From Four Continents
While fans pouring into Harvard Stadium next week will see some of the world's best soccer, they may be surprised to see it played in a style quite unlike the brand played in the United States.
Careful strategy and ball handling techniques characterize the international game, while the wide open dump-and-run style has been popularized by American professional soccer.
Although the Soviet led Olympic boycott has severely hurt the soccer competition--Czechoslovakia and East Germany were two of the top favorites--some of the teams appearing at Harvard have a legitimate shot at a medal.
And, although some of the countries competing in the tournament may seem geographically obscure to many Americans, they boast teams that can play with the best.
Each of the 16 teams who have made it this far first had to win a regional qualifying tournament last fall.
The six games played at Harvard are really part of two separate competitions. The 16 teams are divided into four groups and each squad will play every other team in its group once. The teams with the two best records in each group after the round robin competition will move on to Los Angeles for the medal competition.
Norway, Chile, France and Qatar make up group A, while Cameroon, Canada, and Iraq are along with Yugoslavia (which does not appear in Boston) make up group B.
The matches held at Harvard will be combined with ones held concurrently at Annapolis, Md. to round out the schedule.
The eight other teams--West Germany, Morocco, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Italy, Egypt, the United States, and Costa Rica--will play all of their games on the west coast, either at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena or at Stanford University in Palo Alto.
Of the teams playing in Boston, the one with the best shot of making it to Los Angeles and carrying home a medal is France Coming off an impressive 2-0 win over Spain in June to carry off the European Nations Cup, the French are regarded as key competitors.
While the goalie who led them to that triumph could not make the Olympics because of a prior commitment to a team in France, his replacement is just as capable Number one, Albert Rust, led the team through the Olympic qualifying rounds. In six games he allowed only three goals, giving his team the edge it needed to move through the tournament undefeated and establish itself as one of the early favorites to bring home the gold.
A number of national team veterans provide stability while the younger, faster players round out the squad. One of the key team leaders is midfielder Jose Toure, who has played for France in several international competitions. He and the rest are known for their disciplined skills and flawless teamwork.
One of the surprise teams in the tournament may be Cameroon, which fought its way to the top of the international soccer scene in 1982, when it fought bitter draws with Peru, Poland and eventually champion Italy, to win the respect of the soccer world.
This year Cameroon is clearly the strongest team in Africa as it beat Nigeria 3-1 to win the African Nations Cup in March. Last fall Cameroon was undefeated in the Olympic qualifying tournament.
"In 1981 Cameroon was in the Junior National Finals. In Spain we were present, and we are here today. This is a source of great national pride in Cameroon," says team director Raymon Fobette.
The team is led by internationally famous Theophile Abega, who captains the team from his midfield position. Abega, known as "The Doctor" for his precision play, scored the winning goal in the Nations Cup final and is known for his exceptional ball-handling.
Abega works with an extremely talented front line boasting two stars of French First Division teams, Roger Milla and Gregory M'Bida.
Unfortunately, like France, Cameroon's best goalie couldn't make the trip. Thomas N'kono, who minded the goal in the World Cup two years ago, became a national hero and internationally recognized star. That fame has, however, taken him away from his native country and he now stars for Barcelona of Spain's First Division.
Cameroon, however, sports one of the best one-two combinations in between the posts. Taking over for N'kono is Antoine Bell, who was Cameroon's hero during the Nations Cup tournament. His wins over the Ivory Coast (2-0) and Algeri (0-0) powered his country to the championship.
Qatar and Iraq enter the tournament after completely dominating the Asian division. Both faced their toughest competition at the regional level before moving to the continental competition, where they were the only teams to go undefeated. Iraq came out of a tough Middle Eastern division containing Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. In close round-robin competition between the three nations, Iraq was the only nation to survive without a loss. Qatar actually finished behind Kuwait in its first round competition, but moved into the final qualifying round with a vengeance. Allowing only one goal in four games, Qatar stormed its way into Olympic competition.
While Iraq and Qatar took similar routes to Boston, their teams are very different. Iraq, a respected soccer power for several years, finished just out of the money four years ago, placing fifth in the 1980 Olympics. Regarded for its experience and strong defense, the team is led by miserly goalie Abdul Fatah Jassim, who started in the Olympics four years ago and gave up only four goals in the qualifying tournament last year.
Qatar, making its first Olympic appearance, boasts a number of young, exciting players. The most dangerous man on the field is striker Mansur "The Falcon" Muftah, who scored 26 goals last year for Reain in Qatar's First Division. Their main disadvantage, however, may be their large number of players completely without experience at international play except for last year's qualifying rounds.
The only South American entry playing in Boston in Chile. Although the squad boasts a few well known players, principally goalie Roberto Rojas, whose acrobatic style put his team into the Olympics, the team gained their birth through the back door. South American soccer was dominated last year by Brazil, who swept through the qualifying rounds undefeated. Chile qualified for the Olympics over two other teams with identical 1-2 records by virtue of its superior scoring and defense records.
If Rojas is responsible for the high scoring against average, one of the men most responsible for the high scoring total is striker Joge Aravena, a 22-year-old college student who averaged a goal a game last year. He was also responsible for the decisive goal in the 2-1 win over Columbia this year.
The closest team to a home town favorite among the seven squads playing at Harvard is Canada. Almost all the players come from the ranks of one of the continent's professional leagues and one of the continent's professional leagues and one of the players. Harvard student John Catliff, put his Harvard soccer career on the line to represent his homeland in the Olympics.
Defender Bob Lenarduzzi has played more North American Soccer League (NASL) games than anyone else in history, and in his 10 seasons in the league has played all 11 positions on the field. Fellow defender Bruce Wilson has been an NASL All-Star for the past six years, and the coach is also an NASL veteran, having led the Vancouver Whitecaps to the championship in 1979.
The team entering the competition with the most to prove is Norway, who finished third behind East Germany and Poland in its qualifying tournament. But after those two teams joined the boycott, Norway was invited to participate. This has given the team only about six weeks to practice together and two exhibition games to prepare for the Olympics. But coach Tor Roeste Fossen says his players are in top shape from the ongoing Norwegian season and are ready to play.
Team captain Terje Kojedal says the country was somewhat ashamed of the team for being selected as a substitute and that he and the other players want especially to do well to prove the doubting Svens back home that they deserve to have made the trip.
Along with Kojedal, Fossen is looking to midfielder Kai Erik Herlovsen to lead this young team.
Norway is the only team which will play all three of its first round matches at Harvard, so fans should have a good opportunity to see how well they fare.