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June 14 Match Previews

Portugal vs. Korea
Incheon World Cup Stadium (Capacity: 52,179)
Incheon, Korea – Group D – 8: 30 p.m. local time
Live on ESPN2 at 7:25 a.m. ET

In what is the biggest game in Korean soccer history, Guus Hiddink leads his Korean team against a Portugal team that was regarded as one of the tournament favorites before faltering to the U.S. in their opener.  Could the trend of favorites being eliminated (Argentina, France) continue in Incheon?

Both teams will feel the pressure in what is sure to be one of the more intense matches of the first round.  Korea is trying to avoid becoming the first host nation to miss the second round, and Portugal will be trying desperately not to bow out early in their first World Cup appearance since 1986 and just their third World Cup ever.

Portugal entered as FIFA’s fifth-ranked team and were the tournament darlings of EURO 2000, where they bowed out in overtime of the semifinals.  They continued their fine play in 2001, going undefeated in a qualifying group that included the Netherlands and Ireland and posting seven wins and only one loss to go along with two ties.

But Portugal has struggled this year, losing twice, drawing twice and only posting one win – a 2-0 victory over an unimpressive China on May 19 – before pounding Poland 4-0 on June 10.  Now the talented team led by Figo and Rui Costa need a result against a less-talented Korean side, but one that will be playing on heart and emotion and with more than 50,000 fans behind them.

Korea flew out of the gate in this tournament, posting a 2-0 win against Poland in their opening match, before playing well in a 1-1 draw with the U.S.  The team’s surprising play and their loyal and loud crowds have been two of the biggest stories of the first round.

With Portugal, Korea and the U.S. sitting so close at the top of the group, both of these teams will be pulling for a Polish win against the U.S. squad. 

2002 World Cup qualifying:  Qualified as a host country
World Cup final appearances: 6 – 1954 (16th), 1986 (20th), 1990 (22nd), 1994 (20th), 1998 (30th), 2002
Overall Record in WC: 0-10-4
Manager: Guus Hiddink (NED)

2002 World Cup qualifying:  Won UEFA Group 2 (7-0-3; 33 GF, 7 GA)
World Cup Finals Appearances:  3 – 1966 (3rd), 1986 (17th), 2002
Overall Record in WC:  6-4-0
Manager:  Antonio Olivera


Tunisia vs. Japan
Nagai Stadium (Capacity: 50,000)
Osaka, Japan – Group H – 3:30 p.m. local time
Live on ESPN at 2:25 a.m. ET

Japan are on the doorstep of continuing the streak of host nations seeing the second round and can secure a second round spot with a win or a draw against Tunisia in Osaka.

In their opener, Japan earned a tough point against Belgium in one of the most exciting matches of the tournament.  Both teams scored two goals in 18 minutes in the second half for a 2-2 draw.  The co-hosts followed that with a tremendous 1-0 win against Russia.  Now all that sits between Japan and the next round is African lightweight Tunisia. 

Tunisia, who surprisingly are in their second straight World Cup, were topped 2-0 by Russia in the opener and then earned a 1-1 draw against a strong Belgium team to avoid early elimination. 

The Tunisians had a rough run up to the World Cup, as coach Henri Michel quit in March and shortly thereafter goalkeeper Chokri El Quaer retired due to injury.  Just prior to his retirement,
Michel led Tunisia to a scoreless draw with Korea – one of Tunisia’s most impressive results this year.

At the 1998 World Cup, Tunisia recorded one draw and two losses, drawing 1-1 with Romania and losing 1-0 to Colombia and 2-0 to England.   Their only goal of that tournament came from the penalty spot. 

This is just the fourth World Cup match played between an African and an Asian team, with both Africa and Asia recording one win, one loss and one draw in the previous three games.

FIFA Ranking: 29th
2002 World Cup qualifying: Won Africa “Group 4” (6-0-2; 23 GF, 4 GA)
World Cup final appearances: 3 – 1978 (13th), 1998 (26th), 2002
Overall Record in WC: 1-4-2
Managers: Ammar Souyah, Khemaies Laabidi

2002 World Cup qualifying: Qualified as co-host
World Cup final appearances: 2 – 1998 (31st), 2002
Overall Record in WC: 0-3-0
Manager: Philippe Troussier (FRA)
Championship Honors: 1992 & 2000 Asian Cup champions

Belgium vs. Russia
Ecopa Stadium (Capacity: 51,349)
Shizouka, Japan – Group H – 3:30 p.m. local time
Live on ESPN2 at 2:25 a.m. ET

Belgium got off to a great start this World Cup with an opening 2-2 draw against a tough Japanese team, but then faltered and drew 1-1 with a weak Tunisia side.  Now the pressure is on Marc Wilmots and Belgium to gather all three points against Russia.

If Belgium can get a win against Russia they will see their way into the second round and also snap a five-game streak of draws.  Belgium drew all three group matches at the 1998 World Cup, tying Mexico, Netherlands and Korea in France. 

Marc Wilmots, who has scored two of Belgium’s three goals this World Cup, will be looked to for leadership and goals in this deciding match.  Wilmots led the team in scoring during qualifying with eight goals, including a stretch where he scored in five straight games.  He is currently tied at the top of Belgium’s all-time World Cup goalscoring list with four goals. 

Belgium is appearing in their sixth straight World Cup, a streak matched only by world powers Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Italy and Spain.  Interestingly, Belgium is the only squad to actually qualify for six consecutive World Cups (discounting hosts and defending champs).  Belgium has finished in the top 13 in nine of their previous 10 World Cup appearances (1998 – 19th place).

Russia cruised to an opening win against Tunisia, before falling 1-0 to Japan in a match that sparked riots in Moscow.  Russia’s Valery Karpin has been the key to Russia’s success in this World Cup.  Karpin has played in all of Russia’s World Cup matches, also playing with the Russian team at the 1994 World Cup – Russia’s first appearance on sport’s grandest stage.

With a win Russia is through to the second round, and with a draw they will have to turn their attention to the Tunisia-Japan match.

2002 World Cup qualifying: Finished second in UEFA “Group 6” (5-1-2; 25 GF, 6 GA); defeated Czech Republic in home-and-home playoff 2-0 on aggregate score.
World Cup final appearances: 11 – 1930 (11th), 1934 (15th), 1938 (13th), 1954 (12th), 1970, (10th), 1982 (10th), 1986 (4th), 1990 (11th), 1994 (11th), 1998 (19th), 2002
Overall Record in WC: 9-16-8
Manager: Robert Waseige (BEL)

FIFA Ranking: 24th (tied)
2002 World Cup qualifying: Won UEFA “Group 1” (7-1-2; 18 GF, 5 GA)
World Cup final appearances: 9 – 1958 (7th), 1962 (6th), 1966 (4th), 1970 (5th), 1982 (7th), 1986 (10th), 1990 (17th), 1994 (18th), 2002
Overall Record in WC: 16-12-6
Manager: Oleg Romantsev (RUS)
Championship Honors:  1960 European Cup champion; 1956 & 1988 Olympic champions (all as Soviet Union)