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Germany-Based Stars Ready to Shine at World Cup

For most soccer players, the World Cup used to mean a summer voyage to strange and distant lands. But for nearly 40 foreign players plying their trade in Germany, the tournament this year is coming to their doorstep.

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When not on the field, US goalkeeper Kasey Keller feels right at home in his German castle

Germany's top-flight has been flooded with foreign imports since the Bosman ruling in 1995, and 20 of the 32 competing nations at the 2006 finals will have at least one player already based in Germany's Bundesliga.

South America, Asia, Europe and Africa are all represented and German champions Bayern Munich can boast 12 players who will represent seven different nations at the World Cup.

Facing off against teammates

England international midfielder Owen Hargreaves is one of Bayern's foreign stars and faces the prospect of lining up against two club teammates in Paraguay international pair Roque Santa Cruz and Julio Dos Santos.

Roque Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz thinks he'll have a good chance of beating his English teammate

England face Paraguay in their opening Group B match on June 10 in Frankfurt. Paraguay are outsiders, but leading striker Santa Cruz hopes his team can finish above England or Sweden to progress.

"Paraguay gained a lot of experience at the last World Cup, and I think we can do better this time around," Santa Cruz said. "We aim to get past the first group stage and then anything can happen."

Iran are another nation hoping to pull of a surprise and can call on the experience of three Bundesliga-based players for the German finals.

Bayern's Iranian playmaker Ali Karimi, dubbed "the Asian Maradona," is joined by Hannover striker Vahid Hashemian and SV Hamburg midfielder Mehdi Mahdavikia.

Iran are grouped with Portugal, Mexico and Angola in Group D.

No second thoughts about scoring against Germany

South Korean forward Ahn Jung-Hwan, now playing for MSV Duisburg, was one of the heroes at the 2002 World Cup scoring the golden goal to eliminate Italy 2-1 in the second round match.

Ahn, a pin-up in his homeland having married a former Miss South Korea, was sacked on returning to Serie A club Perugia after the finals as the Italian club showed their frustration.

"I can't imagine Duisburg telling me to leave if I score against Germany at the World Cup," said Ahn. "What happened in Perugia was a one-off."

Fußball Länderspiel Deutschland gegen USA Bernd Schneider und Steven Cherundolo

Steve Cherundolo (r.) plays against Germans every week in the Bundesliga

Two of the United States' players will also be able to home after playing, if coach Bruce Arena allows them to leave the team's training ground. Goalkeeper Kasey Keller and defender Steve Cherundolo both ply their wares in the Bundesliga for Mönchengladbach and Hannover.

Sharing group E with the USA are Tomas Rosicky and Jan Koller, both of whom earn a living playing for Borussia Dortmund when they're not racking up international goals for the Czech Republic.

Brazilians are no strangers to Bundesliga

The mesmerizing number of ooohs and ahhs coming out of the Bundesliga stands would drop dramatically if it weren't for the talents of several Brazilian superstars playing in Germany.

Bayer Leverkusen defenders Juan and Roque Junior are joined by Bayern duo Lucio and Ze Roberto who started their careers at Leverkusen.

FC Bayern München - MSV Duisburg Fußball Bundesliga

Ze Roberto's regular paychecks come from Bayern Munich

Hertha Berlin utility man Gilberto is the other Brazilian star based in Germany.

Playing at "home" in a foreign country

For Lucio and Ze Roberto this World Cup offers them the unique chance to represent their country on their home ground. "The fact that the finals are in Germany makes this World Cup that extra bit special for me," Lucio said. "Playing in Munich for my country will be something I may never experience again, and I am really looking forward to it."

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