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Grab your Firebolts

SI.com previews the 422nd Quidditch World Cup final

Posted: Thursday November 17, 2005 5:18PM; Updated: Tuesday November 22, 2005 11:29AM
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Rules stipulate that this particular wizard isn't old enough to be eligible for England.
Rules stipulate that this particular wizard isn't old enough to be eligible for England.
Courtesy of Warner Bros.
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The moment witches and wizards have been eagerly anticipating for four years is here: the final match of the 422nd Quidditch World Cup. In just a few days, Bulgaria will take on Ireland for all the marbles, and SI.com has all you need to know for what promises to be an exciting contest.

(As all with all Quidditch matches, the final won't be televised, but my sources say highlights will feature prominently in the new Warner Bros. film, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which opens Friday.)

For those of you Muggles who aren't familiar with Quidditch, it's the oldest and most popular sporting event in the wizarding world. Played on a long oval field with three elevated hoops on either end, two teams of seven players each try to score points in one of two ways: by either throwing a Quaffle through one of the hoops on their opponent's side for a goal (worth 10 points), or by capturing the tiny, elusive Golden Snitch (an immediate 150 points).

Participants must be careful, however, of the two large iron balls called Bludgers that fly haphazardly around the pitch and try to knock players off their brooms. Once the Snitch is secured, the game is over and whichever team has more points wins.

The favorite for the final is Ireland, which has had a remarkable run through the World Cup. In one of the most lopsided matches of the tournament so far, Ireland flattened Peru in the semifinals with its superb Quaffle-handling skills. Most impressive was Ireland's ability to maintain its poise even as the Peruvians countered with their trademark flopping and whining while claiming leg injuries (a tactic that has led Brazil to five World Cup titles).

The Irish chasers -- the players who try to score goals with the Quaffle -- are among the most talented, fluid threesomes in the history of the sport. Head coach Jack O'Philson (often known as the "Druid Master") has his able chasing trio run the Hawkshead Attacking Formation, a triangle-like offense that few seem to be able to describe with any accuracy.

Bulgaria is somewhat of a surprise finalist, narrowly downing Uganda in the other semifinal. The defensive-minded Bulgarians' secret weapon is 18-year-old seeker Viktor Krum, a schoolboy at the Durmstrang Institute who is a natural at hunting down the Golden Snitch. Well-versed at the Wronski Defensive Feint maneuver, "Air" Krum often hunts down the Snitch so quickly, the match is over even before opposing teams can score a goal.

There were some eligibility issues surrounding Krum before the tournament started, however, as rumors circulated that he hired an agent before his final year at Durmstrang began. As a result, he lost out on a major six-figure endorsement deal with Firebolt brooms.

Krum didn't cause nearly as much of a stir, however, as his teammate, chaser Jakob Levski, who refused to suit up for Bulgaria's second-round match with Luxembourg in observance of Yom Kippur.

SI.com's pick? We can't imagine the Bulgarians will get on the board often enough to make the Irish nervous. Meanwhile, look for Ireland's chasers to score early and often, despite Bulgaria's excellent defense. The wild card is Krum -- if the Irish can't keep him away from the Snitch long enough for them to score goals, they could be in trouble. Still, expect Ireland to win in a close one, 170-160. Not that we've read anything about the final result.

It's never too early to look ahead to the 423rd World Cup, which will take place in four years. Bulgaria should be a strong team once again, as Krum will be a third-year professional by then and his legend as one of the greatest seekers of all time will merely grow.

Meanwhile, England fans are still recovering from the huge disappointment of their team's 390-10 upset loss to Transylvania in this year's second round. The team should bounce back as a favorite for 2009, however, as most of its players will be returning. And there are reports of some up-and-coming young seeker by the name of Potter ...

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