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Germany on schedule for hosting 2006 World Cup finals

Associated Press

FRANKFURT, Germany – True to their reputation as meticulous and punctual planners, German organizers of next year’s World Cup finals are well on schedule: Most of the 12 stadiums are finished, the infrastructure is coming along and headaches have been few.

“German thoroughness will make sure that everything will work at the time of the kickoff,” FIFA president Sepp Blatter said in a recent interview with the DPA news agency. “The Germans are not only competent. It’s also simple to work with them.”

But while the sailing has been smooth on the structural front – unlike in Athens, where organizers scrambled to ready facilities in the run-up to the Olympics – the human elements in Germany have been more problematic.

For starters, soccer officials are still coming to grips with Germany’s worst match-fixing scandal in more than 30 years. If charges are filed and trials begin, it could overshadow the final buildup to the World Cup.

The scandal broke in January when referee Robert Hoyzer admitted fixing games in return for bribes paid by a Croatian betting ring. Hoyzer has been banned for life, but the criminal investigation is far from completed.

Three Croatian brothers remain in custody and Berlin prosecutors are investigating 25 people in the scheme, including players and other referees. Most of the rigging occurred in lower divisions.

Meanwhile, World Cup organizers get to test their readiness during the June 15-29 Confederations Cup, the eight-team tournament in five cities that will serve as a dress rehearsal for the World Cup.

“We are very happy to have this test, we are taking it very seriously,” said Jens Grittner, another spokesman. “We are not yet at World Cup level in every area, but we still have a year of hard work.”

The World Cup, after the Olympics the world’s biggest sports event, kicks off in exactly one year in Munich and ends one month later in Berlin, with 64 games spread around 12 German cities.

Of the 12 stadiums, the new $416 million arena in Munich that will stage the opening match already has opened. The Olympic stadium in Berlin, the site of the final, also has been finished.

Only stadiums in Stuttgart and Kaiserslautern are still undergoing renovation work. The stadiums, some new, some renovated, cost $1.8 billion.

Despite Blatter’s praise of the Germans’ work thus far, disputes have cropped up – like the price and the number of available tickets for the fans, the kind of beer to be sold, and the price of hospitality packages.

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