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Feb 8, 2006

World Cup Correspondents

The teams have qualified, the venues are complete, the six figure sponsorship deals have been negotiated and the fixtures have been scheduled. But what about you? The fans who make the World Cup the global sensation that it is. Does anybody really care about you lot? Or is it just your money they want?

Well put down the tablets, step away from the edge and hang up the telephone on the Samaritans. Your saviours here at Soccernet have your well being in mind, as always, and we are offering you a slice of this summer's action... well, kind of.

• CORRESPONDENTS APPLY HERE

FIFA wouldn't allow the Soccernet five-a-side team to enter the qualifying stages for Germany 2006 so we can't offer you a place on the pitch, or even as manager, but we can offer you the chance to revel in your role as a football fan. And all this from the comfort of your armchair.

Following on from the success of our International Correspondents pages at Euro 2004 and World Cup 2002 Soccernet once again offers you the chance to spill your passion onto our internet pages. Call it a blog, call it a World Cup diary, call it Sarsipius Sulamanagey Jackson III if you like, but it won't change the fact you have the potential to reach over 15 million readers with your wise words and vitriolic rants on 'your boys' at this summer's tournament.

The Correspondents pages allow all you fanatics the opportunity to write about your country's journey in Germany. Our readers can follow your rollercoaster ride of emotions through post-match euphoria and dejection, then debate all the bias that comes with football.

Here are some examples from our Euro 2004 volunteers:

• Billy Blagg, England
• Emma Barbir, Croatia
• Matthias Krug, Germany

So if you think you have what it takes to put the actions and emotions of football's greatest tournament into words and want to volunteer for the job then click on the link below and apply for your chosen team.

• CORRESPONDENTS APPLY HERE

But wait! We hear you cry. The good for nothing players representing my country didn't qualify for the World Cup and I would love to be part of the unique opportunity that Soccernet has bestowed on the lucky few!

With our ingenious 'adopt a country' idea you can join the festivities. Select the team you would like to follow through the tournament and send in your application. Remember, you will be fighting for a starting place with applicants from those said countries so you are more likely to be successful adopting Togo rather than England.

To help you make up your mind here's short guide to all the teams that have qualified for the 2006 World Cup finals.

 Angola: The Angola FA has only been in existence since 1979 and have been members of FIFA for a mere 15 years. Angola competed in the qualifiers for the first time for the 1986 Finals so their qualification is not only one of the biggest upsets in African football history but also one of the biggest World Cup surprises of all time. It is the first trip to the finals for the 30-year-old nation.

 Argentina: Coach Jose Pekerman has won the Under-20 World Championship three times and has been given the task of proving himself with the senior team. Argentina were the first team to secure their place at Germany 2006, and are one of the favourites to add a third World Cup to their victories in 1978 and 1986, but they did not make it out of the group stages at Korea/Japan 2002.

 Australia : The Socceroos last qualified for the World Cup 32 years ago, when the tournament was also held in [West] Germany, and failed to score a single goal. Guus Hiddink's men will be hoping to do better as they represent the Oceania federation for the last time - Australia will jump ship to the Asian federation for more competitive football.

 Brazil: What can you say about the out and out favourites? Brazil have scored more goals than any other country in World Cup finals tournaments, netting 191 between 1930 and 2002; they have won the trophy 5 times, two more than their closest rivals and they go into the tournament as reigning World Champions, Copa America champions, Confederations Cup champions and with the World and European Player of the Year in their ranks.

 Costa Rica: Brazilian born coach Alexandre Guimaraes, who played for Costa Rica in 1990 and also coached them at Korea/Japan 2002, promises that the Ticos have learnt lessons from the last tournament and they will no longer be a 'naive fair-play team'. Guimaraes draws the majority of his players from three clubs; Herediano, Alajuelense and Saprissa so his players have a good understanding.

 Croatia: The squad might not be as strong as the one that finished third in their World Cup debut in 1998 but Croatia are still the strongest team to emerge from the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1991. Since declaring independence Croatia have qualified for five of six major tournaments. They made their debut in Euro'96 and after missing out at Euro 2000, they qualified for the 2002 World Cup and Euro 2004. However, their stars have waned and 'reaching the quarter-finals would be a great success'.

 Czech Republic: Despite being second in FIFA's World Ranking the Czechs were the 32nd and last nation to qualify for the Finals, but don't let that fool you. With 2003 European Player of the Year Pavel Nedved back to lead their challenge the Czechs are looking to build on the exciting performances of Euro 2004, where they lost to Greece in the semis, at their first World Cup as an independent nation. 'I believe we can win it,' Nedved said.

