Toymakers from all over the world, gathered at Germany's annual toy fair, are hoping to capitalize on the international commercial powerhouse known as the World Cup.
All play and no work puts a smile on Jack's face
A host of new products, which were unveiled on Thursday at Germany's annual International Toy Fair, have been carefully designed and packaged to cash in on pandemic soccer fever four months before the World Cup kicks off.
Jigsaw Puzzle balls with portraits of the German national soccer players
"Soccer is present in almost every kind of game we have here," said Ernst Kick, the president of the fair, which is taking place in the southern city of Nürnberg for the 57th time this year.
One hall is devoted entirely to official 2006 World Cup toys launched on the market by soccer's world governing body FIFA, which is expected to earn some two billion euros ($2.4 billion).
Kick said nine companies who have been licensed to produce toys for FIFA could hope for sales of about 200 million euros.
Crossing the lines
But dozens of other toymakers are also hoping to profit from the tournament, which is being played in Germany from June 9 to July 9, even if traditionally their products have nothing to do with the sport.
A toy fair is often a dream come true for children and a nightmare for their parents.
The German manufacturer Playmobil has launched a mini football pitch with toy players that can score goals and even raise their arms in celebration. For the moment, the players are all male but Playmobil also has a squad of female plastic figurines in the pipeline.
Competitors Lego are counter-attacking with a game called "football challenge" which invites children to assemble their "dream team" of players.
The US-based toy company Hasbro, one of the FIFA license holders, has introduced a version of Monopoly where instead of buying property, the players buy soccer teams.
From table soccer to stuffed animals
Tipp-kick, the specialist German company that claims it originally introduced table soccer in 1938, complained that the approach of the World Cup had seen imitations of its classic toy flood onto the market, including one made by Playmobil.
Comic figure bees Maja and Willy together with´'Captain Carrera' at the Nürnberg Toy Fair
"They have made a plastic copy of our product which we first made more than 80 years ago. Fortunately we are aiming for an older target audience," said the owner of Tipp-kick, Mathias Mieg.
He said the family-owned company's sales so far this year has been 160,000 euros compared to 120,000 euros for the whole of 2005, thanks to the World Cup.
Also hoping to make a tidy profit is Nici, the stuffed toy-maker which holds the license to make Goleo, the lion that is the official World Cup mascot.
The toy fair runs until Feb. 7 and will see 2,785 toymakers from 63 countries present their wares.