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Monday, 27 May, 2002, 15:37 GMT 16:37 UK
Minnows fish for success
Costa Rica fans celebrate
Will Costa Rica's fans have anything to celebrate?


While the talk for France, Argentina and Italy is whether they can win the World Cup, concerns are somewhat different for the tournament's lesser lights.

For the likes of Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Costa Rica, survival into the second round would be an achievement on a par with reaching the final for the big guns.

The Saudis, who crashed out at the first hurdle four years ago, have the difficult task of getting through a group which also includes Germany, the Republic of Ireland and Cameroon.

Winning the Gulf Cup in January has boosted their confidence, and striker Sami Al-Jaber, who retires from international football after the tournament, will want to go out on a high note.

Senegal's striker El Hadji Diouf
Diouf's firepower could make him a star

Both host nations are under pressure to perform on home turf.

South Korea have the best qualifying record in Asia - these are their fifth successive finals - but they have yet to win a single game.

Japan have the benefit of an open group which pits them against Russia, Tunisia and Belgium.

Reigning Asian champions, they finished runners-up to France in the Confederations Cup and have had some success with their policy of playing more established footballing powers.

Senegal get their first ever finals underway with the most difficult of tasks - a clash with world champions France.

But they are not quite the huge underdogs one might imagine.

Almost the entire squad play their domestic football in France, and that experience showed as they reached the final of this year's African Nations Cup.

Fired by the goals of El Hadju Diouf and the midfield skills of Khalilou Fadiga and Liverpool-bound Salif Diao, they have a real chance to progress if Uruguay and Denmark can be dealt with.

The United States do not have to do a great deal to improve on their showing at France 98 - they finished with the worst record of any side in the finals.

Ecuador's Augustin Delgado
Delgado scored nine times in qualifying

Coach Bruce Arena has concerns over his midfield, which is over-reliant on Sunderland's Claudio Reyna.

Defensively the side has improved since Jeff Agoos and Pablo Mastroeni came together to form a partnership in the middle.

But with Portugal, Poland and South Korea lying in wait, it will be a major surprise if they make it through.

Ecuador's preparations for their first ever finals were disrupted when coach Hernan Dario Gomez was shot in May.

His players persuaded him not to resign, and he will now hope his promising front pairing of Southampton's Augustin Delgado and Ivan Kaviedes can make up for a the suspect defence .

Costa Rica, meanwhile, are confident they can repeat the heroics of Italia 90 and get through the first group stage.

Brazil will be favourites to top Group C, but Turkey and China are beatable for a side who enjoyed a seven-game unbeaten run during qualifying.

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