With a little help from their mothers

Didier Drogba and the Ivory Coast squad are getting a helping hand in their bid to become the first African team to win the World Cup — from their mothers.

At the African Nations Cup earlier this year, the players' mums got together as a group to cook some traditional Ivorian fare for the journalists accompanying the team. Once the players got to hear about it, they wanted some too. So popular did the makeshift kitchen prove to be that the practice has been repeated in Germany. So, in the land of beer and the sausage, there is no reason for Drogba and Co to go without their Foutou (a nut dish) and Attieke (fried fish).

Lippi's deal

Marcello Lippi may be tearing his hair out as he contemplates Italy's World Cup prospects — but the coach has promised to shave it all off if they win the World Cup. In a press conference, the silver-haired Lippi made a deal with one photographer, who said he would shave his hair off should the Azzurri lift the trophy. "In that case, I will do the same thing and shave my head," Lippi said.

Parrots play

Football fans in South Korea have organised a first World Cup for parrots. A picture in the German sports press showed a blue and gold macaw — the colours of Brazil incidentally — putting his side 1-0 ahead against a somewhat leaden-clawed bird of red and green plumage, perhaps representing Portugal.

The goal was scored with the parrot's beak from point-blank range but the paper carried no post-match quotes from the victor while the loser was also lost for words — presumably because he was sick as a parrot.

Busacca is the best Switzerland's referee Massimo Busacca has proved the fastest official at the World Cup. The whistle-blowers were put through their paces at their hotel near Frankfurt and Busacca, a 37-year-old, put his rivals to shame. "He was the best in the sprinting tests," said FIFA spokesman Andreas Werz.

Beckhamania

David Beckham is still a hit with the female fans. A gaggle of schoolgirls watched his every move during England's open training session in Buhlertal. Their patience was rewarded when the England skipper appeared from the physio tent minus his shirt. Cue Beatlemania-style screaming.

Walcott's double?

Thankfully England's version can stand on both legs, but one Theo Walcott is looking in good shape and showing great balance — standing on just one leg. Bosses at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, in Gloucestershire, have named a new-born flamingo chick after the 17-year-old striker. `Theo' has been described as looking like a small grey football.

`Ronaldo's the right man'

German legend Gerd Mueller is unfazed at the prospect of losing his all-time goal-scoring record to Ronaldo.

Mueller, with 10 goals for West Germany in 1970 and four, including the winner in the final, in the successful 1974 campaign, has scored more goals than anyone in World Cups. However, Ronaldo, with four in France 1998 and eight including both goals in the final in 2002, needs only three goals to eclipse that mark.

Mueller, 60, said: "If I have to lose the record then Ronaldo is the right man."

`Expert' comments

German chancellor Angela Merkel resisted the temptation to talk World Cup tactics when she visited the national team's training camp in Berlin. Ousted Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is renowned for his intervention in team affairs as president of AC Milan and caused Dino Zoff to quit as Italy coach after Euro 2000 when he severely criticised his tactics in the final against France.

Tony Blair's remarks on the Richard and Judy Show helped get Glenn Hoddle sacked as England head coach while French president Jacques Chirac saw his popularity soar when France won the 1998 World Cup.

However, after Merkel's appearance, Germany star Lukas Podolski said: "She did not really get involved in any football issues."

Neville's humour

Gary Neville is arguably the best interview in the England team, thanks to his strong opinions and prickly sense of humour.

He could not resist a little dig when he spoke to radio reporters in Buhlertal. Neville said: "We have everything we could possibly want in terms of preparation — even down to a press centre that's far too good for the press."

Tailpiece

Sven-Goran Eriksson admits he has not thought about becoming "Sir Sven" should he guide England to World Cup glory. He laughed and said: "I never thought about that. It is not a big thing for me. I just hope to leave the job alive!"

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