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There are less than two weeks remaining until “it” starts. The 2002 FIFA World Cup in Japan & South Korea is being highly anticipated by everyone from the most fervent supporters to the more modest fans to those that only watch soccer during the World Cup. Sometimes I have felt as though the build-up to the World’s largest sporting event is just as exciting as the tournament itself. There seems to be so many stories ranging from the big front pagers to the little blips about how Tunisia has not scored a goal in seven friendlies. Truth be told, there is no shortage of news or stories as we approach any World Cup especially the coming World Cup. The stories and news are such that many fans are glued to their television sets, newspapers, and Internet way before the World Cup even begins.

Of the big stories this year, there has been none bigger perhaps than the broken foot of David Beckham. The Manchester United and England star broke his foot in a Champions’ League quarter-final home leg against Deportivo La Coruna in mid-April. Many in England believed that Beckham’s broken foot meant broken dreams in terms of England’s World Cup chances. The story reached such high proportions that Beckham’s foot was pictured on the front page of the Daily Mail. The headline prompted fans to pray that the English star’s foot heals in time for the World Cup. This story also prompted debates as to the importance of Beckham in the England squad. Many believed that without the captain who showed tremendous spirit and leadership in qualifying (specifically the performance against Greece, which sent England through to the Finals) England was surely doomed and would have no way out of the “Group of Death”. Others believed that Beckham was simply another player and that England would still do well because they have so many stars at their disposal.

What would a World Cup be like without stories from Brazil? There was much to talk about in Brazil as the country endured a tumultuous qualifying run where they lost six times and barely qualified from CONMEBOL as the fourth place team on the final qualifying day. The biggest story to come out of Brazil was whether Brazilian World Cup veteran Romario should be given a call-up to the national squad for the World Cup Finals. The fans in Brazil overwhelmingly thought so, coming to the point where protests were held. Luis Felipe Scolari the Brazilian head coach had other thoughts, however. Despite the public outcry (murals were painted in sections of Brazil showing Romario and Scolari arm-wrestling and fans even physically pushed Scolari in a city square), the support for Romario from the head of the Brazilian Soccer Federation, Ricardo Texeira, and Romario’s own sparkling form for club Flamengo and his desire to play for the national team, Scolari did not succumb and left Romario out of the Brazil side when he named the squad in May.

These are but two of the biggest stories in the run-up to the Finals.

If one then decides to look at the injuries affecting teams at the Cup (this year it is a lengthy list including Rivaldo - probable, Batistuta - probable, Pires - out, Nowotny - out, Beckham - probable, Suarez - out, Karembeu - out), the players that were omitted from their squads (Romario, Baggio, Jardel, Riquelme, Saviola, Anelka, Nakayama, and Blomqvist) and the smaller stories such as Cameroon’s use of a witch doctor, and the absence of 1998 semi-finalist and perennial contender Holland, then it is quite easy to see why the World Cup is so exciting.

Stories come from around the world about everything imaginable. The unbelievable thing about it is that it hasn’t even started yet. All this without a kick of the ball. It's kind of like a worldly soap opera, where every storyline is followed closely by people all over the world. The excitement generated by this event is simply unmatched. The stories and memories that come out of the World Cup will be even greater than everything that happened in the pre-World Cup stage. I, for one can’t wait a second more. Whenever the World Cup comes around I think of Italia 1990. It was my first real World Cup. I’ll never forget making a trip to Greece that summer and playing soccer with all the kids in my village. We all wanted to be like Toto Schillaci. Every penalty we took we made pretend we were Andreas Broehme. Every save we made we were Goyocochea. It was so exciting and it remains so. Who will be the heroes this time? We soon shall see. Let the heroes and stories take their places - less than two weeks left!