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From the 9th of June to the 9th of July, the excitement and fan frenzy builds to a deafening crescendo. Soccer fanatics are on high alert. It is time to defend to no end the pride of Region and Country. This is big. No, it's bigger than big. Considering the fact that soccer is the most popular sport in the world today, it is no jaw-dropping surprise that Soccer's World Cup is actually the largest sporting event on the planet. Based on sheer numbers, fan attendance, television ratings, number of viewers, travel revenue, ticket sales and media coverage; there is no sporting event that even comes close to this one. If you take the NCAA Basketball Tournament, the World Series, the Super Bowl and the Olympics and add them all together, it would still not be as big as the World Cup! Three and a half billion people will be watching this tournament unfold in at least a dozen locations in Germany in 2006. Strangely enough, the past World Cup events have been all but ignored in the United States. This is rapidly changing as Americans get more familiar with this action-packed sport. The Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) was established in 1904 and they are the ultimate authority when it comes to anything that has to do with International Soccer. For those of you that don't know, the United States is the only Country in the world that calls this sport "soccer". Every other Country calls it "football". The FIFA is, of course, overseeing the qualifying of teams into the World Cup Tournament. This is an extremely lengthy and complicated process that is several years in the making. The process of a team qualifying is too complicated and lengthy to go into here, but suffice it to say that the teams that make the cut are well qualified. Individual team statistics considered for the qualifying starts two years before the World Cup begins. For this year, the host country team, in this case Germany, gets in automatically, as does the reigning Cup holder from four years prior, in this case Brazil. The rest of the field is chosen from 150 possible candidates spread out all over the globe. The FIFA analyzes endless streams of data from the two years of competition leading up to this prestigious event. They eventually whittle the field down to 32 teams. These 32 well represent not only the best soccer teams from around the world, but the will represent the regions of the world.
Certainly, no other sport unifies and assembles so many different cultures from each of the 7 continents. But it also can cause friction and even violence between some fanatical groups. Soccer fans are among the most passionate (and expressive) of any sports spectator group and needless to say; security considerations are always very high as an explosive situation could arrive at any given time. This is true even in the early rounds of the competition. Heck, this is even true in the pre-competition games known as the "International Friendlies" matches, which start up early in March. These games are held all over the world and include more practice and a chance for teams to "feel out" their potential competition. They work on their conditioning and strategy more than anything else. Nevertheless, the competition is very fierce. There doesn't seem to be anything "friendly" about this phase of the World Cup. It is indeed taken very seriously. Getting respect from opponents in the pre-competition match-ups can be a huge psychological edge going in. Some luck is involved in the final groupings. The top 8 teams are separated as #1 seeds for groups A through H. Germany and Brazil get their free pass as top seeds and the rest are drawn at random from a bowl. So the draw is now set and in order of their group seeding, they look like this: Group A; Germany, Costa Rica, Poland, Ecuador Group B; England, Paraguay, Trinidad-Tobago, Sweden Group C; Argentina, Ivory Coast, Serbia-Montenegro, Netherlands Group D; Mexico, Iran, Angola, Portugal Group E; Italy, Ghana, United States, Czech Republic Group F; Brazil, Croatia, Australia, Japan Group G; France, Switzerland, South Korea, Togo Group H; Spain, Ukraine, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia SOURCE: The official site for the 2006 FIFA World Cup(tm) Germany Keep in mind, only one team emerges victorious from each group when we get to the final eight. The teams that have to be the most hopeful with their draws are England, Mexico, France and Spain. Although the Sweden draw for England historically has been a problem, England is looking forward to putting to rest the thousands of critics that will remind us all that Sweden has not lost to England in 37 years. Beyond that, there is little hope for Paraguay and Trinidad-Tobago. The two toughest groups to predict a winner out of is obviously Group A, Group E and possibly Group C. In Group A, Germany is, indeed a tough opponent and they are on their home turf, which makes them tougher than usual. However, Costa Rica, Ecuador and especially Poland have a legitimate shot at the final. In Group E, the Italians are good, but overall this group has parody. The United States has as good a shot as anyone coming out of this division, but all four of these teams are evenly matched. For good measure, the two toughest powerhouse entities in a single group are Argentina and the Netherlands out of Group C. One of these two will no doubt emerge victorious. The best bets in the win market are Brazil (odds to win it all ~ 3/1), England (~ 6/1), Germany and Argentina (~ 8/1), Italy (~9/1), France (~10/1), Holland (Netherlands) (~ 12/1) and Spain (~13/1). The odds are changing every few minutes so consult your favorite sportsbook for up-to-date numbers. If you feel like the soccer universe is about to be turned on it's head, bet on Trinidad-Tobago (~1000/1). The best long-shots may be placed near the middle of the field by the odds-makers: Portugal (~22/1), Sweden and Mexico (~40/1) and the Ukraine (~50/1). There are many other ways to wager on this epic event including final pair, most goals and continent of winner. You could also look to fatten up your wallet with fairly good odds on the elimination stage, single match, team qualifying and which two teams will reach the final game. Of the 32 outstanding teams representing regions from all over the globe, only one will stand on the podium with cup in hand. Come July 9th, 31 of the competing countries at the World Cup will experience a range of emotions from mild disappointment to broken hearts. However, one region, one country and one aspiring championship team will experience the elation of overcoming incredible adversity to win, what some would call the greatest sporting event on the planet; The 2006 FIFA World Cup. To read about orchid facts and orange facts, visit the Knowledge Bin site.