Bluish flickers of light emanate from the windows of city apartment buildings and suburban homes. Cheers and groans echo through streets, where passersby stand crowding the doorways and windows of local bars. Cooks and waiters steal precious few moments at work to huddle in front of a 19-inch TV in the kitchen, hoping to catch a glimpse of the perfect give-and-go, a sublime pass, or maybe even - dare to dream - an elusive championship-winning goal.

Sounds like the Super Bowl, right? Or maybe the World Series? It does. Now imagine those scenes happening all over the world. That's why - sorry, Super Bowl; no offense intended, World Series - the World Cup is the be-all and end-all spectator event. This summer, 32 teams from around the globe descend upon 12 host cities throughout Germany to vie for the most coveted of soccer's cups. So, if you find yourself traveling in Germany between June 9 and July 9, congratulations: You're going to be at the 2006 World Cup.

No tickets, you say? Irrelevant. Not interested? Beside the point. Whether or not you're at the stadiums, and even if you wouldn't know a soccer ball if one coldcocked you mid-bratwurst, the atmosphere of the World Cup is not only unavoidable - it's rather contagious.


WHAT TO EXPECT
Even lifelong soccer fans attending their first World Cup are knocked for a loop by the enormousness of the event and its tendency to force life's little details - work, sleep, bathing - onto the back burner. Just ask sports agent and Frankfurt resident Brian Eylert about the 1974 World Cup, which was hosted, and won, by West Germany. "I had tickets to the opening game," laughs Eylert. "So we had to postpone our wedding for a month."

Eylert, whose clients include German soccer legend Lothar Matthäus, also remembers the 1990 World Cup, which Germany won. "It was absolute pandemonium," he recalls. "All night in the streets, people going around in cars honking horns endlessly. It was a big celebration and it seemed to go on forever."

This year's tournament should be exceptionally well attended. Germany is easily accessible to European residents who, by hook or by crook, will take planes, trains, and automobiles to the tourney whether or not they have tickets. It's also a comfortable place for Americans to travel - English is spoken virtually everywhere, and flights are not as lengthy and costly as they were for the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea and as they will be for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. For many, this is the tournament to attend.

PLANNING YOUR TRIP
Few people know more about planning a trip to the World Cup than Antonio Paz, founder and president of Soccer Travel, a travel agency based in Miami. Opened in 1980, Paz's agency now handles travel arrangements for the U.S. Soccer Federation, among other distinguished clients, and has a year-round travel business offering lodging, tickets, and hospitality services for soccer events all over the world.

From tickets in the rafters and budget hotel rooms to up-close-and-personal seats and limo service to the game, excursions to European castles, and restaurant recommendations, Paz prides himself on customer satisfaction.

"This is all we do, so we can't afford to screw it up," Paz laughs. "Our track record is 100 percent." The key to his success is shockingly simple: "We don't sell what we don't have."

If only that were true of everyone. If you're reading this and you don't have tickets yet, you have your work cut out for you. The U.S. Soccer Federation announced on January 17 that it had sold out of its ticket allocation for fans hoping to see the Americans take to the field. With the demand for tickets far exceeding supply, it's a seller's market - and some of those sellers are offering tickets that they have yet to secure. Online ticket brokers and package agents should be approached with care.