 Ecuador: Unless Germany is raised above sea level by about 2,000 metres then we can expect little from Ecuador, at least that's according to their critics. The country qualified third in the CONMEBOL region, behind Brazil and Argentina, but won seven of their nine home qualifiers and drew the other two at an altitude of 2,800 metres in Quito. On the road they lost six, drew two and won just one, also achieved at high altitude in La Paz in Bolivia.

 England: England are one of only seven teams to have won the World Cup - back in 1966 and on home turf - and 2006 represents the nation's best chance of reaching a major final since Bobby Moore's men triumphed. The majority of Sven Goran Eriksson's squad have experienced the 2002 World Cup, Euro 2004 and are reaching their peak for Germany 2006. Having said that, much will depend on the performances of boy wonder Wayne Rooney - England crashed out of the Euro's after he was injured.

 France: After triumphing on home soil in 1998 and lifting the title at Euro 2000 the overwhelming favourites for Korea/Japan 2002 crashed out of the competition at the first hurdle without a solitary goal. Les Bleus took stock but a shock quarter-final exit at Euro 2004 ended the reign of Jacques Santini. They have not lost under Raymond Domenech in 17 matches and the return of the old guard - Zinedine Zidane, Lilian Thuram and Claude Makelele - make them a real force.

 Germany: In one guise or another, Germany have been in seven World Cup finals, winning three times and losing four, including 2002. But the trademark ruthless efficiency that brought those successes has given way to a relentless attacking style to make up for obvious deficiencies in defence. While this has captured the imagination of the public the Germans have not beaten world class opposition since 2000 and manager Jurgen Klinsmann must do so to win on home soil - as they did in 1974.

 Ghana: The Black Stars have been African champions on four occasions but surprisingly have never come close to qualifying for the World Cup finals, despite trying since 1962. In recent times Ghana have choked at the final hurdle but this time with the likes of Chelsea's Michael Essien and Fenerbahce's Stephen Appiah in the ranks they qualified for the first time - at the expense of South Africa.

 Iran: Iran were Asia's sole representative at Argentina 1978 but had to wait until France 1998 before they graced the finals again - leaving their mark with a 2-1 win over political polar-opposites the USA. 'Jomhuri-ye Eslami-ye Iran' qualified for Germany 2006 with one game to spare and hope to become one of Asia's established powers under Croatian coach Branko Ivankovic.

 Italy: The Azzurri have won the World Cup on three occasions and have failed to qualify only once - in 1958 in Sweden. It would be hard to imagine a finals without Italy and new coach Marecello Lippi has fine-tuned Giovanni Trapattoni's side that failed spectacularly at Euro 2004 to such a degree that they are once again amongst the favourites.

 Ivory Coast: The Cote d'Ivoire owe at least a portion of their qualification to Roger Ouegnin, the eccentric owner of ASEC Abidjan, who built the country's first youth academy. Then, in 1999, instead of playing his African Champions League winning team in the Super Cup he allowed it to be sold and played his youth team instead. The controversial decision caused uproar but the team beat Esperance 3-1 and now the same players that made their senior debut that day now provide the back-bone for the Elephants' first foray into the finals.

 Japan: Japan have steadily improved since the inception of the J-League in 1993 and are now making their third appearance at the World Cup finals. They made their debut at France 1998, losing all three games, qualified as host at Japan/Korea 2002, when they reached the knockout stage, and now go to Germany 2006 under the stewardship of Brazilian legend Zico. More players than ever are at foreign teams and bring more experience to the national squad.

 Mexico: The Confederations Cup provided Mexico with a taste of what it will be like to play in Germany and are tipped to improve on their usual performance - losing in the second round at the last three tournaments. Coach Ricardo La Volpe boasts he has a squad of 30 international players to select from and his team are ranked seventh in the world by FIFA.

 Netherlands: Self-destruction and capitulation were words synonymous with the skilled Dutch teams of the past but new, and previously untested, manager Marco van Basten has disposed of the egos, ditched the deadwood and his bunch of relative unknowns (only three 'big names' remain) qualified for the finals unbeaten and top of their group. The last time Holland played a major tournament on German soil Van Basten scored one of the greatest goals ever seen as they won Euro '88.

 Paraguay: Qualified automatically for their third successive World Cup despite losing a third of their 18 games and finishing with a goal difference of 23-23. Despite their limited resources Paraguay have reached the last 16 at the last two World Cups and this was in spite of veteran Italian coach Cesare Maldini at the last outing. The then Paraguay skipper Jose Luis Chilavert said they only went through when they decided to ignore Maldini's instructions.

