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Sunday, May 3, 1998 Published at 14:47 GMT 15:47 UK

Meet the BBC Team
When football rules the world
image: [ It's time to go football crazy ... ]
It's time to go football crazy ...

The 'official' World Cup theme, composed by Youssau N'dour
If football is not your forte, now is the time to turn off the radio, unplug the TV and cancel the newspapers. Leave the country, leave the planet.

But be warned. You cannot escape World Cup fever.

So if you can't beat them, join them. Then at least you can hold down a conversation in the office or pub.

[ image: Football's greatest prize]
Football's greatest prize
France 98 is the 16th World Cup tournament. The competition began in 1930 when it lasted a fortnight and featured 18 matches. Since then, TV, advertising and sponsorship have transformed it into the month-long commercially-driven feast of football we see today.

This year's tournament is the biggest, although the 32 teams are less than a fifth of the total that originally entered.

The 64 matches to be played in France come after more than 600 qualifying games worldwide. These started on March 10, 1996, when Dominica drew 3-3 with Antigua and Barbuda in front of 4,500 fans.

[ image: Stade de France: 80,000 full house]
Stade de France: 80,000 full house
In contrast 80,000 people will watch the opening game of the tournament in the brand new Stade de France, one of 10 stadiums for France 98 and also the venue for the final.

It is thought 1.7 billion fans will see the final on TV, making it the world's biggest single sporting event. A record 37 billion viewers are expected to tune in for the tournament as a whole.

Nearly 2.5 million people are due to attend the matches amid tight security. Organisers say nothing has been left to chance and a team of elite police officers is on standby just in case.

All this is not cheap. France 98 has a budget of more than 240m (FF 2.4bn). Some of this is being covered by the French taxpayer who may still be paying for it in 27 years time.

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In this section:

Radio 5 Live's France 98 Coverage

Platini - legend on and off the pitch

Tackling new rules

BBC 1 Coverage of France 98

When football rules the world