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SPORTS EXTRA / FOCUS ON THE WORLD CUP: FRANCE '98

Group H

June 09, 1998

ARGENTINA

* World Cup Record: Played 52, won 26, lost 17, tied nine, goals for 90, goals against 65.

* Best Finish: Champion in 1978, 1986.

* 1994 Showing: Eliminated by Romania in the second round.

* Coach: Daniel Passarella. A no-nonsense disciplinarian who refuses to select players with long hair. He was captain of Argentina's 1978 World Cup-winning team.

* Players to Watch: Diego Simeone, Hernan Crespo, Juan Veron, Ariel Ortega, Gabriel Batistuta.

coach seems to believe Argentina is a potential threat to win in 1998. The team's strength lies in the individual skill of its players, but some of them react badly to adversity. How far Argentina can advance will depend on Passarella's ability to keep them in line.

* Quick Quote: "We beat Brazil earlier this year, but we've won nothing yet."--Daniel Passarella.

* Forecast: Look for Argentina to be in the quarterfinals.

CROATIA

* World Cup Record: Debut.

* Best Finish: Debut.

* 1994 Showing: Did not exist as an independent nation.

* Coach: Miroslav Blazevic.

* Players to Watch: Slaven Bilic, Robert Jarni, Zvonimir Boban, Robert Prosinecki, Davor Suker.

* In Brief: With their distinctive red and white checkerboard shirts, the Croats are masters of the unexpected move. Their first World Cup might also represent their best chance to do well in the tournament since they have the players to carry out the aggressive, attacking style they prefer. Suker, Boban and Prosinecki are especially dangerous, although Croatia will miss the injured Alen Boksic.

* Quick Quote: "It would be a huge disappointment if we did not get past the first stage."--Miroslav Blazevic.

* Forecast: The quarterfinals are within reach if some teamwork can be added to all the individual skill.

JAMAICA

* World Cup Record: Debut.

* Best Finish: Debut.

* 1994 Showing: Did not qualify.

* Coach: Rene Simoes. The Brazilian coach has transformed Jamaican soccer with an evangelical zeal. But he was furious a few weeks ago when his salary was revealed and says he will quit after the tournament.

Frank Sinclair, Theodore Whitmore, Andrew Williams, Deon Burton, Paul Hall.

* In Brief: The Reggae Boyz come to France as the fairy-tale team of the tournament. They are only the second Caribbean team after Haiti in 1974 to reach the World Cup. Jamaica outscored its opponents, 24-15, in qualifying while turning the island nation away from cricket and on to soccer. But only the Japan game offers the real possibility of a victory.

* Quick Quote: "Anyone can be world champions. Jamaica can be, and I don't care if anyone calls me a madman."--Rene "Madman" Simoes.

* Forecast: Three games and out.

JAPAN

* World Cup Record: Debut.

* Best Finish: Debut.

* 1994 Showing: Did not qualify.

* Coach: Takeshi Okada. Bespectacled, goateed, hopeful, but all the while realizing his team could be in for a drubbing.

* Players to Watch: Masami Ihara, Hidetoshi Nakata, Wagner Lopes, Shoji Jo.

* In Brief: Japanese fans were in an uproar when Okada decided not to select forward Kazuyoshi Miura for the World Cup. The striker has virtually been the face of Japanese soccer for the past decade. The new face will be Hidetoshi Nakata, a gifted and determined player, but even with both Japan would have struggled. This is a learning experience for the 2002 co-hosts.

* Quick Quote: "Physically, the gap in ability, creativity, speed and agility--basically everything [between Japanese players and their World Cup opponents]--can't be helped."--Takeshi Okada

* Forecast: Three games and out.

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