Stars arrive for World Cup draw

Millions of people have seen what Pele, Johan Cruyff and Roger Milla can do with a soccer ball at their feet. On Friday, everyone will get a chance to see what the three soccer greats will do with World Cup draw balls in their hands. An estimated TV audience of 350 million around the world was expected to tune in to see the three former players split the 32 World Cup finalists into eight groups of four in a lavish ceremony at an exhibition hall on the outskirts of Leipzig.

Although the championship doesn't start until June 9, the tension was mounting ahead of the draw as hundreds of media arrived at the Messe to cover an event which will have a big impact on who collects the trophy on July 9. Defending champion Brazil is the favorite, but coach Carlos Alberto Parreira is hoping that his star-studded team avoids any tough opponents in its group.

"We will hope that not-so-strong adversaries are drawn to Brazil's group," he said. "It would be good to avoid what happened to Argentina and France in 2002." Argentina and France, the 1998 champion, both were eliminated in the first round at the last World Cup in South Korea and Japan. Even with Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Adriano, Kaka, Roberto Carlos and Robinho in his lineup, Parreira fears a tough draw.

Argentina is hoping to rebound. "We cannot allow that to happen again," 18-year-old FC Barcelona forward Lionel Messi said. "I am sure Argentina has a very strong team and the players have the will to win the title. We have a team that is really strong. We would like to avoid playing against one of those strong teams in the first round."

The biggest fear is the Netherlands. The talented but unpredictable Dutch team was not ranked among the top eight seeded teams, Brazil, host Germany, Argentina, England, France, Italy, Mexico and Spain. The Netherlands is grouped in the draw with seven other European teams, so it could easily draw Brazil as a first-round opponent. Because of the way the teams have been separated, there's the possibility of a tough draw, such as Brazil, Netherlands, Australia and Serbia-Montenegro.

The Serbs, the lowest ranked of the 14 European teams, have been given a special pot so they will avoid going into a group with two other teams from their confederation. That means it must play against either Brazil, Argentina or Mexico in the first round. A comparatively easy group would be Mexico, Togo, Switzerland and Saudi Arabia.

The United States, playing in the World Cup for the fifth time in a row and a quarterfinalist three years ago, will be kept apart from its CONCACAF neighbors Costa Rica and Trinidad and Tobago, and also can't be drawn to face seeded Mexico. Also in its pot are the four Asian teams, Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia and South Korea.

The audience Friday night will include sports personalities such as Franz Beckenbauer and tennis star Boris Becker, while model Heidi Klum is due to be on stage to act as the host. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Horst Koehler are also due to attend, reports the AP. N.U.

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