Friday, March 24, 2006

Rooney in touching distance of glory

Wayne Rooney was a picture of restraint. There, just inches away, was the World Cup - the real one, not a fake, and the man who would be king of England resisted the temptation to lift it aloft in preparation for July 9.

The famous trophy arrived from Paris on Tuesday and left London last night for Zurich. The two-day stop in London - the first time this World Cup has been in this country - was part of Fifa's tour of 31 cities in 29 countries and Rooney was paraded alongside it.

But Rooney barely gave it a glance - not a touch, a pat or a promise to see it again in four months' time. "It's bigger than I thought it was," he said of the 14½ inch, 13.61lb 18-carat trophy. "It's the biggest tournament in the world and hopefully I'll pick it up then. Then is the time to pick it up. Only the winners should touch it, everybody else should just leave it alone."

Whether it was plain old superstition or the fact that a dozen security staff were watching the trophy's every move that Rooney kept his hands in his pocket was unsure.

Emmanuel Maradas, the man appointed to accompany the trophy on the tour, admitted: "The trophy is very carefully looked after and gets its own seat on the plane - in business class."

While Maradas watched the proceedings carefully, Rooney was in humorous form on the banks of the Thames yesterday. Interviewed by the BBC, Rooney said: "I'm getting excited with the build-up and I think we have a good enough squad and to be honest we'll be disappointed if we don't bring it back."

Rooney recalled that his first memory of the World Cup was as recent as 1998. The 20-year-old said: "I was 12 and watching the England-Argentina game at my nan's. It was disappointing that we went out on penalties but after the game I went out into the street and pretended to be Michael Owen."

Now Rooney will line up alongside Owen and he added: "At the age of 12 I was just a young lad but I wanted to become a professional football but I didn't think it would come too soon."

Rooney then spoke about his private life and admitted he had 'done a Gazza' recently and cried. Not at a game, but with his girlfriend Colleen McLoughlin while watching the film Cinderella Man.

The Russell Crowe movie tells the story of James Braddock, a supposedly washed-up boxer who came back to become a champion and an inspiration in the 1930s, and Rooney admitted he cried his eyes out.

"I watched Cinderella Man with my girlfriend and there were a few tissues coming out at the end," he said. "I'm the same as everyone else."

Then he talked about his musical tastes - the Stereophonics are his favourites, followed closely by Oasis and U2 - and disclosed that, on long, lonely trips away with England he has become the king of the pool table.

The event was organised by Coca-Cola and the audience was made up of competition winners, all of whom were allowed to have their picture taken alongside Rooney and the World Cup trophy.

Rooney delighted the 500-strong gathering when he added: "I want to go out, try to express myself and do well for the country."

And then, that solid 18-carat gold trophy may see some more tears from Rooney.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

2006 FIFA World Cup First details on the next soccer game hitting the Nintendo DS.

It's only been a couple of weeks since the release of FIFA Street 2 on the Nintendo DS, and Electronic Arts is already preparing the next soccer game for the dual screen handheld. 2006 FIFA World Cup is heading to the portable, and we've got the first screenshots and details.

The game is clearly based upon FIFA Soccer 06 released last year, which was our winner for the Best DS Sports Game last year. The World Cup follow up releasing next month promises all that and more, including many new features in the game's presentation. The DS version will feature full commentary during the matches, as well as a user-controllable 3D instant replay camera. The DS game will also feature several modes of play, including the World Cup Competition where you'll control one of the 32 teams vying for the award. And because this is the World Cup, the game will feature the real German World Cup stadiums, complete with the real crowd chants and true player line-up that take to the pitch.

The portable rendition will support two player wireless through the multi-cart multiplayer function - hopefully the single cartridge multiplayer mode from last year's game hasn't been axed.

Check out the first screens below. We'll have more on the game as we get closer to its April release date.

Setanta nets World Cup language rights

Setanta Sports, the US pay-TV network dedicated to European soccer and rugby, has acquired a package of secondary-language TV rights for the US airing of the 2006 FIFA World Cup.

Among the foreign-language rights awarded to Setanta Sports are German, Italian, Polish and French, as well as languages from the Far and Middle East.

