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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Round 1 Ends Dramatically

DALLAS, Texas -- The World Cup finals lost the two most talked about players as the first round groups finished amid high drama with Bulgaria and Nigeria gaining the last two spots and Russia being left out. Diego Maradona's stunning doping ban Thursday pushed the world's best known player to an ignominious exit and Russia's elimination left tournament top scorer Oleg Salenko sidelined. "I had hoped Russia would continue playing and maybe (I would) finish as the tournament's best scorer," said Salenko, who had compiled six goals, a record five in the match against Cameroon. "If there is any satisfaction, I'm still holding the record." Russia's chances of qualifying as a third-placed team in Group B collapsed Thursday when Bulgaria beat Argentina 2-0 and Nigeria defeated Greece 2-0. The same team squabbling that marked the leadup to Russia's appearance surfaced again Thursday, hours before they were eliminated. Striker Sergei Yuran was dismissed from the squad by manager Pavel Sadyrin, reportedly because Yuran was dissatisfied at how much time he was playing. Bulgaria plunged the knife into a badly-wounded Argentina, inflicting defeat on the two-time champion a few hours after Maradona was expelled. The Bulgarians ended a 32-year jinx with their first victory against Argentina with a superbly-taken opportunist goal from Hristo Stoichkov and a second-half injury-time strike from Nasko Sirakov despite playing the last 25 minutes with only 10 men. After five previous World Cup finals without a victory, their second of this tournament sent them into the second round as group D runners-up ahead of Argentina. Nigeria finished on top. Nigeria 2, Greece 0. Daniel Amokachi's last-minute goal saved his team a cross-country flight as the Nigerians defeated Greece. Amokachi dribbled past two defenders and unleashed a 23-meter shot that found the corner of the net, allowing Nigeria to avoid a trip to California and stay in Foxboro for its next match. The goal in the fifth minute of injury time gave Nigeria the Group D title. If they had defeated Greece by only 1-0, the Nigerians would have finished third in the group because of goal differential. As the tournament was scheduled to enter its knockout stage Saturday, the World Cup looked wide open for the taking. Maradona misery apart, the realization sank in that there were no truly great teams at the 1994 finals. No nation completed the three group games with a 100 percent record and only four of the 16 second round survivors -- Brazil, Germany, Spain and Sweden -- remained unbeaten. Brazil looked the pick of the pack but their lackluster 1-1 draw against the Swedes showed a sorry shortage of invention and the team's attitude was nothing short of distressing. "We will play in the way today's football demands," said trainer Carlos Alberto Parreira. "Magic and dreams are finished in football. We have to combine technique and efficiency. We are doing this now and we will continue doing it until the end of the competition." When a Brazilian talks like that fans of the game can do little except weep into their beer. Nigeria, which could yet inherit Brazil's mantle as the sport's standard-bearers if they inhibit an instinct to resort to crude fouls when in trouble, offered more than their fair share of thrills. Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, Europe's main hopes for the title before the tournament started, all creaked into the second round while diminishing the faith of most of their fans. (Reuters, AP, MT)