Brazil, Germany get ready for big kickoff
BERLIN, June 5: Favourites Brazil and hosts Germany arrive at their World Cup bases today to finalise preparations for the globe's most-watched sporting event.
The tournament kicks off in Munich on Friday when Germany take on Costa Rica and will end, 63 games later, on July 9 with the final at the Olympiastadion in Berlin.
The last World Cup finals attracted a global television audience of 28.8 billion in Japan and South Korea, according to world soccer's governing body FIFA.
Champions Brazil, who will be based in Konigstein/Taunus, start as clear favourites with striker Ronaldinho the player the fans are most looking forward to watching.
''Brazil are the only team that are a bit above the others, then there are quite a few teams on a similar level,'' former Italy striker Paolo Rossi told Reuters in an interview.
Rossi was top scorer when Italy won the 1982 World Cup.
Berlin-based Germany, who won the competition when it was last held on home soil in 1974, are among the sides hoping to stop Brazil winning their sixth world title.
The event always throws up plenty of surprises, the last tournament began with Senegal beating 1998 winners France.
Twenty-three of the 32 competing nations will already be at their bases today and across Germany the transport and communications infrastructure is geared up for the influx of supporters to the 12 venue cities.
Although all continents are represented, the winners have never come from outside Europe or South America and that is unlikely to change at this edition.
Argentina, who have an injury worry over striker Lionel Messi, represent the other main hope from Latin America.
Along with the hosts, Europe's main challengers are England, Italy, France and Netherlands.
England's plans have been hampered by a foot injury to their most dangerous player, striker Wayne Rooney, but without him they still managed to put six goals past Jamaica in their final warm-up match.
Marcello Lippi's Italy have not been helped by a scandal caused by a match-fixing investigation in their domestic league.
On the field, the Italians have been below their best in two friendly draws against Switzerland and Ukraine.
France have plenty of experience although there are concerns about the form of midfielder Zinedine Zidane, the hero of their 1998 win who will retire after the tournament.
Netherlands shone in qualification but experienced the negative side of pre-World Cup friendly games when they had three players, Philip Cocu, Wesley Sneijder and Giovanni van Bronckhorst, injured in yesterday's 1-1 draw with Australia.
The first round of games, in eight groups of four countries, offers a chance for the less fancied teams to pit themselves against the giants and usually produces the most entertaining football before the caution of the knockout stage sets in.
Probably the tightest contest will be in Group C which brings together Netherlands, Argentina, Serbia and Montenegro and Ivory Coast.
The Ivorians, Trinidad and Tobago, Angola, Ghana, Togo and Ukraine are making their first appearances in the finals.