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You've Got Questions. We've Got the Answers.

 Say, what's Pele up to these days? (Reuters)
The Washington Post
Friday, May 31, 2001; Page H2

1. What is the World Cup?
The world soccer championship is played every four years. More than a billion people reportedly watched France beat Brazil in the 1998 final. Almost 2.8 million attended games in France in 1998.

2. What are FIFA and CONCACAF, and is there a vaccine?
The Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) is soccer's worldwide governing body. The Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) is a part of FIFA and is the region in which the U.S. competes. There are five other confederations with names like CAF and CONMEBOL, but there are no vaccines for any of them.

3. Who gets to play in the World Cup?
Everybody. If your country, territory or protectorate has a soccer federation, you're eligible. Unfortunately, when minnows like American Samoa meet big countries like Australia, the result is 23-0. One hundred ninety-four countries and territories started the qualification process three years in advance. The U.S. began qualifying in 2000 and played 16 matches. In all, it took 777 matches around the world to pick the final 29 teams to go with champion France and co-hosts Japan and South Korea.

4. Who has won the most times?
Brazil has won four times and lost in two other finals (one loss was at home to hated neighbor Uruguay in 1950). Italy and Germany are tied for second with three wins. No country from Asia, Africa or North America has won.

5. Why are two countries the hosts?
The easy answer is that FIFA wanted the competition in Asia. Both Japan and South Korea stepped forward, so a joint bid was arranged in an attempt to foster goodwill and thaw relations between them. Along the way there has been much bickering and infighting between the two hosts, all the way down to whose name would appear first on game tickets.

6. If I'm watching at home, will I have hooligans in my living room? Only if you invite them. Hooligans, the violent uberfans who follow the English, German and other teams abroad, will probably have a hard time getting to the Far East because of the expense. If they do make it, they'll have to worry about Korean and Japanese police forces that, as one British newspaper put it, "swing their clubs first and then ask questions."

7. What is a Sepp Blatter and what does it do?
A Sepp Blatter is not a "Star Wars" character. He is the president of FIFA and has come under significant criticism over the past two years for the state of soccer's finances.

8. Why doesn't the U.S. dominate soccer like it does most other sports?
Imagine if an athlete like Micheal Jordan played midfield instead of shooting guard. Or if Shaq were a goalkeeper instead of a center. The best athletes in the U.S. play other sports; most of the best athletes in other countries play soccer.
9. I hear all this talk about people getting capped. Is that a "Sopranos" thing?
No, caps signify the number of games played for a national team. When people say Cobi Jones has 155 caps, they're not saying he has a lot of hats, they're saying he's played a lot of games. Bada Bing!

10. I'm really eager to see some "total football" when the Netherlands plays. When do the Dutch open?
May 31, 2006. Maybe. Ranked 11th in the world and with a roster full of club all-stars, the Dutch are the great washout story. They failed to qualify from a group that included Portugal and Ireland. Other powers who will miss out: Colombia, Yugoslavia and the Czech Republic.

11. Are Nicky Butt and Jorge Heindrich Butt related?
No. One plays for England, and the other for Germany. There are no other Butts in the tournament. Well, none by that name.

12. Who is Diego Maradona and does he still play?
The little playmaker from Argentina last played in the 1994 World Cup. He created a famous goal when he used his hand to score in the 1986 quarterfinals against England (where his name is still a curse word). When asked about it after the match he replied, "maybe it was a little bit of Maradona, a little bit the Hand of God."

13. I've actually heard of Pele. What's he up to these days?
Shilling for MasterCard, mostly. He is a goodwill ambassador for FIFA and appears at soccer events around the globe. In addition to receiving an honorary knighthood in England and being named to soccer halls of fame around the world, he served as special secretary for sports in Brazil. Extra credit: What is Pele's real name? Answer at the bottom.

14. What's bigger, the attendence at the 1950 final in Rio de Janeiro or the population of the greater Laredo, Tex., metropolitan area?
About the same. According to 2000 Census figures, Laredo clocks in at 193,117, while more than 200,000 crammed into the legendary Maracana Stadium in 1950. Not surprisingly, it was the largest number of people to ever watch a soccer match. And some are still stuck in traffic.

15. When the revolution comes, will Jose Chilavert be leading it?
Yes. Paraguay's goalkeeper and most flamboyant figure is an avowed Marxist. He has gotten into trouble in his native country for calling the congress "leeches and parasites." Before a qualifier against Brazil, he said the Brazilian government should return territory taken from Paraguay in the 19th century. His temper got him booted from another qualifier against Brazil and he'll have to sit out Paraguay's first game.

16. If Ireland is doing well, who'll be minding the store?
Almost nobody. When the Irish made the quarterfinals in 1990, the broadcast was watched by 90 percent of the country. Yes, 90 percent.

17. What's an Indomitable Lion and is it anything like a Yeti?
No, that would be an Abominable Lion. The Indomitable Lions is the nickname for Cameroon. Other cool nicknames include Costa Rica's "Ticos," South Africa's "Bafana Bafana," England's "Three Lions" and Nigeria's "Super Eagles." In a contest last year, the best the U.S. could come up with was "The Yanks." Don't expect America to win until they come up with something better.

18. Who's going to win?
If it's not France or Argentina, color us surprised. If you had to pick a couple of darkhorses, you could do worse than Sweden and Cameroon. The Italians, though jinxed by Sports Illustrated, will be tough again. The World Cup is not usually a place for underdogs.

(Answer: Edson Arantes do Nascimento. Priceless.)

© Copyright 2002 The Washington Post Company

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