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GROUP D

BULGARIA

* World Cup Record: Played 23, won three, lost 13, tied seven, goals for 21, goals against46.

* Best Finish: Fourth place, 1994.

* 1994 Showing: Lost to Sweden in the third-place game.

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* Coach: Hristo Bonev. One of the greatest players in Bulgarian history, with 47 goals in 96 games for his country. Pity he can’t suit up now.

* Players to Watch: Zdravko Zdravkov, Trifon Ivanov, Krassimir Balakov, Hristo Stoichkov, Emil Kostadinov.

* In Brief: The fourth-place finish in World Cup ’94 marked the high point for this generation of Bulgarians. They are now long in tooth and slow in leg. It will be a struggle to get past the first round ahead of either Spain or Nigeria, although the replay with the Nigerians, who beat Bulgaria in ’94, promises to be a bruising encounter.

* Quick Quote: “Our players should not be underestimated. We are sure to pass through the first round."--Hristo Bonev

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* Forecast: The second stop is as far as this old bus goes.

NIGERIA

* World Cup Record: Played four, won two, lost two, tied 0, goals for 7, goals against 4.

* Best Finish: Second round, 1994.

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* 1994 Showing: Eliminated by Italy in the second round.

* Coach: Bora Milutinovic. Along with Saudi Arabia’s Carlos Alberto Parreira, he is setting a record by coaching a fourth country in the World Cup. Can No. 5 be far behind for gypsy Bora?

* Players to Watch: Finidi, Sunday Oliseh, Daniel Amokachi, Victor Ikpeba, Kanu.

* In Brief: Offense is the Olympic gold medalists’ strong suit, along with the stamina to last 90 minutes with ease. Physically powerful, with plenty of speed and more than a fair amount of skill, Nigeria should be in the reckoning. A series of bad results has brought everything into question, however.

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* Quick Quote: “All the intrigue does not interest me."--Bora Milutinovic

* Forecast: The Nigerians can’t fail to get to the second round, can they?

PARAGUAY

* World Cup Record: Played 11, won three, lost four, tied four, goals for 16, goals against 25.

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* Best Finish: Second round, 1986.

* 1994 Showing: Did not qualify.

* Coach: Paolo Cesar Carpeggiani. Yet another Brazilian coach at the World Cup. There are four in all. Carpeggiani might be the first to go home, however, because his team is not competitive.

* Players to Watch: Jose Luis Chilavert, Carlos Gamarra, Francisco Arce, Roberto Acuna, Miguel Angel Benitez.

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* In Brief: Jose Luis Chilavert is an intimidating figure in goal, and with defenders in Carlos Gamarra and Francisco Arce in front of him, defense is Paraguay’s strong point. Roberto Acuna is the midfield playmaker, but Paraguay lacks a goalscorer and likely will finish last in its group.

* Quick Quote: “We know it will not be easy."--Paolo Cesar Carpeggiani

* Forecast: Three games and out.

SPAIN

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* World Cup Record: Played 37, won 14, lost 13, tied 10, goals for 50, goals against 43.

* Best Finish: Fourth place, 1950.

* 1994 Showing: Eliminated by Italy in the quarterfinals.

* Coach: Javier Clemente. The first man to coach Spain at two World Cup finals, Clemente is not one to mince words or spare feelings. This time, he might not need to.

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* Players to Watch: Andoni Zubizarreta, Fernando Hierro, Luis Enrique, Julen Guerrero, Francisco Morientes, Raul.

* In Brief: Spain has the talent to finish on top of its group and, with a modicum of the luck, could well end up winning the World Cup. The team is close-knit and half a dozen players remain from the 1992 Olympic gold medal-winning side. More workmanlike than flashy.

* Quick Quote: “I’m sorry if I bore people with this, but in my opinion the best players will always be mine."--Javier Clemente.

* Forecast: Could be the surprise winner of 1998.

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