Group A action kicks off World Cup

The 2006 FIFA World Cup is set to open on Friday, with two matches being played in the host country of Germany. The home side will kick off the festivities against CONCACAF side Costa Rica in Group A's first game in Munich at 12 p.m. ET. The match can be seen live on ESPN2.

Tensions are running high in coach Jurgen Klinsmann's side, as the California resident announced Thursday that his captain Michael Ballack will miss the curtain-raiser because of a strained right calf. The 29-year-old suffered the injury during a pre-World Cup friendly against Colombia on June 2.

Ballack, who joined Sierra Mist MLS All-Star Game participants Chelsea FC of the English Premier League after leading Bayern Munich to the Bundesliga title last season, is eyeing a return in Germany's second match, when they will take on Poland (June 14). Having scored 31 career goals in 65 matches for Germany, including the game-winner against the U.S. national team in the 2002 quarterfinals, the loss of Ballack is a huge blow for the hosts. He famously missed the championship match four years ago in Japan, that time due to suspension for yellow card accumulation.

For the 'Ticos' of Costa Rica, the loss of Ballack gives them even more hope of producing another opening match shock, not uncommon in the World Cup. Four years ago African upstarts Senegal defeated reigning champions France.

The Costa Ricans will be looking to the experience Paulo Wanchope for offense. The 29-year-old, who has played in the top levels of England and Spain, has 43 goals in 69 career caps. Lining up behind Wanchope could be Real Salt Lake midfielder Douglas Sequeira.

Friday's other game features the other two Group A members, Poland and Ecuador. They will square off in Gelsenkirchen, where the U.S. side will begin play Monday vs. the Czech Republic. Poland vs. Ecuador is set to kick off at 3 p.m. ET and can also be seen on ESPN2.

Both sides are looking for victory to help them achieve something neither could do four years ago, which is advance beyond the opening round. The Poles defeated the U.S. side in their final group match, but had already been eliminated after losing to both South Korea and Portugal. For Ecuador, the 2002 tournament was the first time they made it to the finals, but also did not advance beyond the group round.

Jonathan Nierman is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.

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