The great Muhammad Ali once famously said that the question 'who is going to win?' is more compelling than even the pursuit of a beautiful woman. He was talking before one of his own fights - a reminder that his publicity skills outside the ring were as sharp as those with which he plied his brutal trade inside the ropes. With the beginning of the 2006 soccer World Cup in Germany, Ali's claim will strike a chord with many men - and not a few beautiful women. However, the showpiece of the 'world game' does not need one of Ali's quotable quotes to attract audiences that will, it is estimated, exceed a billion people a day - crowded into shacks and huts in football-mad Africa and South America, and in bars and in homes from Hong Kong to Hungary. Indeed, it seems that no single event has ever compelled more attention. It means the most to fans in the countries that have qualified to take part. They run the gamut from footballing minnows like Ghana, Ivory Coast and Togo who see World Cup glory as a symbol of hope for escape from poverty and disease, to old-world giants and three-time winners like hosts Germany, which sees it as a chance to put more distance on a troubled past, including the Nazi tyranny over Europe, Adolf Hitler's overtly racist 1936 Olympic Games and the Munich Olympic massacre of 1972. German Chancellor Angela Merkel tried to motivate the national team this week with a message that they could show that they represented a warm and happy country - a home to new ideas that would make the world a better place. The opening ceremony and the kick-off in the opening game of the tournament last night focused attention at last on the action in the stadiums. That will come as a relief to many, if only because they can count the days in the month to go before the final of an event that comes around only once every four years. Interest had reached fever pitch long before a ball had been kicked. Even Hong Kong has been following every word of a behind-the-scenes drama in the England team that has been dubbed 'the battle of wounded foot' by the British media. At issue is the fitness of England and Manchester United star Wayne Rooney, who is recovering from a broken bone in the foot. It has led to a phone-slamming tug-of-war between a Swede and a Scot. Sven-Goran Eriksson, England's Swedish manager, wants Rooney to play in the World Cup. Scot Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United's manager, wants to wrap him in cotton wool until the next English domestic season to avoid the risk of further injury. Rooney's foot has become a household topic wherever the fans love or hate England. Thank goodness it was not a groin strain. As for the soccer widows, they can survive the World Cup, relationship intact. An experienced hand gives some advice on today's Living page. It could be a long month.