MEXICO CITY — For the last six weeks, it has been stored deep in a heavily guarded vault in the Banco Nacional de Mexico.
On Sunday, it will be transported under conditions of extraordinary security--probably in an armored car with a police or military escort--from the bank to Azteca Stadium.
There, shortly after 2 p.m. (1 p.m. PDT), international soccer's most coveted trophy will be handed to one of two men: Argentina's Diego Maradona or West Germany's Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.
Whichever player receives it will hold the solid gold statuette aloft for the crowd of 114,000 and the worldwide television audience to see, and then it will be over. Another chapter will have been completed in the 56-year history of the World Cup.
This particular chapter has been rather dull--no attempt has been made to make off with the $350,000 trophy--but that has not always been the case.
The World Cup that Maradona or Rummenigge will triumphantly display is not the original trophy. That one was stolen twice. Unfortunately, it was recovered only once.
The idea of a world soccer championship was conceived by two Frenchmen, Jules Rimet and Henri Delaunay, and it was Rimet, the president from 1920 to 1954 of FIFA, world soccer's governing body, who donated the original prize.
Designed by French sculptor Frances Abel Lafleur, the trophy depicted the goddess of victory, arms upraised, holding an octagonal cup in her hands. Made of pure gold with a base of semi-precious stones, it was valued at $47,000 when first presented in 1930.
After being won by Uruguay that year and by Italy in 1934 and 1938, the World Cup had to be hidden during World War II. Dr. Ottorino Barassi, an Italian vice president of FIFA, concealed it in a shoe box beneath his bed for the duration of the war.
After the war, the trophy was renamed in honor of its donor, becoming the Jules Rimet Cup in 1946.
Twenty years later, after having been won by Uruguay in 1950, West Germany in 1954 and Brazil in 1958 and 1962, the Cup was stolen while on exhibit at a stamp show in the London borough of Westminster during the 1966 tournament in England.
A massive search was launched, but Scotland Yard was stumped. Just when it was feared that the trophy had ended up in a smelter's pot, a most unlikely hero appeared on the scene.
Every dog has its day, and for Pickles, a black and white mutt of uncertain pedigree, that day came in the summer of 1966.
It was Pickles who found the Jules Rimet Cup while nosing around in the bushes of a London garden. His discovery enabled his owner to collect the reward of 6,000 pounds (then worth between $15,000 and $20,000). The thief who had demanded a 15,000-pound ransom for the return of the Cup instead got a two-year jail sentence.
The Jules Rimet Cup was won by England that year, with Queen Elizabeth II presenting it to the English captain, Bobby Moore, at Wembley Stadium on the afternoon of July 30. Seventeen years later, it was to disappear again.
Won by Brazil for the third time, in 1970 in Mexico, the Cup was awarded to the Brazilian soccer federation for good on June 21 of that year.
FIFA then held a competition for the design of a new trophy, with 53 entries being received from seven countries. The design selected was that created by Italiano Silvio, a sculptor from Milan, Italy.
The solid gold statuette stands slightly more than 14 inches in height and weighs a little more than 10 pounds. It cannot be won outright and remains in the possession of FIFA, with the winning countries receiving a gold-plate replica. It is described by it creator as follows:
"The lines go from a base rising in a sphere and covering the world. From the body of the sculpture, two figures stand out--two athletes in a moving celebration of victory."
The base of the trophy is banded by two rings of Malachite (a green gemstone) and contains enough space for the names of 17 winning countries to be engraved upon it. In other words, it will played for for the final time in 2038.
This is the trophy that was won by West Germany in 1974, by Argentina in 1978 and by Italy in 1982. The Jules Rimet Cup, meanwhile, was kept in a display case at the Brazilian soccer headquarters in Rio de Janeiro.
Until the night of Dec. 20, 1983, that is.
Then, in a theft that shocked and saddened millions of soccer fans worldwide, the original World Cup was stolen once again.
The Cup had been kept in a bullet-proof glass case in the ninth-floor board room of the Brazilian federation headquarters in downtown Rio.
According to police, two hooded thieves broke into the building, tied up, blindfolded and gagged the night watchman, and then spent more than three hours removing the Jules Rimet Cup and several other trophies from the display case.
As soon as the theft was discovered, an immediate reward of $10,000 was offered, and the Brazilian soccer federation president, Giulite Coutinho, even went so far as to say he was "open to negotiations" with the thieves in regard to ransom.
"Its true value is spiritual," Coutinho said of the stolen Cup. "This was part of the nation's historic treasury.
"We're not talking about the material value of the cup. The important thing is what it represents because of the international prestige Brazil gained when it won it."
Unfortunately, such appeals did no good and the Cup has not been seen since. Police are virtually certain it was melted down for its gold content.
It is this history--as well as the value of the new trophy--that helps explain the tight security surrounding the present FIFA World Cup, to give it its proper name.
Brought to Mexico in December by the then-reigning champion, Italy, it was sent on a tour of Mexico's nine World Cup cities before being stored in the bank vault for the last six weeks.
On Sunday, it will be presented for the fourth time, but whether it will be Argentina's or West Germany's name that will be engraved upon its base is too early to tell.