World Cup hopefuls put out of their misery
Coaches finally put World Cup hopefuls out of their misery on Tuesday when they named their final squads for the tournament, shattering some dreams while also handing out the opportunity of a lifetime.
World champions Italy sprung a surprise with coach Marcello Lippi choosing Napoli striker Fabio Quagliarella ahead of AC Milan striker Marco Borriello and Villarreal forward Giuseppe Rossi who both miss out on the finals.
England winger Theo Walcott, surprisingly called up for the 2006 tournament aged 17, was unexpectedly left at home this time when Fabio Capello cut his squad to 23 players on deadline day.
While there were no shock omissions on Tuesday, several ageing big names from previous World Cups had already been cast aside including Netherlands striker Ruud van Nistelrooy, France midfielder Patrick Vieira and Brazil playmaker Ronaldinho.
Injuries have also robbed the tournament of the likes of Ghana's Michael Essien and England's David Beckham.
Image: Giuseppe Rossi
'Picking final team not the best job in the world'
The man who called up Walcott four years ago, Sven-Goran Eriksson, had an emotional day reducing his Ivory Coast squad from 30, eventually chopping experienced players like Bakary Kone, Gilles Yapi Yapo and Emerse Fae.
"It's always sad when you have to tell seven players they have to go home. It's not the best part of a manager's job but it has to be done," a glum-looking Eriksson said after naming his squad for the June 11-July 11 tournament in South Africa.
"From what I have seen of the players, they are all extremely well educated, happy people and they took it as men with style."
While most rejected players had other despondent team-mates to commiserate with, Germany defender Andreas Beck had to cope with being the only man axed from their list.
Coach Joachim Loew's preliminary squad had already been reduced to 24 because of injuries to players such as captain Michael Ballack."This decision is indeed very difficult because simply you are sending home a player who had hopes of playing in the tournament and always dreamed of the World Cup," Germany team manager Oliver Bierhoff told reporters before the announcement.
Image: Andreas Beck
Eto'o sent off in Portugal friendly
Cameroon striker Samuel Eto'o endured a night to forget after being sent off in the first half of a 3-1 defeat by fellow finalists Portugal.
Eto'o saw red for a second booking, days after responding angrily to criticism of his performances for the national side from former national team-mate Roger Milla.
The Netherlands seem to be hitting form at the right time. The Dutch followed up last week's 2-1 victory over Mexico by thumping World Cup-bound Ghana 4-1 with goals from Dirk Kuyt, Rafael van der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie.
While coach Bert van Marwijk could justly feel satisfied, there was cause for concern from Switzerland coach Ottmar Hitzfeld whose side were jeered off after losing 1-0 to Costa Rica, their third successive home friendly defeat.
Australia were leaving it late to finalise their squad, clearly hoping to find some answers during a 1-0 friendly win over Denmark in Roodepoort, South Africa.
A second-half goal from striker Josh Kennedy secured the victory and coach Pim Verbeek was pleased with the performance even though they spent much of the match on the back foot.
"We still need time to adjust to the altitude," he said.
Image: Josh Kennedy (left) with team-mate Bresciano
Anelka survives injury scare
France continued their unusual preparations with a mountain bike ride on the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion, with forward Nicolas Anelka surviving a scare after losing his balance and falling off on a slippery road.
Their other team-bonding exercises have included a glacier hike and a dune buggy race, in which defender William Gallas rolled his vehicle over and grazed his hand.
While France opted for creative training, Slovenia coach Matjaz Kek was pondering creative play.
"As far as I am concerned, we can lose all three group matches as long as we play entertaining football to please the crowds and get them on their feet," he told Slovenia's Ekipa website (www.ekipa.org).
Image: France's Nicolas Anelka falls as he cycles at le Tampon near Saint Pierre on the French overseas territory of La Reunion
More seats for world cup matches
There will be plenty of fans to entertain in South Africa, with world soccer's governing body FIFA saying the number of seats available had jumped by 100,000 to more than three million and 97 percent of those will be sold.
"We are getting closer and closer to the best World Cup ever in terms of ticketing which was USA in 1994," FIFA Secretary-General Jerome Valcke said.
Whether it is the best World Cup remains to be seen but it could well be the noisiest after organisers said there would be no curbing of the raucous vuvuzela fan trumpets despite earlier concerns their din could drown out emergency announcements.
The trumpets sound like a herd of charging elephants but after testing noise levels at the Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg when it was almost full they are here to stay.
Image: A soccer fan blows a vuvuzela
Brazil mobbed on arrival in Zimbabwe
Brazil got a rapturous welcome when they arrived in Harare on Tuesday night for a friendly with Zimbabwe as local fans tried to catch a glimpse of the squad.
The five-times World Cup winners, widely tipped to win the first finals hosted on the African continent, flew in from South Africa for Wednesday's high-profile warm-up match.
Brazilian officials said Zimbabwe, whose team stand a lowly 110th in the world, was chosen to host the top-ranked side because of its proximity to South Africa, the country's southern neighbour which stages the month-long tournament from June 11.
Hundreds of cheering fans beating drums mobbed Brazil coach Dunga and his players, including former World Footballer of the year Kaka and Robinho, as they entered a Harare hotel under tight police guard.
"This is unbelievable! Hosting this team is as good as having our own small World Cup in Zimbabwe," screamed one fan as the Brazilian players were ushered into the five-star hotel.
Zimbabwe's tourism and soccer authorities are hoping the match will send a positive message about a country that has endured more than a decade of political and economic upheaval.
"This is the best thing ever to happen to Zimbabwean football," the Zimbabwe Football Association's chief executive Henrietta Rushwaya told reporters.
"I hope this is the beginning of many good things to come."
Image: Brazil's Robinho during a training session