World Cup Countdown: A feast of football

PUBLISHED: 16:18 01 June 2006 | UPDATED: 13:30 04 May 2010

THE waiting is almost over for football fans around the world. In just three weeks, 32 teams from across the globe will compete in the 18th World Cup, a 64-match, month-long fantasy football extravaganza. It s been four years since South Korea and Japan j

THE waiting is almost over for football fans around the world. In just three weeks, 32 teams from across the globe will compete in the 18th World Cup, a 64-match, month-long fantasy football extravaganza.

It's been four years since South Korea and Japan jointly hosted the last tournament, which saw two of the most successful countries in footballing history, Germany and Brazil, reach the final yet again.

Golden Boot winner Ronaldo scored both goals as the brilliant Brazilians won 2-0 to lift the World Cup a record fifth time.

Thirty-two years after West Germany hosted the event, a united Germany will stage the soccer extravaganza and the competition will set foot in the former East Germany for the first time.

Once again, the boys from Brazil, led by the world's greatest talent, Ronaldinho, are favourites to successfully defend their title with Samba style and panache.

But they will have to face the challenge of the world's very best sides and six of the seven previous champions will have another crack at winning football's greatest prize of all.

Only inaugural World Cup winners Uruguay will miss out on the party after their play-off defeat to Australia's Socceroos.

England, Italy, France and the hosts themselves will head the European challenge, while 1978 and 1986 winners Argentina will be looking to topple their South American neighbours Brazil.

Eight new names are in the mix, with the African quartet of Togo, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Angola all making their World Cup debuts.

In an encouraging draw, England will face Sweden, newcomers Trinidad and Tobago and Paraguay in the group stages.

The injury to Wayne Rooney is a major blow for Sven Goran Eriksson's team but can England give their manager the ultimate leaving present and repeat the achievements of 1966?

Big guns Argentina and Holland have been grouped together in one of the hardest pools alongside Serbia and Ivory Coast.

And if you think that's tough, Italy, Czech Republic, USA and Ghana are all in Group E - the obligatory "Group of Death".

But all players, whether new boys or seasoned World Cup campaigners, will be making their final preparations to play on the world's biggest stage and take their place in World Cup history.

The action kicks off in Munich on June 9, when the hosts will face Costa Rica and the tournament will come to a close in Berlin's Olympiastadion a one month later.

This special supplement will guide you through all 32 nations, group by group, look at England's chances of repeating their glorious victory 40 years ago and give you the opportunity to win great prizes.

So sit back and get ready for a feast of football.

It won't come around again for another four years!

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