Ireland, having sent influential midfielder Roy Keane home after a bust-up with manager Mick McCarthy, has fought its way to 1-1 draws with Cameroon and Germany while African powerhouse Cameroon edged Saudi Arabia 1-0 to move into second place behind Germany. The Germans, who entered the tournament weakened by injuries, dominated Saudi Arabia 8-0 in their first game and need at least a draw against Cameroon to secure a place in the second round.
Group F – This year’s “Group of Death” has lived up to its name as all the matches have been tense and hard-fought. England skipper David Beckham exacted a measure of revenge as his penalty kick goal helped England beat Argentina 1-0 and move atop the group. Sweden, which came from behind to tie England 1-1 in its first match, eliminated Nigeria with a 2-1 win as the Super Eagles had already lost to Argentina 1-0.
Group G – Mexico has done its part to keep the CONCACAF banner flying high, scoring a 1-0 over 1998 World Cup third-placed Croatia and a 2-1 comeback win over Ecuador. Italy looked to be cruising after a 2-0 win over Ecuador, but a 2-1 loss to Croatia brought the Azurri quickly back to earth and a win against Mexico in its final group match is a must.
Group H – Dubbed by some the “Group of Dearth,” Group H has nonetheless produced a set of entertaining matches. Co-host Japan felt hard done in having a seemingly legitimate winning goal disallowed in its 2-2 draw with Belgium, but recovered to beat Russia 1-0 and score its first-ever World Cup victory. Tunisia’s scoring woes in 2002 continued in its 2-0 loss to Russia as the North African nation has managed just one goal in all of 2002.