WORLD CUP: GROUP F

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The Independent Online
TWO strong European teams should dominate this section as it is very hard to imagine either the United States or the Iranians finding enough quality to upset either Germany or Yugoslavia. Indeed, the encounter between the two underdogs could well be the most interesting fixture in this group.

The ideological state of war which exists between Iran and the United States means that a victory for the side which dismissed Terry Venables' Australians from the tournament will be celebrated with great ferocity back in Tehran, whatever the results against the other two nations. Iran may indeed beat the States - they have more flair and quality in attack compared to the Americans, who are far less likely than the two European sides to be able to puncture an Iranian defence untested at the highest level.

Karim Bagheri scored 17 goals in the qualifiers for Iran - although most of those were against the Maldive Islands - while the other German-based players, Khodadad Azizi and Ali Daei, have shown promise.

As for the Americans, they are very unlikely to emulate their achievements on home soil four years ago, when they reached the second round. The likes of Alexi Lalas, Roy Wegerle and Eric Wynalda are surely past their best while, apart from the classy midfielder Claudio Reyna, the younger generation are eager but limited.

Yugoslavia are a good outside bet to go a long way - maybe even to win the tournament. In the past, when they could call on Croats, Slovenians, Bosnians and Macedonians as well as Serbs, they tended to fail to meet expectations, but inter-ethnic rivalries may have had something to do with that. Now, with a side packed full of quality performers, they are a force no opponents will underestimate.

Which leaves us with Germany. They are an old team, with Lothar Matthaus, Jurgen Klinsmann, Jurgen Kohler and Andreas Moller among nine survivors of the 1994 squad which was surprisingly knocked out in the quarter-finals by Bulgaria. Since then they have found an outstanding centre- forward in Oliver Bierhoff, and they must - as ever - be among the favourites.

"I'm not saying we will become world champions, but I think we can," said their coach, Berti Vogts. "Other teams have more talent than we have but we could still beat them." If he is right, the dogged Vogts will at last emerge from the shadow of Franz Beckenbauer, a world champion player and coach.

GERMANY

Previous appearances (as Germany and West Germany): 13 (1934, 1938, 1954, 1958, 1962, 1966, 1970, 1974, 1978, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994)

Best performances: Winners 1954, 1974, 1990. Runners-up 1966, 1982, 1986

Record: P73, W42, D16, L15

1 Andreas Kopke Marseilles

2 Christian Worns Bayer Leverkusen

3 Jorg Heinrich Borussia Dortmund

4 Jurgen Kohler Borussia Dortmund

5 Thomas Helmer Bayern Munich

6 Olaf Thon Schalke 04

7 Andy Moller Borussia Dortmund

8 Lothar Matthaus Bayern Munich

9 Ulf Kirsten Bayer Leverkusen

10 Thomas Hassler Karlsruhe

11 Olaf Marschall Kaiserslautern

12 Oliver Kahn Bayern Munich

13 Jens Jeremies 1860 Munich

14 Markus Babbel Bayern Munich

15 Steffen Freund Borussia Dortmund

16 Dietmar Hamann Bayern Munich

17 Christian Ziege Milan

18 Jurgen Klinsmann Tottenham

19 Stefan Reuter Borussia Dortmund

20 Oliver Bierhoff Udinese

21 Michael Tarnat Bayern Munich

22 Jens Lehmann Schalke 04

Coach: Berti Vogts

WATCH OUT FOR...

One of the few things that Germany's coach, Berti Vogts, has to worry about is that his young pretenders are not yet in the same class as the old guard - which is why the likes of Lothar Matthaus, Jurgen Klinsmann and Jurgen Kohler are still around. At least Oliver Bierhoff, 30, is not yet at the veteran stage. Very much the complete all-round centre-forward, strong in the air and on the ground, he gained superstar status after scoring both goals in Germany's 2-1 victory over the Czech Republic in the Euro 96 final at Wembley. After a prolific season in Italy's Serie A with Udinese, he is joining Milan next term.

YUGOSLAVIA

Previous appearances: 8 (1930, 1950, 1954, 1958, 1962, 1974, 1982, 1990)

Best performances: Semi-finalists 1930, 1962 (4th).

Record: P33, W14, D7, L12

1 Ivica Kralj Partizan Belgrade

2 Zoran Mirkovic Atalanta

3 Goran Djorovic Celta Vigo

4 Slavisa Jokanovic Tenerife

5 Miroslav Djukic Valencia

6 Branko Brnovic Espanyol

7 Vladimir Jugovic Lazio

8 Dejan Savicevic Milan

9 Predrag Mijatovic Real Madrid

10 Dragan Stojkovic Grampus Eight

11 Sinisa Mihajlovic Sampdoria

12 Dragoje Lekovic Sporting Gijon

13 Slobodan Komljenovic Duisburg

14 Nisa Saveljic Bordeaux

15 Ljubinko Drulovic Porto

16 Zeljko Petrovic Urawa Red Diamonds

17 Savo Milosevic Real Zaragoza

18 Dejan Govedarica Lecce

19 Miroslav Stevic 1860 Munich

20 Dejan Stankovic Red Star Belgrade

21 Perica Ognjenovic Red Star Belgrade

22 Darko Kovacevic Real Sociedad

Coach: Slobodan Santrac

WATCH OUT FOR...