[SB alchemy 6] From June, Setanta will air all 64 matches from the soccer tournament, starting with the live kick-off on June 9 in Munich between Germany and Costa Rica. Additional scheduling of World Cup games, and the network's Road to the 2006 FIFA World Cup programming line-up, will be announced shortly.

"We are extremely excited to be able to bring these games live to the millions of fans of European extraction living in the US," said Simon Green, chief executive of Setanta Sports North America. "Around the world, the World Cup is the most prestigious and most-watched single sports event in the world."

Oliver Seibert, an executive director with Infront, the company that handles distribution of the FIFA games, said: "The agreement with Setanta enables a huge number of expatriates and ethnic groups in the US to enjoy the FIFA World Cup in their native language and it reflects perfectly our idea of an open market distribution policy."

Saturday, March 18, 2006

WORLD CUP 2006: Trophy shines in Sydney sun

Australia said 'G'day' to football's greatest prize as the country's largest metropolis, Sydney, became the latest stop on the FIFA World Cup™ Trophy Tour on Friday.

Within a couple of hours of landing Down Under, the world's most sought-after sporting prize was on display at the International Passenger Terminal on Sydney harbour, within a stone's throw of the city's iconic Opera House and Harbour Bridge.

Sydney is a city very much gripped by football fever having been the venue for Australia's play-off victory over Uruguay that secured their long-awaited qualification for the FIFA World Cup. Just a fortnight ago, meanwhile, the local club Sydney FC were proclaimed football champions of the world's largest island nation, winning the inaugural Hyundai A-League in front a capacity crowd.

It was a bigger prize that was on the minds of Australian football fans at the International Passenger Terminal, however, as they queued for the opportunity to have their photograph taken with the sporting world's most recognisable Trophy.

A large media contingent was also in attendance to see the unveiling of the Trophy for the first time ever in Australia. The dignitaries attending the event included Football Federation Australia (FFA) chairman Frank Lowy, FFA chief executive John O'Neill, New South Wales premier Morris Iemma, Australia's most capped player Alex Tobin, Socceroos assistant coach Graham Arnold and FIFA representative Emmanuel Maradas.

FFA chairman Lowy thanked FIFA for including Australia on its Trophy Tour itinerary and made it clear that the Socceroos would not just be going to Germany to make up the numbers, even if winning the FIFA World Cup was a lot to expect. "This is a very important day for us in that we have been recognised by FIFA to show everyone the Trophy that we are going to fight for," he said.

Celebration of football
Only once before have Australia appeared on football's biggest stage, with Germany also the venue on that previous occasion in 1974. A 32-year wait is a long one for a nation that prides itself on sporting success and it seems the locals are making the most of their national team's breakthrough success.

With all things football having been splashed across the newspapers in Australia in recent months, organisers decided to limit viewing of the trophy to 3,000 in order to avoid lengthy queues and overcrowding.

The competition winners were treated to a carnival atmosphere with numerous activities available to the lucky entrants. Some chose to try their luck at recording the fastest kick in a special competition established by organisers Coca-Cola, others mingled with players from Hyundai A-League club Central Coast Mariners and representatives of the Australian women's national team, otherwise known as the Matildas.

There were video presentations featuring the Socceroos talking about their experiences on the road to Germany, while many visitors took up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to 'join the national team' by having their own photograph digitally inserted into a picture of the Australia team. Finally, they got to the event's centrepiece and the chance to rub shoulders with the newly renovated FIFA World Cup Trophy.

Many supporters had begun queuing some time before doors opened and the wait was worthwhile if the jovial atmosphere was any indication. Others had travelled long distances to see the Trophy on what was a typically perfect autumn day in Sydney.

"It is a long day out for me but being a football fanatic the trip was certainly worthwhile to see the ultimate prize in world sport," said Sam Abell who had made the five-hour round trip from Newcastle to attend.

And some fans such as Stuart Veitch had even greater ambitions for Australian interaction with the Trophy. "It is great to see Australians having the chance to get up close and personal with the World Cup," he said, "but it will be even better if (national captain) Mark Viduka is doing likewise come July in Berlin."

