The stage is built, 643 qualifying games completed, 38,000 invitations and 1,181 media passes issued, every hotel room for 30 miles is full and, from the window of mine (somewhere on the ring-road), I can see council workers painting over anti-government graffitti.
Marseilles is almost ready for the biggest day in its 26-century history, the draw for the XVIth World Cup. There are only two problems, the transport workers and the weather.
Two local transport unions, with an opportunism the French coach Aime Jaquet would welcome in his own strikers, have called a one-day stoppage over pay and conditions which could paralyse an already congested city. Negotiations broke down late on Tuesday, no further talks are planned, and the the controversial centre-right Mayor, Jean-Claude Gaudin, has appealed for lorry drivers and private bus-drivers to come forward and help ferry the 25,000 youngsters who have been invited to the draw to the Stade Velodrome.
Last-minute negotiations may yet settle that dispute but even Michel Platini, co-president of the organising committee and France's greatest- ever player, cannot influence the weather. To the organisers' relief it was dry yesterday but still cold and windy. Suddenly the idea of staging an open-air draw is looking over-ambitious.
Rain is not regarded as a major problem as the draw is under cover (though most of the 38,000 spectators are not). Strong wind, and Le Mistral is in full cry, will be and not just because it will push temperatures for the three-hour extravaganza towards zero.
"We imagined this draw as a big party," said Platini. "We wanted it to be for everybody, not 1,500 VIPs. But there is no covered stadium in France. This is the second largest and the most southernmost, so we hoped there may be sunshine. But, if it is windy, the structure of the tent [covering the stage] may not cope. In that case we would have to go inside." The spectators would still be able to see the draw, but on two big screens at the ground. The latest forecast is for a dry but cold day with winds dropping from 35mph to less than 25mph as the afternoon wears on.
Wherever the draw is held the stage is going to be crowded. Overseeing the draw will be Platini, Sepp Blatter, general secretary of Fifa, the sport's world governing body, and two French television presenters. Fishing the balls out of bowls will be Franz Beckenbauer and Carlos Alberto Perreira, the last two World Cup winning managers, Liberia's World Player of the Year George Weah, former French internationals Jean-Pierre Papin, Marius Tresor and Raymond Kopa, and US Olympic women's football gold medallist Julie Foudy. It's a wonder local author Peter Mayle was not invited as well.
One illustrious name is missing, last week's runaway winner in the Hall of Fame voting for the world's greatest-ever player. Pele is in Marseilles, working for Mastercard but, as in Las Vegas four years ago, he is not involved in the draw.
Officially this is because he is present "in other capacities", though this applies to others involved notably Beckenbauer and Perreira. Unofficially it is because of Pele's long-running dispute with Joao Havelange, Fifa's veteran autocratic president. This originally stems from a dispute involving television deals in Brazilian football but has developed into a battle for control of the Brazilian game - Havelange's son-in-law, Ricardo Teixeira, is the head of the CBF, the Brazilian FA, Pele is Brazil's sports minister. Pele is currently attempting to pass anti-corruption legislation which would emasculate the CBF.
The draw will be preceded by an exhibition match featuring one player from each of the 32 qualifiers. Like the draw, this is beginning to appear a good idea in principle but a bad one in practice. The match is Europe (15 qualifiers plus, bizarrely, Iran) v Rest of the World (the other 16). Beckenbauer and Perreira are managers and they originally chose two impressive squads. However, withdrawals through injury or by clubs have robbed the game of Premiership players Peter Schmeichel and Stig Inge Bjornebye (who are due to be playing at Anfield less than 48 hours later), Dan Petrescu, Gary McAllister, Faustino Asprilla and Mark Fish as well as the likes of Paul Gascoigne, Paulo Maldini, Dejan Savicevic and Jose Luis Chilavert.
Paul Ince, suspended for Anfield, has replaced Gascoigne while Gordon Durie steps in for McAllister. He is such a late replacement after Celtic refused Darren Jackson permission he is billed as Ian Durie - by a blockhead, one presumes.
There will be some outstanding talents on display, including Ronaldo, Patrick Kluivert, Zinedine Zidane, Alen Boksic, Gabriel Batistuta and Nwanko Kanu. As well as Ince, Derby's Deon Burton and Chelsea's Frode Grodas represent the Premiership though both will start on the bench.
EUROPE: Kopke (Germany & Marseilles); Pfeifenberger (Austria & Werder Bremen), Colding (Denmark & Brondby), Costacurta (Italy & Milan), Hierro (Spain & Real Madrid), Lemoine (Belgium & Espanyol), Balakov (Bulgaria & VfB Stuttgart), Ince (England & Liverpool), Zidane (France & Juventus), Boksic (Croatia & Lazio), Kluivert (Netherlands & Milan). Substitutes: Grodas (Norway & Chelsea), Jokanovic (Yugoslavia & Tenerife), Lacatus (Romania & Steaua Bucharest), Pashazadeh (Iran & Tehran), Durie (Scotland & Rangers)
REST OF THE WORLD: Songo'o (Cameroon & La Coruna); Myung-Bo Hong (South Korea & Bellmare Hiratsuka), Margas (Chile & Universidad Catolica), Naybet (Morocco & La Coruna), Bernal (Monterrey & Mexico), Nakata (Japan & Bellmare Hiratsuka), Sellimi (Tunisia & Nantes), Sulimani (Saudi Arabia), Batistuta (Argentna & Fiorentina), Kanu (Nigeria & Internazionale), Ronaldo (Brazil & Internazionale). Substitutes: Diaz (Paraguay & Monterrey), Nyathi (South Africa & St Gallen), Burton (Jamaica & Derby), Wynalda (USA & San Jose Clash), De Avila (Colombia & New York-New Jersey MetroStars).
TV TIMES: Eurosport: Exhibition Match 15.30, The Draw 17.30. BBC2: The Draw 18.00. ITV: The Draw 18.50.Reuse content