Every month, we'll pose a question or make a statement about something in soccer that will be debated by two individuals from the same walk of life. Be it a coach, player, general manager or whomever, the two will each give their side of the story, so to speak.
In this case, we've enlisted the help of two of the most important figures in the current state of the U.S. Men's National Team program. In one corner, with a MLS Cup 2000 ring on his hand and the 1990 World Cup under his belt ... Bob Gansler, the current head coach of the Kansas City Wizards and the coach of the U.S. MNT from 1989-91. In the other corner, with two MLS Cup wins and the 2002 World Cup around the corner ... Bruce Arena, the current and winningest U.S. Men's National Team head coach.
This month's question: With the 2002 World Cup Final Draw having come and gone, what are your thoughts on the USA's draw, the "Group of Death" and the draw for the other two CONCACAF teams?
Bruce Arena, current U.S. MNT head coach (1998-present):
His reaction immediately after the draw: "I think any group would have been fine with us. We are certainly pleased to be in the World Cup. Obviously Portugal will be a difficult opening game. They are one of the top five teams in the world, so it will be quite difficult to get a point, let alone three points against them. Against Korea it will also be difficult with the home support they will receive, and Poland is a team with a lot of momentum that had a great run in qualifying. It was going to be difficult no matter who we play, but if our team can improve across the next six months and go there and play well, we will have a chance to advance.
"We have six months to gather information and get familiar with our other opponents. Certainly, Portugal is a very well known team around the world. They are a great attacking team. They are a team with outstanding attacking players, and Luis Figo was my vote for the FIFA Player of the Year. They won a difficult qualifying group over Holland and Ireland. The joke here is that Portugal is already celebrating (that they will advance to the second round), but I'm not concerned about the morale of the team. They know we will be the underdog in that game. Without a doubt, Portugal over the last three years has been one of the best teams in the world. They are definitely comparable to teams like Brazil, Germany and Spain. So in my opinion they are like any other seeded team. They are going to be a team that in many people's eyes that can win the World Cup.
"I don't think it hurts us to play them in the first game. It might have been more difficult to play Korea in the opening game, with the momentum of a country behind you. We know very little about Korea, but I did see them last summer in the Confederations' Cup. With Poland I am very unfamiliar. We know (Jerzy) Dudek in Liverpool, and their African striker (Emanuel) Olisadebe is a player with great pace and a great story for Poland. That's all I know at the moment. They are unfamiliar, but we have plenty of time to get familiar.
"We were one selection away from going to Japan, and could have ended up in that difficult Group F. I was relieved when we were drawn out as the last team to complete the Korean half of the draw. It is an interesting story with England and Sweden in Group F, and of course Argentina is a favorite and Nigeria is a team that no one likes to play. There are some tough groups. Costa Rica got a good draw, and can certainly advance out of their group. Mexico is in a tough group, but if they do well in their opener then they will be in a good position to advance.
"When you look at the situation, it is ok. All the games will be tough. Who knows if it is good or bad. We are very content with the group."
Bob Gansler, former U.S. MNT head coach (1982; 1989-91):
"The USA group has a definite favorite (Portugal). They are certainly one of the eight strongest teams in the world. They were not seeded, but they certainly are among the elite in this tournament. They are the odds-on favorite to move into the second round. Poland was the first team to qualify for this World Cup, and that speaks well for them. Many of Poland's top players are also playing in the top leagues in Europe. Playing against the host team is a difficult challenge. The USA should be keenly aware of that. Back in '94, we maximized while playing on our home soil. While Portugal is already everybody's favorite in this group, the other three teams — including the USA — all have a realistic shot at that second spot. The quality of our play in the qualifying rounds and the resulting world ranking over the last couple of years indicate that we are ready for the next hurdle.
"It is pretty much a consensus that Group F, with Argentina, England, Sweden and Nigeria, is the most difficult group. In reality, all four teams have a chance to advance. Argentina, along with France, are the current favorites to win the tournament. The Argentineans play with a combination of flair and European efficiency. It's no surprise though, because their top players are playing in Europe. Based on their recent form, I was a little surprised that England was not one of the seeded teams. They beat Germany 5-1 in Germany, and that is virtually unprecedented. You have a team firing on all cylinders. Their coach (Sven Goran Eriksson), who is Swedish but has done most of his coaching in Serie A in Italy, has revitalized them. With Nigeria, you get an abundance of skill and athleticism. And tactically? Their players are playing for the best clubs in Europe. The same goes for Sweden. It's really an international game now, where most of the top players are refining their game and making their money in Europe. Any of these teams could and probably would qualify in other groups.
"I would say that our group is more challenging than the groups for the other two CONCACAF teams. Looking at Costa Rica's group, I would rather take my chances with China and Turkey than Poland and South Korea. In Mexico's group, our competition (Poland and South Korea) appears to be stronger than Ecuador and Croatia. But while I think we've got a more difficult group than our CONCACAF neighbors, I think we are up to the task."
Table of Contents
1) Armchair Midfielder (Dissecting the 2002 World Cup Final Draw)
2) All I Want for Christmas... (w/ U.S. National Teams staff and players)
3) At the Movies (w/ U-21 WNT midfielder Aly Wagner)
4) Queries and Anecdotes (w/ MNT midfielder Chris Armas)
5) Making it to the Show (w/ U-17 MNT forward Ed Johnson)
6) Superstar!!! (w/ WNT forward Cindy Parlow)
7) Mark That Calendar (MNT vs. South Korea -- Dec. 9)
8) Point-Counterpoint (w/ coaches Bruce Arena and Bob Gansler)
9) From the Bleachers (w/ U.S. Soccer fan Dave Brett Wasser)
10) "You Don't Know Jack (Marshall)" (College Soccer Trivia)