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2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan"
Argentina-England draw steals World Cup thunder
Champions v. Debutants

By Mike Collett
© Reuters Limited

The luck of the draw deserted World Cup favourites Argentina and highly-rated England on Saturday when the two arch-rivals were placed in the same group for next year's FIFA World Cup" finals.

As if that was not a tough enough encounter, former African and Olympic champions Nigeria and hard-to-beat Sweden complete the quartet in group F which will now inevitably be dubbed the "group of death."

The latest encounter in their long World Cup rivalry will take place in Sapporo, Japan on June 7. It will be the second match for both countries.


A board displaying the final grouping of the 2002 FIFA World Cup finals in Busan December 2.
Photo Claro Cortes, Reuters
Argentina play Nigeria in their first game in Ibaraki on June 2 while England play Sweden on the same day in Saitama.

To make progress to the later stages even more difficult, whoever finishes second in the group are likely to face France in the second round, given that France are expected to win group A.

The reaction from all four countries told its own story.

England's Swedish coach Sven Goran Eriksson said: "We are in the most difficult group. No doubt about that."

Jose Pekerman, the director of the Argentine team, said: "Our rivalry with England is so special because the matches are always so tough and next year's will be no exception. This group is really strong but it is OK because we are playing in Japan which is where we wanted to play."

Analysis of World Cup Group A:
France, Senegal, Uruguay, Denmark
Analysis of World Cup Group B:
Spain, Slovenia, Paraguay, South Africa
Analysis of World Cup Group C:
Brazil, Turkey, China, Costa Rica
Analysis of World Cup Group D:
South Korea, Poland, United States, Portugal
Analysis of World Cup Group E:
Germany, Saudi Arabia, Ireland, Cameroon
Analysis of World Cup Group F:
Argentina, Nigeria, England, Sweden
Analysis of World Cup Group G:
Italy, Ecuador, Croatia, Mexico
Analysis of World Cup Group H:
Japan, Belgium, Russia, Tunisia
Swedish coach Lars Lagerback added: "I have known Sven since the 1970s and when we played England in a friendly at Old Trafford recently I have never known such emotion. It is going to be even more extreme next year."

Nigeria's Amodu Shaibu, dismissing any idea his team would be in the group simply to make up the numbers, said: "We are going to face three very tough opponents, but we are a very good team too. We have come here to qualify from the first round, not just for the ceremonies. It will be tough but we are confident."

Champions v. Debutants
The opening match of the tournament in Seoul on May 31 will be eagerly-awaited in the former French colony of Senegal who have qualified for the first time. Their first-ever match in the World Cup will be against world champions France.

France, who started the day as joint favourites for the title with Argentina but slipped to third favourites after the draw behind ASrgentina and Italy, should advance from the group which also includes Uruguay and Denmark.

China, also making their debut in the finals and expecting to bring up to 100,000 fans to South Korea, play in group C with four-times winners Brazil and also with Turkey, in the finals for the first time since 1954, and Costa Rica.

China's Serbian coach Bora Milutinovic, who coached Costa Rica to the second round in 1990, said: "It is a tough group of course as Brazil are in it but it is not an impossible group. I will especially look forward to playing against Costa Rica but this time I will be trying to stop them, not help them."

Brazilian coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said: "It is an excellent group for Brazil but we have to keep it that way by qualifying from it. We suffered in the qualifiers and Honduras also taught us a lesson in the Copa America."

Brazil qualified for the finals only by beating Venezuela in the last of their 18 South American group games after suffering six defeats. They also lost to Honduras in this year's South American championship.

Hosts Hope
The two host nations will both have chances of progressing into the second round. The South Koreans are seeded in group D where they play Poland, Portugal and the United States.

Japan play in group H with Belgium, Russia and Tunisia.

Japan's French coach Philippe Troussier said: "Looking at the faces of the coaches during the draw, all four of us felt it was a very open group. In theory Belgium and Russia are the strongest but, based on past World Cups, you can never tell."

Korea's Dutch coach Guus Hiddink said: "I'm not going to say it's an unlucky draw. There's no such thing as an unlucky draw. If we want to get to the final 16 we have to beat the teams in front of us."

Germany, three times winners, have a relatively easy looking group E with Saudi Arabia, Ireland and Cameroon while Italian coach Giovanni Trapattoni was not complaining about meeting Ecuador, Croatia and Mexico in group G.

"I am quite happy as I was watching the draw unfold in the England-Argentina group and I think we have got a better hand. Ecuador, in their first World Cup will be full of enthusiasm, Mexico are high in the FIFA rankings and there are many Croatian players in Italy. They will know a lot about us."

Spain are seeded in group B to play Slovenia, Paraguay and South Africa.

The top two teams from the eight groups of four go into the second round where the knockout phase of the competition starts.

The final will be played in Yokohama, Japan on June 30.

Co-ordinated
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Efforts to achieve a standardised international football calendar have led to the official adoption of a schedule for the years 2002 to 2004.
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