After an action-packed last 12 months, the start of 2005 finds the football world taking time out. This is very much the calm before the storm however, as this year's calendar is truly chock-a-block. There are no less than four FIFA competitions taking place this year, not to mention the qualifiers for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™ and the North, Central American and Caribbean Zone's top competition, the Gold Cup. Read on for a presentation of the events coming up on FIFA.com and FIFAworldcup.com throughout the year.
2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™ qualifiers - 9 February-12 October
Although no teams have yet qualified for the FIFA World Cup™, certain confederations are at an advanced stage of the process. A case in point is Oceania, where there remains only a two-legged "final" to be disputed between Australia and the Solomon Islands on the 3 and 7 September 2005, with a play-off match against the 5th placed team from the South American Zone at stake. In North and Central America and the Caribbean, the six teams remaining will battle it out in a mini-tournament, the denouement of which on 12 October will reveal the zone's three representatives in Germany.
In Asia, there are only eight teams left, split into two groups from which the four lucky winners will emerge by 17 August 2005. That leaves the African, South American and European Zone preliminaries, all of which are well underway but still far from decided. The successful teams in these zones will be known on 7, 11 and 12 October respectively, some weeks before the day of reckoning on 9 December, when the draw will be made for the groups in which the 32 surviving teams will play in Germany.
FIFA World Youth Championship Netherlands 2005 - 10 June-2 July
FIFA's second largest event in terms of the number of teams involved (24) will see the Netherlands take their turn as hosts after the United Arab Emirates in 2003. Holders Brazil will be out to retain their trophy. Most of the qualifiers take place this month, apart from in Europe and Asia, whose emissaries have already earned their berth at the global tournament: Korea Republic, PR China, Japan and Syria will represent Asia, while Spain, Turkey, Ukraine, Switzerland, Italy and Germany, plus the Dutch hosts, will fly Europe's flag.
FIFA Confederations Cup Germany 2005 - 15-29 June A bona fide rehearsal for the 2006 FIFA World Cup™, the Confederations Cup is also a superb sporting event in its own right, featuring as it does the champions of the six confederations, plus the world champions and hosts. This year, it will be contested by Germany, Australia, Argentina (Copa America finalists), Brazil, Greece, Japan, Tunisia, Mexico, plus the Mannschaft. The most notable absentees are two-time winners France, who will be unable to defend their title.
CONCACAF Gold Cup - 6-24 July
The leading competition in the North, Central American and Caribbean Zone will take place between 6 and 24 July in the United States, as 12 teams bid to become the region's top dog. The preliminary qualifiers in the Caribbean zone are in progress, with the others to follow. By the end of July, the successor to Mexico, host nation and trophy winner in 2003, will be known.
FIFA U-17 World Championship Peru 2005 - 16 September-2 October
Just after the FIFA Congress draws to a close in Marrakech (Morocco, 10-12 September), the world's young starlets will come together in Peru. But before Brazil get to defend yet another title, they will first have to qualify for the event, as apart from Asia, which has already chosen its standard-bearers (China PR, Korea DPR and Qatar), the other confederations are yet to play their qualifiers. Oceania gets the show on the road in March, South America and North, Central America and the Caribbean follow them in April, and then Africa and Europe supply the final qualifiers in May.
FIFA Club World Championship TOYOTA Cup Japan 2005 - 11-18 December
The first edition of the revamped Club World Championship should offer an entertaining end-of-year spectacle in Japan, for after the demise of the Toyota Intercontinental Cup, the tournament is taking on a new dimension, with the winning club of each continent's most prestigious event now qualifying. No longer is it a matter of a one-off match between the winners of the UEFA Champions League and the South American Copa Libertadores. The Europeans and South Americans will be exempt from the first round, but this will still be a bona fide tournament. Who will be the very first winner of the new-look Club World Championship? By the end of a thrilling year's football on every continent, we will find out…