Who will be the World Cup sportswear champ?

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The Independent Online

Competition at the 2010 World Cup will not only be fierce on the football pitch but also at the sportswear shops, as historic brand leader Adidas faces off against rival Nike and a third challenger Puma.

The football championships kick off June 11 in South Africa as Adidas hopes to retain its claim to the title of the number one football brand against a stiff challenge from the world's biggest sportswear manufacturer Nike.

Puma meanwhile is touting its African colours after backing four of the six teams from the continent, which is hosting the World Cup championship for the first time.

"I don't think this is a two-horse race but rather a three-horse race," said Puma CEO Jochen Zeitz.

Adidas, however, starts with a lead having the largest number of teams under its colours: 12 in all, including heavyweights Germany, Argentina, Spain and France as well as World Cup hosts South Africa.

"Adidas is the number one football brand worldwide. Our goal today of course is to maintain the position of leader and to exceed our sales record in football during the World Cup," said Emmanuelle Gaye, Adidas spokeswoman in France.

The German group, with a goal of surpassing 1.3 billion euros (1.6 billion dollars) in sales this year, is not just relying on demand for the jerseys of its dozen teams.

It has also banked on the appeal of its boots, which are promoted by some 100 football players under individual contracts with Adidas, including superstar Lionel Messi of Argentina.

Adidas is an official partner of world football body FIFA and will again have its name on the World Cup ball, this time with the 'Jabulani'. It hopes to match 2006, when the company sold 10 million of its 'Teamgeist' model.

Aiming to outplay Adidas is US sportswear giant Nike which also claims pre-eminence in the game of football, or soccer as the North Americans call the sport.

"Nike is the leader in the football market since with Nike and (affiliate) Umbro our estimated revenue (for 2010) is some 1.9 billion dollars," says the group's spokeswoman in France, Sophie Nicolet.

Nike has on its roster powerhouse Brazil, a five-time World Cup champion, and star players like Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo and England's Wayne Rooney.

"Our priority is to work with the teams and the players," Nike's president Charlie Denson said in February in preparing for the World Cup.

Nike's dream final would be Brazil - the biggest selling jersey in 2006 - versus England, sponsored by its affiliate Umbro.

German brand Puma insists it will not be intimidated by its bigger rivals.

For Puma, controlled by PPR of France, "success is not based on size in relation to the others," says CEO Zeitz.

Puma is counting on African pride for the four teams from the continent it is sponsoring as well as the popular Italians, current World champions.

"We are using African football and the African lifestyle to promote the Puma brand. It is a platform for spreading our image," Zeitz explains.

The company hoped for double-digit growth in sales from the 2010 football season, he added.

And while Africa may not yet be a flourishing market for sportswear, customers can be found among the African diaspora around the world.

In France, for example, Puma ran out of stock earlier this year after selling some 50,000 jerseys of Algeria's football team.

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