- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 22, 2002

Something strange is taking place in the world of soccer. The critics are baffled, and the pundits have been humbled.
The minnows of soccer the United States, Senegal, Turkey and South Korea are suddenly swimming with the big fish. While Brazil and Germany are likely to meet in the final (dare I guess?), the foundations of the old order have been shaken.
The first World Cup of the millennium is looking like the mother of all tournaments when it comes to upsets. South Korea downs Italy, the U.S. team makes it to the quarterfinals and scares Germany. Is this the end of the world?
Theories abound as to why so many favorites already have packed their bags.
The Italians feel cheated by poor officiating. The French blamed the long club seasons in Europe.
One thing is clear team spirit seems to be triumphing over individualism. With its no-name stars, Senegal got the better of the gold-plated millionaires on the French team. The underdog Koreans had more fight in them than the defensive-minded Italians. Message to Italy: One-nil games just don't cut it anymore.
A number of factors account for the early exits of France, Argentina, Portugal and Italy:
There are no more secrets in soccer. The world has gotten smaller. Most of the players at the World Cup are familiar with each other. Many of them play for the same clubs in England, Italy, Spain and Germany. Some compete on the same teams. Half the U.S. team's starting lineup plays in Europe. There are no mystery players anymore that suddenly pop up at the World Cup like Pele did at the 1958 finals in Sweden.
The flood of foreign players in the European leagues has diluted the national talent pools. Homegrown talent has a tough time developing when so many roster spots on Europe's big clubs are now occupied by foreign stars.
Brazilian forwards spearhead German teams, Africans dominate French team rosters and it's rare to find an Englishman playing on a London club.
Game fatigue. This is not a cheap excuse. Players in Europe are competing in far too many "big" games. By the time the World Cup comes around, many star players are often injured or burnt out.
A good chunk of the big names that play for France, Italy, Portugal and Argentina compete for the top European clubs Barcelona, Real Madrid, Arsenal, Inter Milan and Manchester United. These players are involved in 40 to 50 domestic games a season and sometimes 12 to 16 games in the European Champions League. Add national team friendlies and World Cup qualifying games, and some players just never get a break. By the time they reach the World Cup, enthusiasm for the game is diminished.
"The domestic season takes a major strain on them," D.C. United coach Ray Hudson said. "France and Argentina looked as flat as pancakes."
One last point. This was the first World Cup held outside Europe and the Americas. Maybe there was something in the water.
Sour grapes It seems Mexico can't get over being beaten by the United States at the World Cup. The president of Mexico's National Team Commission said this week that Mexico "lost to an inferior team."
What rubbish. Let see Mexico's under-17 team and under-20 team both failed to qualify for their respective world championships last year. The nation's U-23 team failed to reach the Sydney Olympics in 2000. In contrast, the American youngsters qualified at every level in 2001, with the U-23 team coming in fourth at the Olympics. In their last six meetings, the Americans have beaten Mexico five times. Oh, and how many players on the Mexican roster are competing in the big leagues in Europe? Just four, compared to 11 on the U.S. team. Enough said.
Bring on Boca Can't get enough soccer? D.C. United plays Argentine giants Boca Juniors in an international friendly tomorrow at RFK Stadium at 4 p.m.
Boca, the club that launched world star Diego Maradona, has won 20 league championships and is considered one of the best in the world.
The Argentine side was defeated 3-2 in a midweek game against the MetroStars.
Hudson said he will start United rookie striker Justin Mapp against Boca. The 17-year-old Mapp was the club's first-round draft pick and fourth overall at the 2002 MLS SuperDraft.
Best eleven For the last five weeks fans have placed their votes on Fifaworldcup.com for the World Cup's greatest 11 players. Here is the Dream Team.
Strikers: Pele (107,539 votes), Johan Cruyff (53,645 votes), Romario (29,480 votes); Midfielders: Diego Maradona (111,035 votes), Zinedine Zidane (80,527 votes), Roberto Baggio (55,625 votes), Michel Platini (53,783 votes); Defenders: Franz Beckenbauer (81,442 votes), Paolo Maldini (58,523 votes), Roberto Carlos (58,200 votes); Goalie: Lev Yashin (24,587 votes).


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