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FIFA World Cup Stadium Hamburg: History breathes beneath sleek veneer of World Cup stadiums

By Laura Urrutia
January 25, 2006

The 12 stadiums that will host matches at the World Cup this year could hardly look more modern, after a $1.5 billion construction programme designed to give Germany a fitting stage for the world's biggest sporting event.

But look beyond the sleek lines of steel and polished glass and there is a wealth of history at these modern architectural marvels, not least in Hamburg, scene of a remarkable match in Germany’s soccer history.

It is 32 years since the World Cup was last held on German soil, in the western Federal Republic of what was then a divided nation.

Among the 16 teams making the finals was Communist East Germany, or the GDR, and fate ensured East and West would meet in the opening group stage in front of 60,000 fans at Hamburg’s Volksparkstadion on June 22, 1974.

A West German side captained by Franz Beckenbauer started as clear favourite against the much less feted DDR but soccer has a habit of mocking expectations and Beckenbauer's side suffered a shock 1-0 defeat via a goal from Juergen Sparwasser.

Both sides had already secured qualification for the second group phase and it was West Germany who would have the last laugh, going on to win the tournament for the second time with victory over the Netherlands in the final.

But the GDR was able to use the result for propaganda purposes for years to come. The match was the first meeting between the two states and, as it would turn out, the only one, as the GDR turned down every subsequent offer to play the Westerners in order to protect a perfect record.

The new World Cup stadium in Hamburg looks a lot different to the old Volksparkstadion, where the West Germany-DDR game took place.

The running track has gone, a distinctive canopy roof now covers the stands and UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, has awarded it five-star status, meaning it can be used for major finals.

Work began on modernising the Volksparkstadion in 1998, with the pitch being rotated through 90 degrees and the four stands torn down and rebuilt.

The new ground will host five matches at the World Cup: four in the first phase and one quarter-final.

The draw in Leipzig in December threw up several outstanding matches for the city, including the crunch clash between three times World Cup winners Italy and strongly fancied Czech Republic on June 22.

Argentina, champions in 1978 and 1986, and a Ukraine team boasting Andriy Shevchenko are among the other teams to have first phase matches in Hamburg.

The United States will set up camp in Hamburg throughout the tournament and Bruce Arena’s side could go on to play a quarter-final in the city on June 30, if they manage to win Group E and then make it through the second round.

Hamburg’s ground is one of 12 state-of-the-art stadiums being used to stage the 64 matches of the tournament, from June 9 to July 9.

There are great stories to be told about most of the venues, with only the grounds at Munich, the new home of FC Bayern, and Gelsenkirchen, home of Schalke 04, built absolutely from scratch.

The reconstructed stadiums at Dortmund, Hanover, Frankfurt and Stuttgart also hosted matches at the 1974 World Cup, while arguably no sporting venue in the world breathes more history than Berlin’s Olympic Stadium.

The Olympiastadion was designed by Werner March for the 1936 Summer Games and was thus the stage for the extraordinary feats of Jesse Owens, the African American sprinter and long jumper who won four gold medals in front of the Nazis.

The stadium was restored after World War II and staged matches at the 1974 World Cup before the latest reconstruction work began in 2000.

The rebuilding was completed at a cost of around $250 million in September 2004. A few weeks later, Germany met Brazil in the first full international to be played at the venue.

Who knows? Maybe the same two teams will be back at the Olympiastadion on July 9 for the 2006 World Cup final. It sounds far fetched now, but then few people predicted a Germany v Brazil final four years ago in Japan.

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