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What's happened to soccer's new world order?

Written by: Staff

BERLIN, June 29: So whatever happened to soccer's new world order? The quarter-final line-up at the World Cup, featuring all six of the former world champions playing in Germany, is made up entirely of traditional European and South American powers.

Hardly the exotic mix-and-match of the first Asian World Cup in Japan and South Korea four years ago when five continents were represented in the last eight for the first time.

Argentina, Brazil, Germany, England, Italy and France, who have won 15 of 17 World Cups between them so far, including every tournament from 1954 onwards, are familiar faces who will appear once again in the quarter-finals.

The only non title-winners are Portugal, semi-finalists in 1966, and Ukraine, playing at their first finals as such though players from the new republic did form the base of some of the celebrated Soviet Union teams of the past.

It all looked so different four years ago. Champions France went out in the group stage without scoring a goal. Tournament favourites Argentina also failed to reach the last 16 and Italy, the only other team supposedly backed by smart money, were eliminated in the second round.

It was the tournament of the unlikely outsiders. Co-hosts South Korea, who had never won any of their 14 games at previous finals, stormed all the way to the semi-finals.

Unfancied Turkey joined them there and Senegal, World Cup debutants, and the United States, a country in which soccer ranks well down the sporting pecking order, made it into the quarter-finals.

Excluding Mexico as hosts in 1970 and 1986, only two teams from outside Europe and South America had reached the last eight of the World Cup since World War Two -- North Korea in 1966 and Cameroon in 1990.

Suddenly in 2002 there were three of them all at once (South Korea, Senegal and United States) and a distinct shift in soccer's world power balance appeared to have taken place.

If most neutral football fans are glad to see mouth-watering quarter-final clashes like Germany v Argentina and Brazil v France, most would also want to see an exciting newcomer, an Ivory Coast or a Ghana, mixing it at this stage with the heavyweights.

So what has happened in Germany? Did the old order merely reassert itself or was 2002 a soccer third world firework display which burnt itself out instantly? FIFA president Sepp Blatter, for one, has expressed his disappointment with the performance of the underdogs.

''A little of the internationalism has been lost because none of the African or Asian teams have made it and the strong European and South American teams have got through,'' he said at a news conference on Wednesday.

''It's a bit disappointing that the other teams did not give the stronger teams a tougher challenge.'' But Blatter did imply that naive tactics had not helped the cause of the underdogs.

''Some of the new teams played very well and Ivory Coast were unlucky they were in such a strong group,'' he added. ''But they also have to learn that at the World Cup you need 11 men to defend and 11 men to attack.'' Lennart Johansson, UEFA chief and chairman of FIFA's World Cup Organising Committee, took a different view, attributing the old order's revival to FIFA's decision to impose a post-season break from May 15th to give players a rest before the finals, which started on June 9th.

''It's not a surprise the senior teams are in the quarter-finals,'' he said. ''The standard of football is very high and that shows that the decision to ensure teams had a break before the World Cup has paid off.''


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