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The 18th FIFA World Cup: 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany

On June 9, the game between Germany and Costa Rica will kick off the 18th FlFA Football World CupTM. This will be the second World Cup to be held in Germany - the previous one took place in 1974.

In December 2003, the qualification group draw was held in Frankfurt am Main to select 31 out of the 32 finalists. One place was reserved for the hosts who are traditionally exempt from qualifications. Until November 2005, national teams from as many as 157 countries competed for the right to play in the FIFA World CupTM. On December 9 in Leipzig, finalists were drawn into the following groups:
A: Germany, Costa Rica, Poland, Ecuador
B: England, Paraguay, Trinidad and Tobago, Sweden
C: Argentina, Ivory Coast, Serbia and Montenegro, the Netherlands
D: Mexico, Iran, Angola, Portugal
E: Italy, Ghana, United States, Czech Republic
F: Brazil, Croatia, Australia, Japan
G: France, Switzerland, South Korea, Togo
H: Spain, Ukraine, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia.

The top two teams from each group will qualify for the next stage where the knock-out system will operate, i.e. the loser will fall out of the competition.

Players will compete in twelve stadiums which have been especially constructed or thoroughly upgraded for the FIFA World Cup™ at the total cost of 1.4 billion euro. The upgrade of the Olympic Stadium in Berlin (which was the main arena of the 1936 Olympic Games), where the final match will take place on July 9, was the most expensive at 242 million euro. The Gelsenkirchen stadium is the most modern venue, featuring a mobile pitch and retractable roof.

Brazil, who are considered FIFA World Cup™ favourites (they have won more trophies than any other team in football history), are defending the title. In the last final, which was played four years ago in Yokohama, Japan, they beat Germany 2:0. Brazil have won the world champions title five times (in 1958,1962,1970,1994, and 2002). They are the only team to have played in all FIFA World Cup™ tournaments.

Italy and Germany both have won the title three times: Italians in 1934, 1938 and 1982, and Germans in 1954, 1974 and 1990. Uruguay (1930 and 1950) and Argentina (1978 and 1986) have two titles each. The English and French were both champions once - in 1966 and 1998, respectively.

Until 1970, the winning team used to receive the Jules Rimet Cup (the Golden Nike), which was passed on to subsequent winners. Brazil earned the right to keep the trophy after having won their third title. Unfortunately, the priceless trophy was later stolen and never found again.The new one - the FIFA World Cup Trophy - was designed by the Italian Silvio Gazzaniga.The cup, which is made of 18-carat gold, is 36 cm tall and weighs around 5 kg.

Pele, the legendary king of football from Brazil, has been the only player to win the title three times. In 1958, when he did it for the first time, he was not yet 18.

Only two people - the Brazilian Mario Zagalo (1958, 1962 and 1970) and the German Franz Beckenbauer (1974 and 1990) - have managed to win the title first as players and then as coaches. The latter now heads the FIFA World Cup™ Organising Committee. Vittorio Pozzo is still the only coach who boasts two titles - he won them while he led the Italian national team in 1934 and 1938.

Poland are playing in FIFA World Cup™ finals for the seventh time. The first tournament in which the Polish team participated took place in France in 1938. They lost to Brazil 5:6 after extra time and dropped out of the tournament. Ernest Wilimowski scored four goals in that match.

Poles had waited for their next FIFA World Cup™ until 1974 when they finished third, led by the best coach in history - Kazimierz Górski. Grzegorz Lato, with seven goals, was the top scorer of the tournament. Kazimierz Deyna was voted the third best player of the tournament (after the Dutchman Johan Cruyff and Franz Beckenbauer), and the Polish team were hailed as a revelation.

In their third FIFA World Cup™ in 1978, Poland were classified in the 5th/6th place (they dropped out ranked third in one of the two groups in the second stage of the tournament). Four years later, they won a medal again, finishing in the third place. At that time, they were led by Antoni Piechniczek - the only coach who headed the national team in two FIFA World CupTM finals. They also took part in 1986 but without much luck (they lost the eighth-finals match). This was Władysław Żmuda's last game - he played a record 21 matches in four football FIFA World CupsTM. Grzegorz Lato and Andrzej Szarmach both played in three tournaments, scoring every time.

When the national team qualified for the FIFA World Cup™ finals four years ago after a 16-year break, there was great joy and expectations were running high. Too high, in fact - the team coached by Jerzy Engel finished last in the group. Therefore Paweł Janas, the coach who succeeded in qualifying for the FIFA World Cup™ in Germany last year, is very cautious and describes going through to the knock-out stage as his primary objective. This is surely within the reach of his team and German stadiums have always been lucky for Poles. They witnessed the Polish team's greatest successes - gold Olympic medal in 1972 and third FIFA World Cup™ place in 1974.

The FIFA Football World CupTM is the greatest sports event in the world along the Summer Olympic Games. It is held every four years and attracts incredible numbers of fans. Therefore getting a ticket for a FIFA World Cup™ game of one's choice is not an easy feat this year. The cheapest tickets (for the least attractive seats at the group stage) cost 35 euro and the most expensive ones (the best seats during the final) are as much as 600 euro. Tickets have been sold on the Internet since February 1, 2005. There were as many as four million bids from 195 countries for the first batch of 812,000 individual tickets, which were allocated in a draw. There were even more takers for the next 250,000 tickets available at the beginning of 2006 - as many as six million orders were received.

Dariusz Kurowski
sports journalist