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KOREA-JAPAN 2002 WORLD CUP

June 2nd 2002

The Soccer World Cup, the world's greatest sporting spectacle is with us yet again!!! Its hard to believe that 4 years have gone by since France'98 because those good old memories are still vivid in the minds of many soccer fans. France'98, like other previous World Cups, was an extraordinarily entertaining event and Korea-Japan 2002 promises to be just as good, if not better. The mere fact that this World Cup will be co-hosted by two nations, Japan and S. Korea, is already a major talking point and many soccer fans are anxious to see how it all works out. For us African fans, expectations have never been higher, because all our representatives seem to be enjoying remarkable form. Cameroon and Senegal in particular, look very hot this time around, coming out of the Africa Cup of Nations as winner and runers-up respectively. Nigeria also had a good showing at the African tournament, having lost in the semi-finals to Senegal. Though there are some reported squabbling in the Nigerian camp involving their coach Adegboye Onigbinde and some of his star players like Sunday Oliseh and Finidi George, its hard to ignore the depth of talent the Super Eagles always bring to the tournament. With or without their internal politics, the Nigerians remain a force to reckon with at this World Cup. They have been drawn into the so-called pool of death alongside tournament favourites Argentina, England and Sweden. Even in this pool, the Nigerians' chances of advancing through to the second round remain very real. The South Africans or bafana bafana as we call them back home, had a relatively lucklustre performance at the African tournament, but with their crop of European-based professional players, they promise to give a good showing. Africa's other representative, Tunisia, are clearly heavy underdogs in this world cup. The nothing-to-lose mentallity could play in favour of the North Africans and see them into the second round.They are drawn in group H alongside Russia, Belgium and co-hosts Japan.

Senegal had a blockbuster game against defending champions France in the World Cup opener om May 31st 2002. Coming in as heavy underdogs, the Senegalese gave a very good account of themselves and dropped a bombshell goal on France in the ***** minute, courtesy of ********. Once ahead, the Africans never looked back, preserved their precious lead throughout the match. As was expected, they entertained a barrage of dangerous attacks by the Frenchmen, desperate to salvage a point from this once walk-over match, and obviously embarassed by the awkward position the Africans had put them in. Clearly things were supposed to have worked the other way around, with France taking an early lead and the Africans striving to force a draw. It will be quite interesting to see how the French bounce back from this deadly blow they were dealt by Senegal. The Senegalese exuded a lot of confidence and passion in this match. There was also a deep sense of purpose in the way they approached their French opponents, and this to me, is what earned them the victory as opposed to talent, which they are also obviously endowed with. I think the match boiled down to who wanted the three points more, and the Senegalese passion was clearly superior to the French. Their West African counterparts and fellow African Cup finalists Cameroon, also did very well in their opening match against Republic of Ireland yesterday*****. The Cameroonians lived up to their expectations because they had been picked as clear favourites in the match, and were widely expected to run away with it. They dominated the match, and were up at half time, courtesy of star striker Mboma's goal in the ***** minute. Much respect to the Irish though, who put in a spirited fight fight in the second half of the match earning their equalizer in the ****** minute through ****. As for the South Africans, a 2-2 opener against match favourites Paraguay was also a very impressive performance, especially given the fact that they come into this World Cup on the heels of a lucklustre performance at the African Nations Cup. In fact, the South Africans may have been the beneficiaries of some questionable officiating, when they were awarded a penalty in the dying minutes of their match. But hey, thats the beauty of soccer, and indeed all World Cup tournaments, which always treats soccer fans to wild dramas and controversies, often involving match officials. These controversial calls, strange as it may sound, have been widely embraced by soccer fans worldwide, and have become part of the World Cup spectacle. You will remember the Cameroon-England quater-final match in Italia'90, where England was awarded a controversial penalty that ended up drowning the African side. Though this incident broke my heart, and I'm sure, many other African hearts, its funny that it is still the best recollection I have of Italia'90, apart of course from the famous Roger Milla corner dance. But the most remembered controversy remains Diego Maradona's hand of God in ******Mexico'86. England were on the cruel end of this decision this time when the referee failed to penalize a clear handball on Maradona, who made it look like a header. Subsequent playbacks of this play proved beyond doubt that this was not a legitimate header but the damage was already done and England had to swallow the bitter pill. This is what separates soccer from other major sports and makes it the most entertaining game in the world.

The Nigerians were not quite as lucky, and went down 0-1 to cup favourites Argentina, courtesy of a Gabriel Batistuta goal in the ****** minute. Nigeria put in a good fight against this soccer powerhouse, and it would be quite unfair for anyone to cast blame on them for this loss. They created good chances only they could not bring them to fruition. But having said that, I still have a bone to pick with the Super Eagles, who I think, like Spain, have made it a custom to always perform below their expected capabilities. I hate to sound bashful of the Nigerians, but I think there is a growing culture of ****** among some of the Eagles' superstars, who come into the World Cup like its some sort of Summer vacation.

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