United States grouped with South Korea, Portugal and Poland for World Cup

Saturday, December 1st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BUSAN, South Korea (AP) _ The United States has been grouped with co-host South Korea, Poland and Portugal for next year's World Cup soccer tournament.

The first World Cup to be staged in Asia will be held May 31-June 30 in South Korea and Japan. The Americans will play their first game on June 5 vs. Portugal in Suwon, South Korea.

In Saturday's draw for soccer's championship tournament, the defending champion French were grouped with Denmark, Uruguay and Senegal. France and Senegal, in its first World Cup, will play in the opener in Seoul.

Japan, the other co-host, was grouped with Russia, Belgium and Tunisia.

The top two teams in each of the eight groups advances to the second round.

The most intriguing grouping features Argentina, England, Sweden and Nigeria. The Argentines and English have a longstanding rivalry, while a Swede, Sven-Goran Eriksson, coached England. Nigeria traditionally is the most powerful African nation.

The Americans, who finished last in France '98, will play South Korea on June 10, and conclude group play on June 14 against Poland.

``Any group would be difficult,'' said U.S. coach Bruce Arena, whose team plays an exhibition game with the Koreans on Dec. 9. ``Obviously we're opening against one of the top teams in the world, then we have the host country and then Poland.

``Overall, we will have a chance to advance. We have no complaints, the draw gives us some optimism.''

China, making its World Cup debut, is coached by Bora Milutinovic, who led the Americans to the second round of the 1994 tournament, which was held in the United States. The Chinese will open with Costa Rica, which Milutinovic coached to the second round in 1990.

The other groupings are: Spain, Slovenia, Paraguay and South Africa; Germany, Ireland, Saudi Arabia and Cameroon; and Italy, Croatia, Ecuador and Mexico.