HAMBURG: Under the gilded oak ceiling of Hamburg's neo-Renaissance Town Hall, the United States World Cup team received its official welcome.
The 647-room building, known as the Rathaus, dominates the city's centre. Players, wearing navy polo shirts and grey trousers, walked into the ornate Grosser Festsaal, or Great Festival Hall, and stood on a platform in front of the Senators' Estrade as coach Bruce Arena presented Hamburg Mayor Ole von Beust with a U.S. jersey.
Von Beust said he hoped the team does well in the tournament and gave it a Hamburg city flag. Food was then passed around, including hamburgers.
``Our first impression of Hamburg is this is such a magnificent city,'' said Arena, who visited the city last year before selecting it for his team's base. ``Hamburg is not only one of the great cities in Germany, but one of the great cities in the world.''
As the team entered, Gospel Train, a choir from the Gesamtschule Harburg, serenaded it. Eddie Johnson had a video camera out to record the scene, and players went out to the balcony.
With a ceiling about 21 meters (70 feet) high, the hall is illuminated by three great chandeliers, with 278 light bulbs each. The building, constructed from 1886-97, replaced a structure, which burned down in 1843.
British and American bombers damaged the building in July 1943 during Operation Gomorrah, and it was restored after World War II.
Beckham and Spanish
England captain David Beckham got the chance to show off his Spanish skills on Thursday.
The Real Madrid midfielder answered a question posed by a reporter from Paraguay the country England plays in its World Cup opener on Saturday.
When asked if he spoke Spanish, Beckham replied: ``Mas o menos'' and then answered in Spanish about what he thought of the Paraguay game.
Beckham then blushed and chuckled when he had to translate himself.
``All I was saying is that they're a very good team and very difficult to play against and it's going to be complicated,'' Beckham said, smiling.
The next answer, after someone asked who would win the group, didn't need any translation.
Czech for nets
Czech Republic coach Karel Bruckner was disappointed with the team's training field in Westerburg because nets behind both goals were not erected as promised.
``They should have been in place from March,'' Bruckner said. ``I was assured by many people that they would be there. It's an essential thing for training.''
Early in the training session, a net provided by the Czech team was erected behind one goal and team spokesman Lukas Tucek said that local officials promised to build the other one.
Eat right stuff
FIFA has some advice for players wishing to perform well and avoid injury: Eat right.
The soccer world governing body's booklet ``Nutrition for Football'' tells players that a good diet is better than doping.
``Every successful player needs an individual eating plan, which should, as far as possible, take into account his personal requirements, the intensity of training sessions, the season and his level of football,'' FIFA said. ``Players who take on board and follow a few key messages about eating and drinking correctly can make sure that over time, their bodies can adapt better to the demands of training.''
A grim forecast
Francisco Maturana has previously coached Costa Rica and Ecuador, and the Colombian's forecast for both in the World Cup is grim.
Maturana thinks neither team will advance to the second round from Group A, which kicks off the tournament on Friday. Costa Rica faces host Germany in Munich and Ecuador takes on Poland in Gelsenkirchen.
``Something happened in the youth process (in Costa Rica), because there are no special players that make you say 'They will take charge,''' Maturana said while watching the Ticos practice.
He added that Ecuador has a better team than Costa Rica, but its goal drought could prove to be costly.
``I don't know if the offensive firepower will make up for their (defensive) deficiencies,'' he said.
Four detained at airports
In London, four men with histories of unruly behaviour at soccer games were detained at airports on Friday to prevent them from going to the World Cup tournament in Germany, police said.
Officers prevented a 24-year-old man from Bolton from boarding a flight to Frankfurt, Germany, at Manchester Airport.
Manchester police also stopped a 32-year-old man from Stoke-on-Trent from boarding a flight to Amsterdam. Police believe he was ultimately bound for Stuttgart, Germany. AP