April 29, 2006

World Cup global tour ends in Saudi shopping mall

By Andrew Hammond

RIYADH (Reuters) - The World Cup trophy ended its first
global tour on Saturday with a public display in a Saudi
Arabian shopping mall ahead of this year's finals in Germany.

"The reception of the trophy in each country was
outstanding. We had very emotional people, people who were
crying," said Alex Koch, an official with world governing body
FIFA who toured 28 countries with the gold trophy.

"The most impressive reaction we got was from an
80-year-old man in Ecuador, in Quito, who said it was the
highlight of his life, to see the trophy before dying," Koch
told Reuters.

In Saudi Arabia, the reception was more conservative as
hundreds of young men in white robes and red headscarves queued
to have their picture taken beside the coveted Cup, which began
its world tour in Ghana in January.

"It was a really weird feeling to actually see the World
Cup, you feel a bit of trepidation," said Khaled al-Antari
after posing beside the trophy, surrounded by heavy security.


The Cup was designed by Silvio Gazzaniga and awarded for
the first time at the 1974 finals. The original Jules Rimet
trophy was won outright by Brazil when they became world
champions for the third time in 1970.

Saudis joked that this could be the closest they will ever
get to soccer's most famous prize.

Saudi Arabia have qualified for their fourth consecutive
World Cup but are still haunted by a dismal performance in 2002
when they failed to win a game and lost 8-0 to Germany.

Abdallah al-Dibil, a senior official with the Saudi Arabian
Football Association (SAFF), said the Saudis -- once tipped as
an emerging Asian soccer giant -- hoped one day to win the

"SAFF has spent just about all the money it has to get
Saudi Arabia into the World Cup," he told reporters.

"We have made it to our fourth World Cup in a row, when
even some big teams have not managed (to get there). We hope
that in the future the World Cup will be one that Saudi Arabia

The Cup will now tour German cities before the month-long
tournament kicks off on June 9.