Soccer City set for inaugural game

JOHANNESBURG - The World Cup final stadium opens its doors on Saturday with organisers hoping to attract a crowd of 80,000 to Johannesburg's Soccer City for the South African FA Cup final.

The imposing arena, on the outskirts of the city, is the last of the World Cup venues to be officially opened, having undergone an almost complete renovation.

The inaugural game at the revamped venue had been saved for this weekend's cup final although hopes for a sell-out crowd have been dashed by the progress of two unfancied teams to the final.

But the South African Premier Soccer League is still hoping to persuade locals to be part of pre-World Cup fever and view at close hand the massive stadium, built like an African calabash or pot, will be worth the R40 (about 4 euros) ticket price, even if finalists AmaZulu of Durban and Wits University are poorly supported.

The league says 50,000 of the 80,000 seats have already been sold. The stadium's capacity is 94,700 but for security reasons the number of tickets has been limited by 14,700.

"For many people who have not been able to get World Cup tickets, this is a chance to see the stadium," said the league's chief operations officer Ronnie Schloss.

"We hope that people will finally discard the idea that football cannot go on in the absence of the top supported teams," he told reporters.

Soccer City was originally opened in 1988 with a capacity of 75,000, having been built by the league and funded by the sale of its naming rights to a local bank. It has been the headquarters of South African football since and hosted the 1996 African Nations Cup final.

The renovation cost R3.3 billion, excessively over the originally budget of R2.2 billion, which was blamed on a sudden escalation of building costs.

The new arena has three seating tiers, 230 private boxes, 184 suites, 32 turnstile entrances and parking for approximately 19,000 cars within the perimeter of the stadium.

It also hosts the opening game of the World Cup between South Africa and Mexico on June 11. The World Cup final is on July 11.

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