Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Eriksson's Boys Are Not in the Big League

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Eriksson's Boys Are Not in the Big League

Article excerpt

Byline: MICHAEL HART

SIX host nations have won the World Cup and one of the few things we can say with certainty as the 17th final tournament kicks off is that neither Japan nor South Korea will add to that list of home triumphs in the next month.

The fact that the World Cup is being played in the Orient for the first time is a new element to consider when assessing the title-winning potential of the traditional big guns like Italy, Germany, Brazil and Argentina.

The previous 16 tournaments have been played in Europe or the Americas and only one nation has ever won the World Cup outside its own continent - Brazil in Sweden in 1958.

Asia, therefore, is neutral territory for the great soccer powers. But, to be fair, the co-hosts have invested trillions of yen and want to make us all feel at home. Japan has spent $10 billion on 10 new stadia, South Korea half that on their 10.

'Unity' and 'Peace' were the themes of today's opening ceremony in Seoul.

Japan's Prince Takamado was in the crowd, the first official royal visitor to South Korea since Japan's 35-year occupation ended in 1945.

As often happens, this great sporting event is seen by many as a chance for a troubled world to pause for thought. The sad fact is, though, that the politics of world football are no beacon of unity and peace at the moment.

FIFA's decision to stage the tournament here may mean a more open tournament than we usually see. That, at least, is the opinion of the great Pele.

So could this mean that we may see a new name on the trophy after the final in Yokohama on 30 June?

I don't think so. I believe the usual suspects will fill the four semi-final places but, before we get there, we'll derive much pleasure from those unfancied nations tasting the excitement of the World Cup for the first time.

The newcomers to the tournament are often remembered as warmly as the eventual champions. Senegal, for instance, are competing for the first time and had the honour of kicking off against the defending champions France.

Senegal have little chance of progressing beyond the first round. But one of the few benefits of this 32-nation format is that their participation here ensures that the sport will be all the stronger in their little corner of Africa. …

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