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Draw for Next Year's World Cup Nears

The draw for the 2006 World Cup football finals is Friday in Leipzig, Germany. Leipzig is one of the 12 cities that will host games when the tournament begins next June. The random team selection that will determine first-round opponents in the quadrennial tournament.

Football greats from every continent will help with the World Cup draw. The sport's world governing body, FIFA, says Brazil's three-time World Cup winner Pele heads the list of celebrities. Included are West Germany's 1990 World Cup winning captain Lothar Matthaus, Netherlands star Johan Cruyff and Cobi Jones of the United States. The gala event will be hosted by supermodel Heidi Klum.

The 32 finalists will be divided into eight groups during the draw on Friday. All of the national team coaches will be in attendance at the Leipzig Exhibition Center. No matter which group the United States happens to fall into, Coach Bruce Arena says the challenge to survive the first round will be difficult.

"Not only do I think this is an extremely deep pool of 32 teams," said Bruce Arena. "I think because of that, the balance is going to be tremendous throughout the groups. And, I think you are going to see in the end when the dust settles, you are going to look at every group and say 'this is going to be real tough.'"

FIFA announced the seedings on Tuesday, based on results at the last two World Cups and the world rankings over the past three years. Brazil, which already had an automatic seed as the defending World Cup champion, topped the list with 64 points. England was seeded second, Spain was third and Germany was fourth. Germany also had an automatic seed as the host of world football's premier event. The fifth-ranked team was Mexico, followed by France. Argentina and Italy were tied for the remaining seeds.

American Coach Bruce Arena says, although he wanted his team to be seeded, Mexico is a great representative from the region.

"It is great that CONACAF has a country seeded," he said. "I think that only benefits our confederation down the road. Give them [Mexico] credit. They had a good showing in 1998. I think the advanced into the quarterfinals. And, they were in the quarterfinals in 2002. And that is an important part of the criteria. So obviously, they merited selection ahead of the United States."

The World Cup draw will be followed by millions of football fans when it is broadcast live around the world.

Wherever possible, no two teams from the same continental zone will be drawn in the same group. The only exception would be a maximum of two teams from the European Zone in the same group because of the high number of European qualifiers, 14 including host Germany.

The eight seeds will be the first drawn into Groups A through H. Germany will play in Group-A. The 24 remaining teams will then be assigned to three selection pots to achieve the best possible geographical distribution between the groups. As soon as a team is drawn, another draw will be made to allocate this team its place in a group. The process will continue until the groups are filled.