World Cup to kick off Friday evening

Germany faces Costa Rica in the first match of the month-long tournament.

The 2006 World Cup officially gets under way Friday night when Germany faces Costa Rica in the first match of the 64-game, month-long tournament. The hosts go into the opener with high hopes and without their captain. Michael Ballack is battling a nagging calf injury and is not expected to be in the starting lineup against Costa Rica. The absence of Germany's most important player in a game packed with pressure could bring a degree of insecurity to the hosts, who are looking for their fourth World Cup title. "We have a young and hungry team and we are going to push from the first minute, we want to get the fans behind us," Klose added. In addition to his midfield duties, Ballack is a scoring threat, with 31 goals in 65 games for Germany. Klose led Germany in scoring four years ago, when he opened with a hat trick in a 8-0 thrashing of Saudi Arabia and ended the tournament with five goals. Germany surprised fans back home when it went all the way to the final, losing 2-0 to Brazil - a match Ballack missed because of a suspension. The expectations are high this time with Germany playing at home. But few people expect the young team and its shaky defense to go all the way. When he took the job as coach two years ago, Juergen Klinsmann promised fans that his team's goal would be to win the title. Klinsmann hopes a stylish victory would ignite the fan's enthusiasm that the team could then ride on throughout the tournament. The 65,000-seat stadium on the city outskirts is sold out and hundreds of millions worldwide will be watching on television. With his attacking style spearheaded by young players he brought, Klinsmann delighted fans at last year's Confederations Cup, when Germany finished third, narrowly losing to defending World Cup champion Brazil. That tournament raised the profile and bolstered the popularity of several young players, such as midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger and striker Lukas Podolski. Several of Klinsmann's defenders are coming off major injuries and that sector of the team has been the most troubling. Behind them, Germany has a World Cup rookie, goalkeeper Jens Lehmann. Lehmann was promoted to No. 1 goalkeeper two months ago and will be making his World Cup debut at age 36. Klinsmann and his players arrived in Munich on Thursday and only a few dozen fans turned out to greet them near their hotel. They did not see much, with the bus speeding into the off-limits hotel. Security will be tight throughout the tournament, with organizers worrying about terrorism and hooliganism. Costa Rica, considered an underdog in the opening match, also has injury problems, with goalkeeper Jose Francisco Porras, midfielder Mauricio Solis and defender Gilberto Martinez all having muscular pains in their legs. "Until yesterday, we had a fully healthy team but after the training session those three players reported muscle pains, so we have to wait and see how they evolve," team doctor Gerardo Artavia said. "Maybe they are recurrences of old injuries." A final decision on the players' status - now considered "doubtful" - will be made only hours before the match, Artavia said. The Ticos were not raising the white flag. "Every player knows what the German team is, we know its weak and strong points and we are prepared to go out and win," veteran striker Paulo Wanchope said. "I expect an especially tough match during the first 15 to 20 minutes." Before the match, which kicks off at 6 p.m. local time (7 p.m. in Israel), a short ceremony will include Pele and Diego Maradona, two of the biggest stars to ever grace the game. Another one, Franz Beckenbauer, will be hoping not to see any empty seats in an officially sold-out stadium. Ticketing problems, especially with VIP packages, have been reported. Beckenbauer, who captained the 1974 German team to victory at home and coached the 1990 champion, is the president of the World Cup organizing committee and will be trying to avoid any last-minute snags. On TV: World Cup, Germany vs Costa Rica (live at 7 p.m. Friday on Channel 2); Poland vs Ecuador (live at 10 p.m. Friday on Sport1); England vs Paraguay (live at 4 p.m. Saturday on Sport1); Trinidad and Tobago vs Sweden (live at 7 p.m. Saturday on Sport1); Argentina vs Ivory Coast (live at 10 p.m. Saturday on Sport1).