 Poland: Coach Pavel Janas's record of 25 wins, six draws and nine defeats is now the best of any Polish coach in 20 years. But his bunch of journeymen, only a handful of whom start for club sides in Europe's top leagues, proved too weak for the stronger sides and too strong for the weaker ones. At West Germany 1974 the Poles reached the semi-finals, this time around they would be happy to make the second round.

 Portugal: As hosts Portugal were runners up at Euro 2004 and qualified for Germany 2006 with a goal difference of 35-5 but for Brazilian coach Luiz Felipe Scolari to become the first manager to win the World Cup with different countries they will have to overcome their serial underperformances at the finals. After a third-place finish in 1966, they did not appear again for 20 years when they were eliminated in the first round in Mexico in 1986. In 2002 they again went out in the first round.

 Saudi Arabia: Since making their World Cup debut in 1994 Saudi Arabia's performances at three successive finals has got steadily worse until in 2002 they were ranked dead last - losing 8-0 to Germany, 1-0 to Cameroon, 3-0 to Ireland and failing to make a single tackle as far as I can recall. However, you can't get worse than last place so it's all positive for their fourth attempt.

 Serbia & Montenegro: The Serbs are tipped to be one of the dark horses of the tournament, but having missed out on the previous two major events, under their temporary guise of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, they have been badly seeded for Germany 2006 and face a tough group. Atletico Madrid striker Mateja Kezman and Inter Milan midfielder Dejan Stankovic lead a tenacious group that conceded a solitary goal in qualifying.

 South Korea: Will be taking part in their sixth successive World Cup finals next summer, but not even their most die-hard fans would expect them to repeat the semi-final appearance they achieved on home soil in 2002 - the best ever achievement by an Asian side. Dutch coach Dick Advocaat is on a hiding to nothing as he looks to emulate compatriot Guus Hiddink.

 Spain: Are one of the great mysteries of the World Cup: they have all the attributes needed to succeed but if there is one thing you can rely on it is that Spain will underachieve. The country may boast one of the best leagues in the world but the national team have not got past the quarter-finals of the World Cup since 1950. But their 18-match unbeaten run under coach Luis Aragones is grounds for confidence.

 Sweden: Coach Lars Lagerback has now taken Sweden to two European Championships and two World Cups and is cautiously optimistic that his team will do well. but it is unlikely his side will emulate their best performance when they reached the final and lost to Brazil when they hosted the World Cup in 1958. Lack of depth could prove the Swedes Achilles heel.

 Switzerland: Koebi Kuhn's young Swiss team qualified for their first World Cup finals in 12 years. Pitted against France and Ireland in the incredibly tough European Group Four, unbeaten Switzerland finished second behind France and emerged from a volatile play-off in Turkey victorious. The Euro 2008 hosts will relish the short trip to neighbouring Germany - the closest thing to playing at home.

 Togo: The west Africans' qualification is one of the fairytales of the World Cup: the tiny country of Togo had previously qualified for only a handful of African Nations Cup tournaments and never won a major trophy. Ranked 56th in FIFA's rankings, with only fellow finalists Angola (62nd) behind them, tiny Togo shocked the established order by qualifying ahead of the likes of Nigeria, Cameroon and Senegal.

 Trinidad & Tobago: After three matches of qualifying Trinidad & Tobago were bottom of their CONCACAF group and as far away from the World Cup finals as they could be. But three victories in their last four games clinched a playoff match against Bahrain and a 2-1 win booked their first appearance at the Finals and sparked non-stop partying amongst the 1.1 million population - they will continue the party in Germany.

 Tunisia: Are the only one of Africa's five representatives who have any previous World Cup finals experience but the 2004 African champions are still seeking to get past the first round in the competition despite four successive appearances. Tunisia made their debut at Argentina 1978, when their 3-1 win over Mexico was the first victory by an African side at the tournament.

 Ukraine: After suffering bitter playoff defeats in their last three championship campaigns, Ukraine finally succeeded, becoming the first European nation to qualify for Germany 2006 and secure their debut at the Finals. The former Soviet state triumphed at the expense of European champions Greece, 2002 World Cup semi-finalists Turkey and former European Championship winners Denmark. Critics say they are over reliant on Ballon D'or winner Andriy Shevchenko.

 United States: The US were one of the surprises of the 2002 World Cup finals, reaching the quarter-finals, but they no longer draw gasps of surprise when they succeed. Although their FIFA ranking of eight is somewhat misleading they did finish top of the CONCACAF qualifying group for the first time in 71 years. An increasing amount of players ply their trade in some of Europe's top leagues and that added experience will be needed in Germany.