190 Countries Can't Be Wrong

The World Cup begins this week and will be followed intently around the globe -- except by the host nation

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CROWN PRINCES. The teams that have dominated the world championship for 60 years are Argentina, Brazil, Italy and Germany. Will one of them win again this year? Probably, but it won't be as easy as it has been. In the qualifying rounds, Argentina was nearly eliminated after Colombia humiliated it at home 5-0. Brazilians thirst for a magical "tetra," a fourth championship, but the team has a bad habit of falling apart when it is least expected. Who will keep Brazil from losing? Romario and Bebeto. In Brazil no one ever bothers with last names for football stars; Romario is Romario de Souza Faria, leading scorer for Barcelona, the current Spanish league champion; Bebeto is Jose Roberto Gama de Oliveira, who is fragile looking but has a magical touch with the ball.

Italy's coach, Arrigo Sacchi, speaks of teamwork with religious fervor. "For the kind of football I believe in," he says, "generosity is fundamental." If Sacchi sounds like the St. Francis of Assisi of football, he has yet to win many converts. Nearly 8 out of 10 readers polled recently by the weekly Guerin Sportivo said they had lost faith in him. Still, he has Roberto Baggio, probably the world's best player, to call upon for miracles.

Finally there is Germany, the 1990 Cup champion. Germans are wondering whether new coach Berti Vogts comes near to Franz Beckenbauer, the football legend who guided the team four years ago. "Vogts was a bone crusher of a player," says one nervous fan. "Beckenbauer was a thinker."

THE CHALLENGERS. In the 1970s the Dutch played in two Cup championship games, losing both times. Since then they have lingered on the fringes of greatness. But this year the Netherlands hopes to put an end to its also-ran reputation by playing a slightly modified version of "total football," an aggressive style that has players move as a single unit on both offense and defense. The Dutch will be playing in the same group as the ascendant Belgians, their geographic neighbors but stylistic opposites. Belgium plays a tough, tight defensive game that exploits opponents' errors. The biggest threat to the traditional powers comes from Colombia. Under coach Francisco Maturana the team has built an attacking machine led by Faustino Asprilla, a striker, or goal-scoring forward. The Colombian game is hide-and-seek ball control, emphasizing short passes that slice up a defense.

THE HIGHWAYMEN. On the road to the final in Pasadena, the favored teams will run into flashy underdogs who could, on a good day, dispatch the powerhouses. The Irish have a shrewd coach in affable Jack Charlton, who played on England's 1966 Cup-winning team and led Ireland to victory over Holland and Germany in two warm-up games. Rashidi Yekini and Daniel Amokachi provide Nigeria, playing in its first Cup, with plenty of scoring power.

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