Monday, November 29, 1999

World Cup hots up, England seek to bury keeper horror

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England hope to erase the memory of one of the World Cup's worst ever goalkeeping mistakes when they take on Algeria in Friday's must-win game of an increasingly exciting tournament.In the day's other two matches, the United States find themselves in the rare position of favourites against Slovenia, while Germany may take a more deliberate approach against Serbia than in their 4-0 opening game rout of Australia.The World Cup is finally hotting up with the cautious play of many teams' first games giving way to more adventurous tactics in the quest for a berth in the last 16."It all will start from now on," said Netherlands playmaker Wesley Sneijder, saying the altitude and new Jabulani ball had taken teams a while to adapt to.It has certainly all started for Diego Maradona's Argentina, who are leading an impressive Latin American charge.Confounding criticism that the maverick coach and former great would be more hindrance than help to his talented side, Argentina thrashed South Korea 4-1 on Thursday. Gonzalo Higuain's hat-trick capped a superb team performance.Mexico also notched a famous win on Thursday, defeating 1998 World champions and 2006 runners-up France 2-0 in a deserved reward for their quick-passing, attack-minded game.In another exciting game on Thursday, Greece came from behind to defeat Nigeria 2-1 for their first World Cup win after three defeats in 1994 and an opening loss here to South Korea.That compounded a disappointing tournament so far for Africa in the first World Cup on its soil.Ghana are the only one of the six African teams to have won a match and hosts South Africa look unlikely to reach the second round after garnering just one point in two games.Their 3-0 defeat to Uruguay on Wednesday deflated a nation whipped into a frenzy over the Bafana Bafana (The Boys, The Boys) team's prospects and the sheer joy of hosting the World Cup in a country once ostracised because of apartheid.The vuvuzela horns are subdued in South Africa though they will sound again if Bafana Bafana pull off a win against France and avoid being the only hosts to exit at the start.ENGLISH NIGHTMAREEnglish goalkeeper Robert Green's farcical fumble in their opening 1-1 draw with the United States remains one of the tournament's most extraordinary moments and leaves the inventors of football under pressure in what had looked an easy group.They want a convincing win against Algeria in Cape Town on Friday to press their case for top spot in Group C and heighten their chances of avoiding old rivals Germany in the next round.Yet marquee striker Wayne Rooney has not scored an international goal since last September and probable partner Emile Heskey has only hit the net seven times in 59 games.Algeria would love to be the first African side to beat the English and can ill afford a second defeat after going down 1-0 to Slovenia in their first game.They have their own goalkeeping trauma to overcome after keeper Faouzi Chaouchi was to blame for Slovenia's goal.To build team spirit the Algerian under-dogs watched the film "Battle of Algiers", a graphic account of Algeria's bloody struggle for independence from French colonial rule."This is the kind of thing we need to do to feel together," 26-year-old midfielder Hassan Yebda told reporters.Defeat of Algeria has put Slovenia top of Group C, but their opponents on Friday at Johannesburg's Ellis Park, the United States, look stronger. "Going into a game as possible favourites would be different for us," said defender Jay DeMerit.In Friday's first game, Germany take on Serbia after thrashing Australia's Socceroos in one of the most impressive performances of the first week's games.Nursing their wounds from defeat to Ghana, the Serbs have to go for a win, and that could force Germany to take a more defensive approach. Their coach Oliver Bierhoff urged his team to be "precise and unforgiving".(Reporting by Reuters World Cup team)
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