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The World Cup is ominously close! So that you aren't caught offside (they have that in soccer, right?), we're previewing all the participants, bringing you Four Things You Don't Know About Them. Today: Japan, the United States and Italy! Tomorrow we'll also be featuring leftover tidbits from all the teams. So if you have something you haven't seen here, send 'er over to

1. Japan. Starting forward Naohiro Takahara, known in Germany as "The Sushi Bomber," just transferred from Hamburg to Frankfurt in the German Bundesliga. He also used to play for Boca Juniors in Argentina. Apparently, he will only play for clubs that are also food names. — (thanks to Kohei Yamamoto).

2. International. Finally; we've been waiting for a Web site dedicated to the wives/significant others of international footballers. We wouldn't open this one at work, by the way.

3. The United States. Landon Donovan is not only one of the youngest World Cup players, but is also one of the most stylish in his cotton Jacquard shirt, $480, and silk-wool pants, $645, by Tom Ford for Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche.


4. Italy. The Italians might have had the weakest excuse ever used in soccer, and there have been plenty. At Euro 2004 played in Portugal, in June with tempertures of 33 degrees Celsuis, the Azzuri drew Denmark 0-0. Many Italians attributed the draw to the field being too warm. — (thanks to Mike Cardillo).