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 May 8, 2002 | 1045 IST

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Beautiful game ready to
take centre stage

Football is the game the world plays, a sport so easy to understand and simple to play and yet so hard to perfect.

That, according to soccer's ruling body FIFA, is why every four years the world holds its breath as teams from round the globe strive to win the World Cup.

One in four people across the globe will watch the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan, when 32 countries will take part in 64 matches with the simple aim of trying to score more goals than their opponents.

But there are many more reasons why soccer is played by more than 200 million people throughout the world.

The quest for goals has brought together people of all classes and backgrounds, as football transcends racial, religious, cultural and economic boundaries.

Diego Maradona English and German soldiers put down their weapons in World War One to play football together in no-man's land at Christmas 1914, while fighting stopped in Lebanon's civil war during the 1990 World Cup in Italy as rival gunmen laid aside their arms to watch the matches on television.

Football thrives in poverty, with some of the most famous players in history -- among them Pele, Diego Maradona and Zinedine Zidane -- emerging from some of the poorest parts of Brazil, Argentina and France.


Although games resembling football have been played for centuries, going back to Greek and Roman times, the modern sport was born in Britain in the latter half of the 20th century.

The Football Association (FA) in London drew up a set of rules in 1863 before helping to spread the game during a period of industrial revolution in the country.

With the rural population moving into the cities, people needed entertainment and football was there to provide it.

Because Britain was an imperial power whose influence was increasing throughout the world, tradesmen moved to other countries which were seeking to develop their industries. So football spread throughout Europe and to South America, the two continents that have dominated World Cup history.

FIFA was formed in 1904 in recognition of the influence the game was having around the world and there are now 205 countries affiliated to the ruling body.

The World Cup is taking place in Asia for the first time this year, with the 32 teams travelling to Japan and South Korea including Brazil, Germany and Italy, the most successful countries in the tournament's history.

Brazil have appeared in each of the 16 World Cups since the first in Uruguay in 1930, lifting the coveted trophy four times, most recently in 1994.

Germany and Italy have won the World Cup three times each, with Argentina, England and France the only other successful nations.

But winning the tournament is not the only thing that matters. For the lesser nations, taking part is just as important.

As Senegal, China, Ecuador and Slovenia prepare to make their debuts in the world's biggest sporting event at the end of this month, the beautiful game will once again take centre stage.

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