Six story lines to follow

Open wide for some soccer
By MITCH KRPATA  |  June 12, 2006

Watch the video for "Don't Mention the World Cup" by clicking on the screenshot
Germany: don't mention our horrible past
Germany has strict laws against untoward references to Nazis and World War II. In particular, English fans have been admonished to drop their German-baiting chant “Two world wars and one World Cup,” and warned that goose-stepping and fascist salutes are arrestable offenses. (In response, John Cleese has recorded a song called “Don’t Mention the World Cup”; it’s available online at A Dutch company apparently didn’t get the memo, and is selling thousands of orange helmets resembling those worn by German soldiers in World War II. On the other hand, German industry has been scurrying to construct as many brothels as possible to service millions of football tourists. And while German organizers don’t want to allow Iranian President Ahmadinejad into the country to watch his team play, they admit that telling him so to his face would be rude.

The best player in the world
Ronaldinho, the two-time FIFA World Player of the Year, looks a lot like Goofy. As part of Brazil’s champion squad in 2002, he delivered one of that tournament’s most memorable goals — a free kick against England from 40 yards out. He was also instrumental in FC Barcelona’s 2006 double: the Spanish League Championship and Champions League title. Many consider him the world’s best player. But for my money, his biggest achievement has been to star in a syndicated comic strip about his life called Ronaldinho Gaucho. It isn’t running in American newspapers yet, but it would be a lot more welcome on the comics pages than Mallard Fillmore.

Can the US win it all?
It ain’t gonna be easy. The US is in the second-toughest group, facing the Czech Republic, Italy, and Ghana. The Czech Republic is the number-two-ranked team in the world, but its defense is aging, and striker Jan Koller is attempting to come back from a knee injury. Many of the Italian stars have recently been implicated in a match-fixing scandal involving top Italian club Juventus, and star Francesco Totti is coming off an injury. Then there’s Ghana, who like it rough. That’s the good news. Even if the USA places second in the group, its likely opponent in round 16 will be Brazil. This means that if the United States hopes to win, it may need to pray.

Come on, England!
England is widely considered to be fielding its best squad since its 1966 triumph. It boasts a physical back line, its first competent goalkeeper in decades (sorry, David “Calamity” James), and two of the premiership’s best midfielders (Stephen Gerrard and Frank Lampard). Plus, its members sport the tournament’s best hair, thanks to global superstar David Beckham. But injuries could kill them. Michael Owen, who starred in the 1998 World Cup, is fully fit but has struggled to regain his form since coming back from an injury. And 20-year-old phenom Wayne Rooney is hoping to recover from a broken bone in his foot in time for the quarterfinals. Without either forward playing at his peak, England’s chances look bleak. On the other hand, after 6’7” striker Peter Crouch danced “the Robot” to celebrate a goal in a recent friendly match, it wouldn’t be the worst thing if he started up top.

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Related: Blood, sweat, and jeers, China, Tibet, and the Olympics, Interview: James Toback, More more >
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