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Brazil opens new stadium, but not for World Cup

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A sparkling new football stadium opens in the southern city of Porto Alegre this weekend, the first of 14 new grounds being constructed in Brazil ahead of the 2014 World Cup.

However, the 60,000-seat stadium will not host any games in the tournament.

The Arena Gremio, built for the former world champions of the same name, was overlooked by soccer's governing body FIFA, which is opting instead to host five matches in the unfinished Beira-Rio Stadium owned by Gremio's arch-rivals Internacional.

Inter's 52,000-seat stadium is being upgraded at a cost of 330 million reais and is not scheduled to be ready until December 2013.

The choice has raised eyebrows in a country that is struggling to finish its stadiums and key infrastructure on time for the World Cup, and has received increasingly urgent warnings from FIFA to get its act together.

Gremio inaugurates its 600 million reais ($289 million) ground this Saturday, when it plays a friendly against Hamburg, the team it beat to win the Intercontinental cup (played between the best sides in Europe and South America) in 1983.

FIFA have also overlooked Gremio's new ground as a Confederations Cup venue for 2013, even as it sweats over whether some of the six chosen grounds will be ready.

"That hasn't been explained to us," Gremio's vice-president Eduardo Antonini said of the club's absence from the list. "We are the first stadium to be ready. This city is passionate about its football and instead the Cup has gone to other places with less footballing tradition."

Officials from the Brazilian Football Confederation did not return phone calls seeking comment.

The World Cup is being held in 12 stadiums, nine of which are being built from scratch and three of which are being modernised. Two other stadiums are also being built. In addition to the Arena Gremio, Palmeiras is spending more than 400 million reais on a 45,000-seat stadium in Sao Paulo.

Although neither is slated for use in the World Cup or Confederations Cup, experts said they meet FIFA's standards.

"I've been in the best and most famous stadiums and the Arena is excellent," said former Barcelona and Real Madrid striker Ronaldo, who visited the ground this week. "I've only seen stadiums like this in Europe and this is up there with the best in the world."

FALL BACK

Others believe the two stadiums offer a fall back for FIFA should some of the planned venues or surrounding infrastructure not be ready.

Some of the World Cup stadiums are behind schedule and the areas where many are based are run-down or unprepared for the influx of fans. Some infrastructure projects, particularly airports and public transport links, are being scaled back because they will not be ready in time.

"Nobody is talking about it but I think it is a Plan B," Cesar Gualdani, president of the Stochos sports marketing agency, said of the Arena Gremio. "The Palmeiras stadium, too. If a (World Cup) stadium is not on time or has problems, they have these as alternatives."

Gremio sold its old ground to OAS, the company that will build and manage the stadium. OAS wants to build houses on the land and is footing the bill for the new stadium, as well as for the shopping centre, hotel, offices and houses it plans to build alongside.

In return it gets all monies from ticket sales, bars and restaurants, and executive boxes, as well as a chunk of cash from naming rights.

It will pay Gremio an annual fee of 7 million reais, plus 65 percent of profits during the first seven years, then 14 million reais a year and 65 percent of profits for the remaining 13 years.

The club hopes the new facilities will entice people to games and said it expects attendances to rise.

Experts agree that one of the main reasons crowds are so low in Brazil compared to other footballing nations is because stadiums are run down and fans are treated poorly.
 
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