Support for Javier Clemente's Spain, however, does seem to be on a firmer footing this time. That is in no doubt due to a confidence-building run of success - more than 30 games without defeat - and their performance in Euro 96, when even some English must admit they were unlucky to go out to the hosts in the quarter-finals. Last and not least, they have players who can score goals.
The sceptics will say that the latter reason, at the highest level, has yet to be proven and with relatively inexperienced forwards there is some truth in that. But there is an impressive allround quality and solidity about the side. In the midfielders Louis Enrique and Julen Guerrero they have added goal-scoring potential, while in Fernando Hierro they have arguably the best defender in the world.
Traditionally slow starters, they could have done without an opening match against the Super Eagles. It is generally agreed that Nigeria represent Africa's best hope of bringing the title back to that continent for the first time. But for a lack of professionalism they might have done even better at USA 94 and, of course, two years later at the Olympic Games they eventually did, winning the gold medal.
With many of their better players now performing in Europe they are much less of an unknown quantity. If they can keep their minds on football matters, they will take some stopping.
Qualifying ahead of Russia, Bulgaria cannot be a completely spent force, but there must be a major worry about the match fitness of their most influential player, the incomparable Hristo Stoichkov, after his redundant season at Barcelona. The threat of player power ruining their hopes is a real danger and the coach, Hristo Bonev, may not be kidding when he says: "It is unrealistic to talk about finishing fourth again."
Somewhat surprise runners-up to Argentina - beaten by only a point - in the arduous South American qualifying programme, Paraguay have looked singularly unimpressive since arriving in Europe for their warm-up games and one senses that serious damage may have been done to their confidence by the way the Dutch beat them in a canter.
Previous appearances: 9 (1934, 1950, 1962, 1966, 1978, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994)
Best performances: Fourth 1950. Quarter-finals: 1986, 1994.
Record: P37, W15, D9, L13
1 Andoni Zubizarreta Valencia
2 Albert Ferrer Barcelona
3 Agustin Aranzabal Real Sociedad
4 Rafael Alkorta Athletic Bilbao
5 Abelardo Barcelona
6 Fernando Hierro Real Madrid
7 Francisco Morientes Real Madrid
8 Julen Guerrero Athletic Bilbao
9 Juan Antonio Pizzi Barcelona
10 Raul Real Madrid
11 Alfonso Real Betis
12 Sergi Barcelona
13 Santiago Canizares Real Madrid
14 Ivan Campo Mallorca
15 Carlos Aguilera Atletico Madrid
16 Albert Celades Barcelona
17 Joseba Etxeberria Athletic Bilbao
18 Guillermo Amor Barcelona
19 Kiko Atletico Madrid
20 Miguel Angel Nadal Barcelona
21 Luis Enrique Barcelona
22 Jose Molina Atletico Madrid
Coach: Javier Clemente
WATCH OUT FOR...
They may not both make the starting line-up, but Fernando Morientes and Raul will surely make their mark sooner rather than later. Morientes, 22, had only just won a regular place in the Real Madrid side in March when he was called up for a full international debut against Sweden later the same month - but he could hardly have answered his critics more quickly. He scored his first goal with less than 60 seconds on the clock and added a second just four minutes later. Raul, who will be 21 on the day the second round starts, has had a less successful season for the same club, but still possesses vision and maturity far beyond his years.
Previous appearances: 1 (1994)
Best performance: Second round (1994)
Record: P4, W2, D0, L2
1 Peter Rufai Deportivo La Coruna
2 Jero Shakpoke Reggiana
3 Celestine Babayaro Chelsea
4 Nwankwo Kanu Internazionale
5 Uche Okechukwu Fenerbahce
6 Taribo West Internazionale
7 Finidi George Real Betis
8 Mutiu Adepoju Real Sociedad
9 Rashidi Yekini FC Zurich
10 Austin Okocha Fenerbahce
11 Garba Lawal Roda JC Kerkrade
12 Willy Okpara Orlando Pirates
13 Tijani Babangida Ajax
14 Daniel Amokachi Besiktas
15 Sunday Oliseh Ajax
16 Uche Okafor Kansas City Wizards
17 Augustine Eguavoen Torpedo Moscow
18 Wilson Oruma Lens
19 Ben Iroha Elche
20 Victor Ikpeba Monaco
21 Godwin Okpara Strasbourg
22 Abiodun Baruwa Sion
Coach: Bora Milutinovic
WATCH OUT FOR...
