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US Soccer Team to Play World Cup Opener in High-Tech Stadium

The two cities that will kick off play at the 2006 World Cup in Germany June 9 are Munich and Gelsenkirchen. Munich will host Costa Rica versus Germany and about one hour after that match ends, Gelsenkirchen will host Poland versus Ecuador. Located in the central western part of the country, near Dortmund, Gelsenkirchen has a high tech stadium that will also be the venue for the U.S. soccer team's first World Cup match against the Czech Republic on June 12.

The World Cup stadium in Gelsenkirchen proudly displays a plaque in its main entryway from football's world governing body that declares it has a five-star rating. And it's easy to see why.

Opened in 2001, it replaced the previous home of the Bundesliga club FC Schalke that had been adjacent to it. The new arena features state-of-the-art technology like no other in the world, as stadium press officer Klaus Horstmann explains.

"Every seat is covered by a roof and we have a closable roof to protect the lawn and to use it as a multi-functional arena," said Klaus Horstmann. "The most important thing about the arena of FC Schalke is that it is a multi-functional stadium. We can do concerts in it, we can do truck racing, anything you can imagine in sports, because the ground, the pitch, is stored outside and only moved in for the football, for the soccer matches. Otherwise we can use it for anything you can imagine in sports and entertainment."

The sits in a large tray that can be rolled into and out of one end of the stadium on rails. It is stored and maintained outside when not being used for matches. The floor of the stadium in Gelsenkirchen is concrete so it is adaptable for all kinds of entertainment. It takes only 30 minutes for the roof to be opened or closed. There are movable stands and a huge video cube hanging in the middle of the facility visible to all.

For Bundesliga matches the arena holds 61,000, but for the World Cup it will seat 54,000, because FIFA required all the standing-room areas be eliminated.

Horstmann told VOA Sports that a lot of thought went into the construction.

"When we made the decision to build a new one, we visited stadiums in the Netherlands, in the USA as well, to get ideas how to build it," he said. "And then we talked with HBM, the company that built the stadium. It's a large Netherlands building company. And they listened what we wished to have. And they said okay, we'll try. And they suggested this design with blue glass outside, with a closable roof, with a moveable pitch, and then we tried to finance it and finally it worked."

Klaus Horstmann said Gelsenkirchen officials planning the stadium even consulted with Schalke's football fans on what they wanted and he said response has been tremendous. Demand for tickets has been greater than ever

"At most the games, more people would like to come if we had the tickets," noted Klaus Horstmann. "But unfortunately we couldn't build a larger stadium for about 100,000 spectators. We would like to do it for the fans but it would be economically mad."

The cost to build the stadium in Gelsenkirchen was about $200 million and none of it was paid with public money. The infrastructure like parking and a rail station were already in place. Now the arena is set to host five matches during the World Cup, including four first round games and a quarterfinal.