TAKING SIDES

(JUNE 22) Kofi Annan makes a welcome return to this column with news that the UN boss has let his neutrality slip a little, putting his support fully behind his home side of Ghana in Thursday's crunch encounter with the USA.

Annan: Backing my boys

"I'm proud of my boys," said Annan, who hails from the West African nation. "They've played very well and I expect them to play equally well today."

The secretary general then remembered a little bit of diplomatic balance, offering a few words of encouragement to the US team.

Slipping back into balanced UN-speak, Annan also had kind words for the US team: "Of course I live in America, and I expect their team to play well."

There was one bone of contention though: "Unfortunately I'll be trapped in a plane as the match goes on. I'll be on my way to New York."

NO MONK-Y BUSINESS

(JUNE 13) Cambodia's legions of Buddhist monks have been ordered to remain calm and suitably serene during World Cup matches or risk being defrocked.

Non Nget, the patriarch in Phnom Penh, has ruled that cheering or - even worse - betting on matches are against Buddhism. Being a passive fan though is tolerated.

"It is very difficult to ban them because new technology means the games can be aired live and seen everywhere," he told Reuters. "They may watch, but must be calm."

 

You can watch it, but you can't like it

SOMETHING FISHY

(JUNE 11) - As promised we're keeping you up to date with all the World Cup action, wherever it takes place.

A different kind of league, under
the sea

So check out this stunning near miss at a match last week held in Yokohama's Hakkeijima Sea Paradise aquarium. The crowd went wild (so we are told) as Australia (playing in green) narrowly deflected a shot from Japan (playing in blue).

Japan, otherwise known as blue palatte surgeon fish, will be pitted against other teams during the tournament, staff at the aquarium say. 

To give the players an added incentive, the ball is filled with fish food. Yum.

WAKEY WAKEY

(JUNE 9) - Shock news out of Moscow - 10% of Russians think Brazil will win the World Cup.

Spot the Russian: Ref Valentin
Ivanov, Russia's sole contribution

OK, no real surprises there. In second place, however, with 6% of the vote, comes Russia itself. Not actually having a team in the tournament is apparently of little concern to those confident in Russia's chances. Indeed, barring a storming-of-the-Winter-Palace style pitch invasion, the only Russian expected to get his feet on the hallowed World Cup turf is referee Valentin Ivanov.

The poll of 1,600 Russians was conducted last month by the Levada Center polling institute. "Even among those who say they plan to follow the championship in detail, nearly one in 10 said the Russian team, which is not taking part, would be victorious," they noted.

Overall it seems Russians are a fairly non-commital bunch. A full 75% of those polled ticked the "hard to say" box.

AN APPLE A DAY

(JUNE 8) - Every couch potato footie fan has their favourite snack to munch on during a match - but apples and bananas rarely feature very highly.

Stocking up for a month in front
of the telly

Not for Hong Kong though, which is urging its football-mad residents to chow through plenty of fruit while keeping the vigil during Germany '06. Because of time differences, almost all the matches will be in the middle of the night Hong Kong time, and that has health officials worried.

Sleep deprivation, lack of exercise, poor diets and an inevitable excess of alcohol will spark an outbreak of a different kind of football fever they fear, leading many Hong Kongers to be struck down with sickness.

Government guidelines for fans glued to their TVs during the coming month include eating plenty of fruit, drinking plenty of fluid and conducting regular stretching exercises.

A PERFECT MATCH

(JUNE 7) - Despite the abysmal performance of their national squad failing to make it through even the first round of qualifications, the good women of China still know what they like to see in a footballer.

Maradona: A big hit with the
ladies round China way

A recent internet poll asked female voters which of Argentine great Diego Maradona, England's David Beckham or France's Zinedine Zidane they would chose as partner, in the - albeit unlikely - event they were the last men left on earth.

Poor Becks, despite his best coiffuring efforts, doesn't even get a look-in.

Instead the reformed drug addict (and still rather tubby) Maradona comes out on top, voted best for protection in times of war. In times of peace meanwhile, France's 'Zizou' was the runaway success, voted most likely to provide a lasting marriage.

HAND OF GOD

(JUNE 7) - The Lord moves in mysterious ways, it is often said. But he can come in handy when your team needs a bit of extra help. That, at least, is the view of the Church of England which has published a prayer for the England squad on its website.

The prayer includes a call to "rejoice in the one who came to bring life in all its fullness". Not, as some might think, a reference to Saint David of Beckham - but to one Jesus Christ.

"The church often provides specially written prayers to mark major national events, and the World Cup is no exception," a church spokesman said. "After all, you don't find many atheists during penalty shoot-outs."

CUP CAKE

Tastes as good as it looks! Beate
Weinstein and cake

(JUNE 6) - Once again it seems that the passion for football rivals that for the great religions of the world. Religious symbols have been cropping up in cheese sandwiches, vegetables and fence palings for years. The holy path seems to inevitably led to eBay and now it would seem that football has again matched religion.

Meet Beate Weinstein (right), a German housewife who found herself with a link to the footballing gods after she baked a marble cake only to discover the chocolate resembled the World Cup itself. It was perhaps another act of divine intervention which has led her to auction a slice on eBay.

EYE ON THE BALL

(JUNE 6) - Footballers are often blamed for societies ills, and it seems they been up to their old tricks of the corrupting studious minds again.

The Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology has suspended classes until July 14th due to the insistence of students that classes not run during the World Cup.

About 2,000 students protested and demanded a World Cup vacation in the capital Dhaka. In pursuit of their noble cause the students blocked traffic around the campus and locked the gates of the University.

Bangladesh is ranked 140th in the world in FIFA rankings.

DIPLOMATIC ENVY

Annan tackles a different kind
of global debate

(JUNE 4) - With its membership greater than that of the UN, Secretary General Kofi Annan has looked enviously on at the goings on at the World Cup.

The Ghanaian born Annan, who also spoke of his pride of his home nation making the finals, told German newspaper Bild am Sonntag: "The fact is the World Cup makes us green with envy."

"As the only game in the world that is played in every country  and by people of every race and religion, football is one of the few  institutions that is as exceptional as the United Nations."

FIFA has 205 members as opposed to the UN’s 191.