The 2002 Football World Cup kicks-off today as 32 teams from around the globe bid for glory, but it won't just be the millions of fans sat glued to their TV screens for the next month. Leading sports apparel and sports shoe companies will also be hoping for the right result as they look to cash in on sales of their hi-tech replica kits and boots. Richard Ewing reports.

The curtain will finally lift on "The Greatest Show On Earth" on Friday when France and Senegal kick-off the 2002 World Cup. But it won't just be the hundreds of millions of fans of the 32 teams who will be glued to their TV screens for the month-long tournament watching every save, tackle, foul and goal.

Many of the world's biggest sportswear and sports shoe companies will also be sweating on the teams' and individual players' performances and results as they look for a return on their massive marketing and advertising investment through huge sales windfalls.

Nike, Adidas, Puma and Umbro are just some of the companies whose logos and names will adorn the kits and boots of the world's best players in Japan and South Korea. Each one well aware that the further a team they sponsor, or are associated with, progresses, the more lucrative the rewards.

The heat is on

With the tournament being held in a hot and humid climate, sportswear firms have spent small fortunes and thousands of man-hours designing lightweight fabrics for the players' kit that will help maximise their performances in difficult conditions.

Leading the way is German sportswear giant Adidas which is supplying kits with its "ClimaLite" technology to 10 of the teams, including tournament favourites France and Argentina as well as much-fancied Spain and Germany. The shirts work by quickly drawing sweat away from the skin so the player is more comfortable and can perform at his peak.

The company has also spent 40 million euros on marketing for the month-long tournament but is set to reap many times that amount through sales of replica shirts, shorts, socks and boots. Adidas is also the event's official licenser, outfitter and sponsor of the event. Up to 40,000 tournament staff will also wear apparel showing its three stripes.

As an example of how winning on the pitch can lead to success off it, when France won the 1998 World Cup in Adidas tops and boots, it replaced Nike as the leading sporting goods company in France as fans rushed out to wear the colours of their heroes.

According to a recent survey by US-based NPDFashionworld Consumer, $36.4 billion was spent on sports apparel in 2000, with women - perhaps surprisingly - accounting for around 60 per cent, or $21.8bn, of that total.

Going for glory
Meanwhile, the superstars of eight countries - Brazil, Portugal, Korea, USA, Russia, Nigeria, Croatia and Belgium - will wear revolutionary apparel supplied by the world's biggest sportswear manufacturer, Nike.

The Oregon-based company has named its new technology "Cool Motion". The apparel consists of two specific layers - one Dri-FIT inner layer and one hydrophobic (water-repellent) outer layer with mesh ventilation panels. The Dri-FIT microfibre fabric quickly pulls perspiration away from the skin and spreads the moisture over a wide surface area for quick evaporation.

"When Nike started designing the new kit there were three key issues that we had to address: weight, comfort and heat/humidity," explained Craig Buglass, Nike's football creative project designer. "The two layer concept works in a way similar to the bellowing effect of a chimney. When a player runs, air is channelled in through the lower ventilation panels and then distributed over the torso, before leaving through the upper vents."

Buglass adds the result is the shirt retains less moisture and body heat regardless of the weather conditions. It's also 22 per cent lighter than Nike's previous national team shirt. Stars including Ronaldo, Thierry Henry and Rio Ferdinand will also be wearing Nike's new boots, The Mercurial Vapour. The boots are extremely light and boast "NikeSkin" - materials are wrapped to conform to the natural curvatures of the foot without compromising strength or structure.

Moisture management
Back in Germany, leading sportswear producer Puma is hoping to cap a hugely successful year off the field with glory on it as the players of Cameroon, Paraguay, Poland, and Tunisia aim for a place in the final.

The new jerseys, which include an eye-catching "sleeveless" version for Cameroon, feature its "Ultimate Sport Performance" moisture management technology that also reflects heat. Puma's new Shudoh boots will also adorn the feet of several superstars.

Football's world governing body, FIFA, wanted to ban Cameroon from wearing the sleeveless shirt because there was no room for their logo, which normally goes on the sleeves. However, a compromise will see an extra, almost transparent piece of cloth added to the shirts so the logo can be displayed and the sleeveless effect preserved.

Italy's much-fancied team will wear kits supplied by domestic sports apparel firm Kappa. The lightweight tops are designed so they do not stretch - which will make it harder for opponents to resort to the illegal tactic of "shirt-pulling".

Meanwhile, England and the Republic of Ireland will don strips made by Umbro with England's star striker, Michael Owen, gunning for goals in his 'revolutionary' XAI 2 boots supplied by the same company. The boots use Rubberised Kangaroo Technology (RKT), which Umbro claims gives the player better grip on the upper, producing more spin, power and grip on the ball.

Counterfeit crackdown

Off the pitch, the action will be just as tough with kit manufacturers working hard to stop counterfeiting of shirts and other apparel as they team up with police chiefs to hunt down and catch the gangs behind the fake merchandise.

Special hit squads will visit the grounds before, during and after games to check on traders who sell the tops from stalls outside the venues. They have identified several teams whose fans could be tricked into buying fake goods, namely Japan, South Korea and China, as their supporters will make up the majority of the crowds.

With 64 games in little over four weeks, the 2002 World Cup promises to be as exciting and thrilling as ever. It also promises to give a shot in the arm to the worldwide sports apparel industry as it looks to showcase its performance fabrics to billions. Let the show begin…

By Richard Ewing.