When Predrag Mijatovic returned to Yugoslavia in 1987 as one of an Under- 20 team which had just won the World Youth Cup in Chile, little did he know it would be another 11 years before he returned to the world stage. That generation from Chile are only now preparing for what could be their finest , after being denied by the sanctions imposed on their country. When he joined Real Madrid in the summer of 1995, Mijatovic resumed his striking partnership with the Croatian international, Davor Suker. The two had been Yugoslav team-mates in Chile in '87. Mijatovic hit an amazing seven goals in the two World Cup play-off matches against Hungary and then cemented his reputation with the winner in the European Cup final.

UNITED STATES

Previous appearances: 5 (1930, 1934, 1950, 1990, 1994)

Best performance: Semi-finalists 1930

Record: P14, W4, D1, L9

1 Brad Friedel Liverpool

2 Frankie Hejduk Tampa Bay Mutiny

3 Eddie Pope Washington DC Utd

4 Mike Burns New England Revolution

5 Thomas Dooley Columbus Crew

6 David Regis Karlsruhe

7 Roy Wegerle Tampa Bay Mutiny

8 Ernie Stewart NAC Breda

9 Joe-Max Moore New England

10 Tab Ramos NY/NJ MetroStars

11 Eric Wynalda San Jose Clash

12 Jeff Agoos Washington DC Utd

13 Cobi Jones Los Angeles Galaxy

14 Predrag Radosavljevic Kansas City

15 Chad Deering VfL Wolfsburg

16 Jurgen Sommer Columbus Crew

17 Marcelo Balboa Colorado Rapids

18 Kasey Keller Leicester City

19 Brian Maisonneuve Columbus Crew

20 Brian McBride Columbus Crew

21 Claudio Reyna VfL Wolfsburg

22 Alexi Lalas NY/NJ Metrostars

Coach: Steve Sampson

WATCH OUT FOR...

After scoring one goal and making the other two in a 3-0 friendly win in Austria in April, the 24-year-old Claudio Reyna reigned unchallenged as the best player in America. A midfield general who pays his club football for VfL Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga, he combines deft passing skills with good vision. His experience in Germany has also improved the defensive part of his game. Reyna, who missed the 1994 finals with injury, has an Argentine father and a Portuguese mother. His wife, Danielle, has played for the US women's team.

IRAN

Previous appearances: 1 (1978)

Best performances: Failed to get beyond first round

Record: P3, W0, D1, L2

1 Ahmad Abedzadeh Pirouzi Tehran

2 Mehdi Mahdavikia Pirouzi Tehran

3 Naim Saadavi Pirouzi Tehran

4 Mohammad Khakpour Pirouzi Tehran

5 Mohammad Peyravani Pirouzi Tehran

6 Karim Bagheri Arminia Bielefeld

7 Ali Reza Mansourian Esteghlal Tehran

8 Sirous Din Mohammadi Shahrdari Tabriz

9 Hamid Estili Bahman Tehran

10 Ali Daei Arminia Bielefeld

11 Khodadad Azizi Cologne

12 Nima Nakisa Pirouzi Tehran

13 Ali Latifi Bahman Tehran

14 Nader Mohammadkhani Poli-Ekril Isfahan

15 Ali Ostadasadli Zob-e-Ahan Isfahan

16 Reza Shahroudi Pirouzi Tehran

17 Javad Zarincheh Esteghlal Tehran

18 Satar Hamedani Bahman Tehran

19 Behnam Seraj Naft Abadan

20 Mehdi Pashazadeh Esteghlal Tehran

21 Mehrdad Minavand Chal Pirouzi Tehran

22 Parviz Boromand Esteghlal Tehran

Coach: Jalal Talebi

WATCH OUT FOR...

On their second visit to the World Cup finals, Iran's most interesting game - as much for its political ramifications as for the match itself - will be the 21 June showdown in Lyon with the United States. The two old political foes have shown signs of a slightly less hostile relationship in recent years - but the fixture still comes less than 20 years after Iranian militants took 52 Americans hostage. No matter how much the two sides try to insist that it is "just a football match," it is clearly much more than that. The French security forces clearly know that, too, for they have gone to great lengths to keep the two camps apart prior to the match. Probably the best fixture of its kind since East and West Germany met in 1974.

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