Even the tourney draw attracts plenty of attention, celebrities

Thursday, December 8, 2005

LEIPZIG, Germany -- The soccer greats are here. The coaches are arriving. Supermodel Heidi Klum is in place.

Everything is almost ready for Friday's World Cup draw.

Such is the buzz for the next summer's soccer showcase that there are nowhere near enough tickets to go around and every tidbit about the organization suddenly becomes big news.

"As soon as a door starts squeaking, people blame it on the World Cup," said Franz Beckenbauer, president of the organizing committee.

He complained Wednesday after stories about faulty stadium construction, the threat of hooliganism and elaborate ticketing hit the headlines over the past few days.

Beckenbauer, fondly called the "Kaiser," knows all about the importance of the draw. He won the World Cup as a player in 1974 and as a coach in 1990.

The German media already is looking ahead to the possibility of drawing perennial rival the Netherlands in the opening round. The Dutch were left out of the top-eight seeds for the draw in the 32-team field.

Endless possibilities already are being debated around the world. In Portuguese-speaking countries, there is the prospect of three linguistic brethren in one group -- Brazil, Portugal and Angola.

The Dutch have four coaches in the tournament: Marco van Basten of the Netherlands, Guus Hiddink of Australia, Dick Advocaat of South Korea and Leo Beenhakker of Trinidad and Tobago.

FIFA expects 350 million viewers to tune in to the ceremony Friday evening at the 4,000-capacity glass hall at the Leipzig Messe.

Whatever happens on Friday, Brazil will emerge as a heavy favorite to win its sixth title.

Even Beckenbauer acknowledges that.

"My top favorite is Brazil," he said. "Brazil played a very impressive Confederations Cup and if they can repeat that performance they will be very difficult to beat."

Germany, Italy, Argentina and England will be among the top contenders as usual, Beckenbauer, said.

The tournament kicks off June 9 in Munich and ends July 9 in Berlin.

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