NGC unveils 'Planet Football' this month

MUMBAI: With the Fifa World Cup scheduled to kick off in Germany in a little over month's time, certain channels are doing specials around the game. One of those is the National Geographic Channel (NGC).

The initiative called Planet Football kicks off on 21 May. The different shows look at various themes from history, to cultural significance to beauty.

Kicking off proceedings is History of Football on 21 May at 9 pm. The special documents the cultural history of the world's most popular sport and seeks to understand its lure, its power and its passion. By tracing football's history from the year 2000 BC to the present day, it examines the evolution of a sport that is now an international phenomenon.

The special explores the attraction of the ball in the country with the most important fan culture; examining football as a substitute for war in England and as a work of art in Italy, as a religion for the South-American fans and as a well-oiled marketing machine in modern times. State-of-the-art re-enactments from the European Middle Ages, Ancient China and the Aztecs, as well as historic matches in Italy and England take viewers on a voyage of discovery into the cultural history of football.

Up next is World Cup Stadiums on 22 May at the same time. FC Barcelona Confidential airs on 23 May at 9 pm. In June 2003 a group of professionals and dotcom millionaires, led by lawyer Joan Laporta, took over FC Barcelona - one of the biggest football clubs in the world. Their starting point couldn't have been worse.

The club was technically bankrupt, the team had been humiliated on the pitch, and for four seasons they'd won nothing. They were living in the shadow of the glamorous all star success of their eternal rival, Real Madrid. Youth, ambition, Catalan nationalism, dotcom expertise, commercial aggressiveness, a break with the old mafia-style ethos of football management, a commitment to Barça's 100,000 membership to open up the club, and, last but not least, a passion for football combined into an almost messianic mission.

With access to the inner workings of the club, this film observes Laporta's team in their first year in power. Usually only seen through a glare of media coverage, we get to see the real issues as they unfold behind close doors. This is a tale about not only football but also power, ambition and identity.

In the Heart of Amazonia: Peladao airs on 24 May. The Peladão is a unique soccer tournament that takes place in the middle of the Amazon rain forest in Brazil. It involves thousands of footballers and hundreds of beauty queens. The sprawling city of Manaus is the backdrop to a competition to find the best amateur team in an area the size of Western Europe. Yet this is just the half of it. Every club - and there are hundreds who enter - must also submit a candidate in a parallel beauty pageant whose winner is declared Peladão Queen.

In Brazil, beauty involves competition and football involves artistry. With all its wondrous absurdities, its beauty queens and footballers, the Peladao offers a look at Brazilian soccer.

Then NGC will kick off a 12 part series World Cup Cities. This presents the host cities of the 2006 Fifa World Cup. They include Munich, Nuremberg, Berlin and Hamburg. Each episode will give viewers a glimpse of the cities' traditions, their histories and the stadium where the matches will be held.

The series includes interviews with the key figures from the cities, the organisers of the World Cup event, and some of the most admired and well known football stars of all times, including players from the famous Bundesliga. The episodes will feature personalities like Germans Kevin Kuranyi and Cristoph Metzelder, Brazilian Marcelinho Carioca and Vinicius Bergatin.

On 9 June 2006 Munich will host the opening ceremony of the 2006 Fifa World Cup and six matches to follow. Munich is the largest city in Germany and is famous for its beer. Home to the most successful team in the Bundesliga, Bayern Munich, this beautiful and easy-going city is now the capital of German football. World Cup magic will begin on the luxurious stage of the new Alliance Arena.

The outside façade of this stadium is made up of almost 3,000 panels that light up in blue and red creating a spectacular display of team pride. Bixente Lizzerazu and Jose Paolo Guerrero give their insights on the spectacular city, the new stadium and their expectations about the upcoming World Cup games.

Another episode focusses on Stuttgart which is famous for its wine, cars, parties and football. Located in the hills of southwest Germany, its landscape is covered in beautiful vineyards, which is one of the country's greatest wine-producing regions.

The cultural center, Mercedes Benz and Porsche museums, the Old Palace, Opera House, and the Television Tower are some of the main attractions in Stuttgart, but one of the most popular is the massive Gottlieb Daimler stadium. Home to the popular team VFB Stuttgart, the Gottlieb Daimler is one of the most fascinating structures in the city. It seats 56,000 spectators and features two of the largest video screens in Europe so the fans never miss a beat.

In addition to the six World Cup matches to be held in Stuttgart in June and July, a youth World Cup festival will take place during the last week of matches for all young people to enjoy. Andreas Hinkel and other team members give their insights on the uniqueness that surrounds this city.

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