On a lighter note of crime, 300,000 packs of Panini World Cup Stickers were stolen in Rio de Janieiro last weekend in an incident that shakes up an absurdly popular, and until now, notably scandal free, tangential pastimes the traditional World Cup build-up.

Since 1970 Italian sports card and sticker company Panini has produced internationally distributed sets of stickers of the anticipating participants, national football associations and stadiums to be placed in uniquely designed albums. These rapidly became quite popular collector’s items, and fueled the company’s global expansion in parallel with the tournament’s popularity (After acquiring ailing US sports card manufacturer Donruss, Panini has aggressively made inroads into all US sports).

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Besides the inevitable debate about what players are included/excluded (unavoidable due to the last-minute nature of much national squad selection), this year’s set already has it’s share of ‘anorak’ style nerd amusements and controversies, notably the Lollipop-guildish hairstyles of the French team and many of the South American players, as well as the transferring of each player’s vital statistics onto the sticker itself as opposed to sub-heading his place in the album, resulting in the need for  such a small script s to make them headache-inducingly difficult to read, and seemingly resulting in the first-time omission of each player’s birthplace.

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Perhaps this was intentional on FIFA’s or Panini’s part, but I always felt that being able to read that a player was, for instance, born in Nigeria, played his club football in Greece and was representing his country of citizenship in Poland (as striker Emmanuel Olisadebe did in the 2002 Korea/Japan World Cup, scoring a goal against the US to boot), was one of the most intriguing and multi-culturally unifying gem-like details of the collection and the tournament.

Perhaps this is a glitch that will be corrected in the future, in print or on the now expanding online edition (co-sponsored with Coca-Cola, this also includes links to veteran players’ previous World Cup stickers, as well as a trivia contest extending back to the initial 1930 tournament, for those who come from a legacy of shut-ins).

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