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Football 101: An Introduction To "The Beautiful Game". The FIFA World Cup
By STEVEN McMENEMY, MOP Squad Sports Soccer Editor
Jan 29, 2005, 15:14
For a summer month every four years a sports tournament is held that has the world watching in their billions. It's not the Olympic Games, as popular as that is it does not compare with the real 'daddy' of sports tournaments the FIFA World Cup.

The FIFA World Cup Trophy, the most coveted prize in world sport. Picture:

Quite simply the FIFA World Cup is the greatest soccer tournament on planet earth. For these four weeks the best players from all over the world come to represent their countries, rather than the clubs they play for.

There are 32 countries who take part in the tournament. 31 of these will have gained their place through a 2 year qualification process, while one country, the place where the tournament is held, qualify automatically as hosts.

In the qualification process for the main event the countries compete against each other in one of six continental zones. The zones are: African, Asian, European, Oceanian, South American and the North, Central American and Caribbean Zone.

In each zone teams are divided up into groups with a differing amount of World Cup qualifying places available,apparently dependant on the amount of national associations (countries) in each zone.

The current number of World Cup places available for each zone are as follows:

Asian Football Confederation (AFC): 44 national associations / 4.5 places.

African Football Confederation (CAF): 52 national associations / 5 places.

Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF): 35 national associations / 3.5 places.

South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL): 10 national associations / 4.5 places.

Oceania Football Confederation (OFC): 12 national associations / 0.5 places.

European Football Union (UEFA): 52 national associations / 13 places.

The German cities that will host games in the 2006 FIFA World Cup. *1. Hamburg *2. Hannover *3. Berlin *4. Gelsenkirchen *5. Dortmund *6. Leipzig *7. Koln *8. Frankfurt *9. Kaiserlautern *10 Nurenberg *11. Stuttgart *12. Munich. Map Available from:

You will notice that some zones have half a place, as silly as it looks it is explained quite easily. It means that one country from these zones that has just missed out on a place in the World Cup can still potentially qualify, by virtue of playing a home and away winner takes all play off with another country from a different zone who find themselves in a similar situation. Told you it was straightforward!

Eventually there are 32 teams who have qualified and they go on to take their place at the tournament. The teams are divided into 8 groups of four teams and they play each other once with a total of three games in the first stage. The top two teams from each group qualify for the next round of the competition, which is a knockout round with the winner progressing to the next stage. This process is repeated until two countries are left to contest the World Cup Final.

The 2006 FIFA World Cup takes place next summer in Germany. Under new laws the tournament will be played on a different continent every four years, with the next choice to be an African location in 2010.