Beckenbauer revels in new 'Kaiser' role

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The Independent Football

Frankfurt, Germany (AP) - FIFA will stage the preliminary draw Friday for the 2006 World Cup in Germany, with 156 nations waiting to see who they will have to overcome to qualify.

The draw will set up qualifying groups for all continents except South America and set up 850 qualifiers over the next two years.

"One can feel the event is coming nearer. We have butterflies in our stomach now," Franz Beckenbauer, president of the organizing committee, said of Friday's draw.

On Thursday soccer fans found out how much they will have to pay to attend a match at the showcase event as FIFA approved a German proposal to include a category of cheaper tickets, with prices ranging from ?35 (US$42) to ?600 (US$725).

In a festive gathering of celebrities at the Frankfurt Festhalle, six-time Formula One champion Michael Schumacher, a keen amateur player, will help draw the lots for the European nations along with the world's most famous referee, Italy's Pierluigi Collina.

Asia will be the first to know, with former international players Cha Bum-kun of Korea and Yasuhiko Okudera of Japan initiating the day's draw for the confederation.

Oceania will be second in line, followed by CONCACAF, with US player Brandi Chastain and former Mexican national goalkeeper Jorge Campos lending a hand. Then comes Africa, helped out by Senegal singer Youssou N'Dour.

As host, Germany qualifies automatically for the 2006 finals.

Brazil, despite being reigning champion, was not given a direct entry to the finals following a rule change by FIFA. They have already played four games in a South American qualifying group.

The tournament, which kicks off June 9, 2006, in Munich and ends exactly one month later with the final in Berlin, will sell 3.2 million seats for the 64 matches.

The ?35 (US$42) tickets will be available for the first round games but not for the opening match on June 9 in Munich.

The most expensive category of seats will cost ?600 (US$720) for the final.

"It was a good idea that a category was added, so that a man or a woman who normally couldn't afford it could get a chance," FIFA President Sepp Blatter said. "I imagine many football fans will be delighted with that."

Second round matches start at ?45 (US$54), quarterfinal contests go for ?55 (US$66) while semifinals begin at ?90 (US$108).

The ticketing procedure, at the center of controversy the last two World Cup finals, still needs to be finalized. Thousands of tickets sold to fans failed to materialize in 1998 in France and there were many empty seats in early matches at last year's finals in Japan and South Korea.

Europe will produce 13 finalists who will join three-time champion Germany.

The European teams will be drawn into eight qualifying groups, with three groups of seven teams each and five groups of six.

The eight group winners and two best runners-up will qualify directly, with the remaining six runners-up entering a playoff round for the last three berths.

Asia has four berths with the No. 5 team going into a playoff. South Korea, Japan, China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Uzbekistan are the eight top-ranked teams.

Oceania, stripped of its direct place, will start off with two groups of five, before New Zealand and Australia join the preliminary tournament at the next stage in a group of six. The winner also goes into the intercontinental playoff against South America.

The complicated procedures for North and Central America and the Caribbean (CONCACAF) will eventually produce three finalists with another slot possible through a playoff against Asia.

Africa has the simplest procedure. The field has already been whittled down to 30 and five groups of six teams will produce the five automatic finalists.