The next World Cup champion will be crowned on July 9, 2006, in Berlin. But many soccer fans around the globe feel as though their World Cup fate was sealed yesterday in Leipzig, Germany, when the 32 participating teams were placed into eight four-team groups in an over-the-top, internationally televised spectacle.
If your favorite team gets a tough draw -- as the United States certainly did, matched with powerhouses from Italy and the Czech Republic -- you may as well write off title hopes now. If your team draws weak opponents -- as Mexico and Spain did -- the championship trophy (left) looks quite attainable.
Yesterday's draw not only determined first-round opponents but also lined up the teams for the round of 16 and beyond. For instance, the Group A champion will play the Group B runner-up in the round of 16 on June 24 in Munich. That matchup very well could be Germany vs. England, one of soccer's best rivalries. If either team were to lose at that stage, their fans would label the 2006 World Cup a failure.
If it seems too early to be talking about the 2006 Cup ending in failure for some teams, well, you haven't followed the World Cup for very long . . .