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Group by group analysis with one in the books.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Monday, June 15, 1998) --Scotland and Norway meet in a vital Group A match Tuesday, with the winner having the inside track on advancing to the second round of the World Cup.

Other key second games this week:
* Nigeria vs. Bulgaria, Group D, Friday.
* Belgium vs. Mexico, Group E, Saturday.
* Germany vs. Yugoslavia, Group F, Sunday.
* England vs. Romania, Group G, Monday (June 22).

Here is a group-by-group analysis after each of the 32 teams has played one match:

Group A: Brazil (1-0) is in the lead, and can clinch a second-round berth with a victory Tuesday against Morocco (0-0-1). Norway (0-0-1) and Scotland (0-1) are vying for the other slot. Much buildup for June 23, with Norway talking big about how it beat Brazil last year. Brazil, criticized for its erratic defense, thirsting for revenge.

Group B: Italy (0-0-1) remains the favorite due to pedigree, but could have trouble advancing past the second round if it doesn't pick up the level of play. Second slot is wide open, with Chile (0-0-1) showing the most potential due to strikers Marcelo Salas and Ivan Zamorano. Cameroon (0-0-1) is largely unknown, and Austria (0-0-1) hasn't shown much.

Group C: France (1-0) has an extremely easy road. The French may be bothered by injury problems at striker, but they are strong elsewhere, and the competition is easy. Denmark (1-0) is the best of the remaining trio. South Africa (0-1), also hurting at striker, and Saudi Arabia (0-1) have little chance of doing anything.

Group D: Nigeria (1-0) is fresh from a major victory against disappointing favorite Spain (0-1). However, it is not a sure bet, especially Friday against Bulgaria (0-0-1). Defensive problems still exist, but Coach Bora Milutinovic has four outstanding strikers on hand. Spain needs to bounce back against Paraguay (0-0-1), and faces the possibility of early elimination.

Group E: The Netherlands (0-0-1) remains the favorite despite failing to score against cautious Belgium (0-0-1). The Dutch expect to overwhelm outmanned South Korea (0-1). Mexico (1-0) and Belgium meet Saturday, and winner should advance. Netherlands will be without striker Patrick Kluivert until second round due to FIFA punishment meted out for his elbowing of Belgian defender.

Group F: Germany (1-0) is a sure bet to advance. It looked unusually quick in the opening match against a U.S. team that made too many mistakes. The second berth would appear destined for Yugoslavia (1-0), but don't count the Americans (0-1) out yet. Coach Steve Sampson's team first much take care of spirited Iran (0-1), which gave Yugoslavia all it could handle before bowing 1-0.

Group G: England (1-0) and Romania (1-0) are in the lead, with Romania already holding a 1-0 win against tough challenger Colombia (0-1). The fight for No. 1 will be intense, since the runner-up most likely gets Argentina in the second round. England's strength on defense may be the difference. Tunisia (0-1) is plucky but in over its head.

Group H: Argentina (1-0) and Croatia (1-0) are odds-on to advance to the second round. Japan (0-1) and Jamaica (0-1) are outclassed. Japan has no offense. Jamaica has problems on defense. Croatia showed explosiveness on attack. Argentina is solid all over, especially with formidable Gabriel Batistuta at striker.

Jerry Langdon is sports editor of Gannett News Service and can be e-mailed at jlangdon@gns.gannett.com.