Football: Football going home: The not so sweet 16

Norman Fox looks at what the World Cup will miss and what it won't
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Group A


Even in the moment of their despair, Scotland genuinely sympathised with the team who eliminated them but discovered that they had been put out by Norway. Bassir and Hadji, quick, technically accomplished and with an astute eye for goal were a pleasure to watch. Ironically, Morocco, in their first match, had made the Norwegians look ineffectual.


Nice fans, nice, sporting manager and traditional valour personified in Hendry. But it is goals that count. In spite of the often inspired contributions of Collins and, eventually, the too-abrasive work of Burley, no amount of midfield effort could compensate for a lack of goalscoring reliability. But at least they questioned Brazil's theoretical superiority.

Group B


Gone and not remembered. Polster was too far over the hill to play as a lone striker while the rest lacked the ambition to climb difficult mountains. They wanted to play safely themselves and subdue the danger of others. Two draws, with the equalisers coming in the last minute, and a defeat summed up their contribution.


Having three players sent off and suffering seemingly good goals disallowed didn't help the young players, who created more chances than they scored. This latest experience may persuade them not to be so headstrong. Mboma, inventive in attack, deserved better, calmer support.

Group C

South Africa

Trouble from start to finish. Two players expelled for drinking and rows between players and coach. Sadly, anticipation that they would at least all be technically sound and daringly positive in outlook proved unfounded. Only McCarthy's goal against Denmark from Bartlett's backheel will remain in the memory.

Saudi Arabia

For all of their devotion to the cause, the Saudis were just not good enough. Even so, the finals are the poorer for the loss of a genuine sweeper in Zubramawi. But he had too much to do. Attempting to play an off-side game against teams with the experience and speed of France and Denmark invited trouble.

Group D


Hit Bulgaria for six but caught out by their failure to strike their formidable best form early enough. Luis Enrique could have become one of the most influential play-makers and Nadal one of the best central defenders. Big changes after defeat by Nigeria had little effect.


No tears from neutrals over the demise of a dreary, over-muscular team. Stoichkov's age caught up with him, though he still showed glimpses of his past as a master striker (and flashes of familiar temper). Kostadinov's lovely goal in the midst of thrashing by Spain told of what might have been. Some players seemed resigned to failure. Coach Bonev just resigned.

Group E


No regrets about losing this bullying old side after they had been made to look the ordinary team they were in their last game against South Korea. Admittedly they sweated and strived to stay in, but the overall impression was of a boring, physical group lacking fresh talent.

South Korea

Holland's 5-0 win finished them and their coach, who was sacked. Tidy and neat on the ball, the Koreans thought the only other thing they needed was speed, which they had in abundance. In the event, defensively none of those things counted for much, but their captain, Yoo Sang-chul, led bravely and with special distinction against Belgium.

Group F


Their most mature performance was also their last, against Germany. Almost throughout, though, Bagheri and Azizi were energetically creative. But it was young Mahdavikia who was a revelation. He made it possible to play five across the back and still achieve their prime objective - knocking out the Americans.

United States

Football in the States badly needed success in France. Intimidated by the sheer, unwavering resolution of Iran, and outclassed by Germany, they quickly realised that they wanted a big hand from luck. It never came. Trying to display ball tricks is OK in the US but was the wrong priority here.

Group G


If Colombia were unfortunate to meet an England side who suddenly made at least some of the pre-tournament hype credible, in reality they were never likely to make much impact. Mondragon just about kept them from severe embarrassment. At least they have Preciado for a future without Valderrama.


Certainly they improved a lot against Colombia, and they were well worth their only point against the surprised Romanians, but their mild performance when facing England at the start cost them a platform on which to build upon the exciting midfield work and shooting of Slimane.

Group H


Nakata (he of the dyed ginger hair) is not after all the player he claimed he was ("the best in the world"). But neither were Japan the poorest of the early departures. They put up a respectable performance against Croatia and played so keenly against Argentina that a draw was always possible. And in the end they got a deserved goal against Jamaica.


Bringing carnival to football was a welcome contribution. Only after being reduced to 10 men were they overwhelmed by Argentina. Whitmore could steal the ball from anyone and ended with a couple of dynamic strikes against Japan, but the defence gave it away too easily. The party has lost a lot of its fun with their departure.