It isn't that difficult winning the World Cup if you have at your disposal players as good as Brazil's in 1970 and 1994 - or if your side has home advantage and the help of a short-sighted linesman from Azerbaijan. Bora Milutinovic, however, has taken Mexico to the quarter-finals and both Costa Rica and the United States to the second round. That is some achievement - and few would bet against him doing well again with Nigeria this time round. Along with Saudi Arabia's Carlos Alberto Parreira (previously with Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Brazil), he will become the first coach to take four different countries to the finals.
Previous appearances: 6 (1962, 1966, 1970, 1974, 1986, 1994)
Best performance: Semi-finalists 1994 (3rd)
Record: P23, W3, D7, L13
1 Zdravko Zdravkov Istanbulspor
2 Radostin Kishishev Bursaspor
3 Trifon Ivanov CSKA Sofia
4 Ivailo Petkov Litex Lovetch
5 Ivailo Yordanov Sporting Lisbon
6 Zlatko Yankov Besiktas
7 Emil Kostadinov CSKA Sofia
8 Hristo Stoichkov CSKA Sofia
9 Lyuboslav Penev Compostela
10 Krassimir Balakov VfB Stuttgart
11 Ilian Iliev Bursaspor
12 Borislav Mikhailov Slavia Sofia
13 Gosho Ginchev Antalya
14 Marian Hristov Kaiserslautern
15 Adalbert Zafirov Arminia Bielefeld
16 Anatoli Nankov Locomotiv Sofia
17 Stoicho Stoilov Litex Lovetch
18 Daniel Borimirov 1860 Munich
19 Georgi Bachev Slavia Sofia
20 Georgi Ivanov Levski Sofia
21 Rosen Kirilov Litex Lovetch
22 Milen Petkov CSKA Sofia
Coach: Hristo Bonev
WATCH OUT FOR...
He's back and he's hairy...Trifon Ivanov, the hirsute defensive hard man (known as the Wolfman) who excelled at both USA 94 and Euro 96, found his place in the national squad in doubt earlier this year. Along with two other veterans, Emil Kostadinov and Hristo Stoichkov, Ivanov had returned home to play for CSKA Sofia but then found that his promised salary was not forthcoming. The national coach, Hristo Bonev, threatened to drop them if they were not playing regularly, but has now relented. Ivanov's tackling can be as fearsome as his appearance, but he plays as well and is dangerous up front at set pieces.
Previous appearances: 4 (1930, 1950, 1958, 1986)
Best performance: Second round (1986)
Record: P11, W3, D4, L4
1 Jose Luis Chilavert Velez Sarsfield
2 Francisco Arce Palmeiras
3 Catalino Rivarola Gremio
4 Carlos Gamarra Corinthians
5 Celso Ayala River Plate
6 Edgar Aguilera Cerro Cora
7 Juan Carlos Yegros Cruz Azul
8 Aristides Aranda Rojas U Santa Fe
9 Jose Cardozo Necaxa
10 Roberto Acuna Real Zaragoza
11 Pedro Sarabia River Plate
12 Danielo Aceval Union Santa Fe
13 Carlos Paredes Olimpia
14 Ricardo Rojas Estudiantes
15 Miguel Benitez Espanyol
16 Julio Cesar Enciso Internacional
17 Hugo Brizuela Argentinos Juniors
18 Cesar Ramirez Sporting Lisbon
19 Carlos Morales Gimnasia Jujuy
20 Denis Caniza Olimpia
21 Jorge Campos Peking Guoan
22 Ruben Ruiz Diaz Monterrey
Coach: Paulo Cesar Carpeggiani
WATCH OUT FOR...
Given the feeble reputation of Paraguay's strikeforce, it is entirely conceivable that their goalkeeper will finish the tournament as their top scorer. Jose Luis Chilavert has scored more than 40 goals in his career for club and country. He takes both penalties and direct free-kicks - one of which he scored from to earn his country a crucial point in a World Cup qualifier in Argentina. A colourful and controversial character, he often claims to be the best goalkeeper in the world. He may not be that, but he could well become the first custodian to score at a World Cup.