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

World Cup trophy makes historical debut in China

There could have been no more fitting a place for Beijing to stage its grand welcome of the FIFA World Cup? Trophy on Tuesday than the China Millennium Monument.

The monument, built in the west of the capital in 2000 to mark the arrival of the new millennium, was one of the places where people congregated to celebrate Beijing's successful bid to host the 2008 Olympic Games on the memorable night of 13 July 2001 – among them the former president Jiang Zemin.

Some five years on and people flocked here again for another big sporting moment - the first visit to China of the authentic FIFA World Cup Trophy. "This is just the ideal place to stage the welcome to this iconic Trophy," said Coca-Cola China vice-president Brenda Lee.

For China national youth team coach Jia Xiuquan, one of the football luminaries present, the stopover in Beijing was a timely boost to football in the country after their national team missed out on the forthcoming FIFA World Cup in Germany.

"With the Trophy coming here, excitement about the new season is running high," the former Chinese international striker said. "In the opening round of the new season last weekend, we saw the stadiums close to full and a lot of closely fought matches, something to suggest a fruitful year in front of us. The visit of the Trophy will unquestionably encourage our players to work harder to reach their goal of going back to the World Cup."

The authenticity of the Trophy caused great excitement among members of the audience, many of whom remembered the FIFA World Cup being displayed here on the eve of France 98. Then it was a replica and FIFA spokesman Emmanuel Maradas confirmed that this was the first time the real Trophy had been displayed in China.

"This is the one that the Brazil team won in Yokohama four years ago and the one that the winning team will lift in Berlin on 9 July this year. It is a once-in-a-lifetime chance for any football lovers to see the crown of football within touching distance."

Huang Bowen, a China U19 defender, joined the large crowd queuing to view the Cup and have their photo taken with it. "As a little boy I watched the French team lift the Trophy after defeating Brazil in the Final at France 98. I can't believe I'm so close to it now."

As the Trophy was unveiled amid a flurry of flashbulbs and applause, Jia Xiuquan – whose playing days were back in the 1980s - recalled with a touch of regret: "I played in two qualifying competitions for the World Cup finals but we failed to make it on both occasions. I did play in the Asian Cup and Olympic football tournament so the World Cup was the one I missed out on.

If that was yesterday the China Football Association is looking to tomorrow and its vice-president Nan Young said at the press conference: "We worked hard for fully 50 years to get to the FIFA World Cup. Our efforts were rewarded when we booked our first-ever finals place at Korea/Japan 2002 but despite that breakthrough, we still have our work cut out as we are far behind the world powers."

Football journalist Fang Zhao spoke hopefully of the future when noting that the fact China had been chosen as one of the 29 countries on the Trophy Tour showed that FIFA recognised its huge potential. "We have arguably the world's largest group of football fans and consequently the biggest market so it won't be long before we develop enough to reach the top level."

Explaining FIFA's decision to include Beijing on the tour's itinerary, Emmanuel Maradas said: "We put Beijing on the list because China has made a huge contribution to football development as a FIFA member. In 1985 China hosted the inaugural FIFA U17 World Championship which was won by Nigeria. Its potential can't be underestimated as China is the world's most populous country and is in the process of rapid change in all areas."

Youngster Huang Bowen is hopeful that the development of Chinese football will only accelerate, and earned himself one of the biggest cheers of the day when he said: "I hope one day I can again be with the Trophy - but next time by winning it."

Eriksson bothered by injuries before World Cup

England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson says he is concerned about the fitness of three of his key players ahead of the World Cup finals ln Baden-Baden of Germany.

Arsenal defenders Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole, along with Newcastle United striker Michael Owen, are all certainties to go to Germany if fit, but none are currently available.

Eriksson told reporters on Wednesday that he had concerns aboutall of them hoped all of theme would be on the pitch very soon. Campbell, plagued by injury over the past year, made his latest comeback in a reserve match for his club on Tuesday but has not played first-team football since Feburary 1.

Cole has only played once since October due to a broken foot, thigh injury and twisted ankle and Owen has not played since breaking a bone in his foot on December 31.

Eriksson indicated he would announce a squad of 26 players on May 8, 23 certainties for the finals and three on stand by who will only travel if a team mate is forced to withdraw because of injury.