The curtain may have come down on the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™, but the host nation has already moved onto its next big footballing event. More than 12,000 people were present at an impressive opening ceremony in Cologne on Sunday to mark the start of the INAS-FID 2006 Football World Cup for players with disabilities. Accompanied by performances from live bands and with celebrities such as former Bayer Leverkusen manager Reiner Calmund in attendance, the participating teams paraded with banners and flags through the Cologne Arena, proudly singing their national anthems to rapturous applause from the fans present.

The 4th INAS-FID Football World Cup, with the slogan "different is just as normal", marks the first major sporting occasion for the intellectually disabled to be held in Germany. The world federation responsible for the event, namely the INAS-FID (International Sports Federation for People with Intellectual Disability), has handed over the organisation of the tournament to the German Association for Disabled Sports. And while football is of course a priority, it is not the only issue on the agenda. The World Cup, which has the support of the German Football Federation (DFB) as well as the German Federal Ministry for the Interior, will also feature a three-pronged "social campaign", which aims to increase the profile of disabled sports and the number of participants, to drum up support and to get a real commitment from society regarding the integration of these activities.

The World Cup for Disabled Players is organised every four years, with the 2006 tournament in Germany being the fourth such competition, after Netherlands 1994, England 1998 (won by Poland) and Japan 2002 (won by England). The 4th INAS FID World Cup is open to players with intellectual and learning difficulties, and will be played according to FIFA rules. The 16 participating teams have been drawn in four groups, with home nation Germany and current champions England both being seeded. The other countries are Australia, Brazil, France, Hungary, Japan, Korea Republic, Mexico, Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.

All eyes on England
The opening match will see Germany play Japan in Duisburg on Tuesday at midday, while the final will be held on 16 September in Leverkusen. Except for the final, the other 48 matches, to be held in 41 stadiums around Germany, will have free entry, and some 20,000 fans are expected at the opening match. Title-holders England are among the favourites, alongside Netherlands, Brazil, Portugal, Poland and, of course, host nation Germany, who have a good number of squad members who regularly play in normally-abled clubs in the lower leagues of the German championship.

The home side are very confident coming into the tournament, and are looking to reach the semi-finals, if not go all the way: "We've got at least that far at the three previous World Cups," says coach Willi Breuer. The 51-year-old sports teacher has other goals in mind as well, however. The most important aspect of the tournament as far as he is concerned is for him and his players to get more recognition and respect from society in general. "There is still a lot of prejudice towards people with learning difficulties," he explains.

Breuer was once youth coach at 1. FC Cologne, and can count FIFA World Cup star Lukas Podolski among his former charges. Since 1994, he has been honorary coach of the Germany Disabled Sports Federation (DBS), and this will be his fourth World Cup. Breuer has been very busy in the build-up to this tournament in his homeland, attempting to get the competition into the spotlight and explain the criteria involved. Participants have to have an IQ of 75 or below, and also suffer from difficulties in carrying out day to day activities. "These are the guidelines that have been set down by the World Health Organisation, and they are updated on a regular basis," Breuer explains. 

High-profile support 
Numerous talent scouts from amateur clubs will no doubt swell attendances throughout the tournament, since there will be a number of players on display who ply their trade in the lower reaches of the system, or who actually have no fixed club. Some of the big names of international football will also be present, including Christoph Daum, whose most recent managerial job was with Fenerbahçe in Istanbul and who has agreed to give Breuer some support and help out at Germany's match with Japan. "He is really looking forward to it and will no doubt learn something new from an area which he has no experience in," smiled Breuer.

The German National team has also expressed an interest in the 4th INAS-FID Football World Cup, with team manager Oliver Bierhoff sending along his best wishes, saying: "We have a great deal of respect for the performances of our intellectually challenged colleagues and will be following their progress very closely."