By Emma Thomasson
HERZOGENAURACH Germany (Reuters) - German sportswear firm Adidas expects to keep its position as the world's biggest seller of soccer gear as strong World Cup performances by the star players it sponsors fires demand for its shirts, boots and balls.
Chief Executive Herbert Hainer said Adidas would reach its target of 2 billion euros ($2.72 billion) of soccer sales in 2014, keeping it ahead of rival Nike's estimated $2 billion in soccer turnover.
"We as a brand have by far scored the most goals," Hainer told a news conference, highlighting the World Cup performance of players wearing Adidas boots like Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben of the Netherlands and Thomas Mueller of Germany.
Adidas, the world's second-biggest sportswear company, has been losing market share in western Europe, its home territory, to Nike, which is also challenging its dominance in soccer.
While Adidas has supplied the match ball for the World Cup since 1970 and has extended its sponsorship of the competition to 2030, Nike is for the first time kitting out more teams - 10 out of 32 finalists - including hosts and favourites Brazil.
Nike, the world's biggest sportswear company, has only been a serious player in soccer since the World Cup was held in the United States in 1994. But it believes it has already overtaken Adidas in boots, including in its home market Germany.
Hainer said he was disappointed that reigning champions Spain were already out but he was happy with the performance of the other teams Adidas sponsors, in particular Germany, Colombia, Mexico and Argentina. He predicted a final between Argentina and Germany.
"Germany was fantastic ... Argentina will get better and better. Messi is Messi. He is a genius," he said, referring to Argentina's Lionel Messi, the player leading the Adidas marketing campaign who has already scored twice for his country.
Brazil's Nike-sponsored player Neymar is the tournament's top goal scorer so far, but the U.S. company's biggest star, Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo has yet to score.
Three of the Nike teams have already gone out of the World Cup - England, Australia and Croatia - to two of the Adidas-sponsored sides - Spain and Bosnia.
Hainer said about 80-90 percent of the Adidas World Cup jerseys had already been sold when the competition started.
"Whatever happens through the tournament, this is the icing on the cake," he said. "If Germany wins, we still can sell a few more but this will not materially change our results."
He said it was too early to give a forecast for football sales in 2015, but predicted the World Cup would have a lasting impact, particularly on sales in Latin America: "It will be another great year for us in football."
Hainer said Adidas expected to sell more than 8 million jerseys of the nine national sides it is sponsoring, including more than 2 million of the Germany shirt, with more than half a million of those sold outside Europe.
It also expected to sell more than 14 million replicas of the "Brazuca" official World Cup match ball, a million more than the ball it produced for the 2010 competition.
He said he was satisfied with the way soccer's governing body FIFA was dealing with allegations of bribery to secure the 2022 World Cup for Qatar, even though he reiterated he would have preferred the tournament to be staged in the United States.
"We are absolutely happy with our relationship with FIFA," he said. "We are preparing ourselves for Qatar 2022."
He said everybody was taking seriously concerns about poor working conditions for those building stadiums in the country.
Adidas and other soccer sponsors have called on FIFA to deal thoroughly with the allegations.
Hainer said the fact former U.S. prosecutor Michael Garcia, who is leading FIFA's internal investigation into the award of the 2022 tournament, had banned German World Cup-winning player and coach Franz Beckenbauer from the sport for 90 days for failing to cooperate with the inquiry showed he was serious.
"He wants to get to the core whether there is something or not," he said.
Beckenbauer was on the FIFA executive committee which awarded the 2022 World Cup hosting rights to Qatar in 2010. ($1 = 0.7357 Euros)
(Reporting by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Arno Schuetze and Jane Merriman)