FIFA gushing with praise over Japan's venues

By Jeremy Walker
 TOKYO (May 13)--Japan's venues for the 2002 World Cup will set new standards in the history of the game, according to the head of a FIFA inspection team.
 Saudi Arabia's Abdullah Al Dabal was gushing with praise after leading the team to Sapporo, Oita, Niigata and Kashima during a four-day visit this week.
 Al Dabal, who is an executive committee member of both the Asian Football Confederation and FIFA, told reporters at a press conference in Tokyo: "We are very deeply impressed by the work done, quantity and quality wise, in the venues we have visited.
 "We believe that the excellent infrastructure we have visited in Korea and Japan will set new standards in the history of World Cups to come."
 The team, which also included Walter Gagg and Daniel Rupf from FIFA HQ in Switzerland, visited six venues in Korea before arriving in Japan last Sunday.  Each country will use 10 stadiums for the 32-team, 64-match finals from June 1-30, 2002.  All 10 in Korea are under construction, while three in Japan have been completed: The final venue of Yokohama International Stadium, Nagai at Osaka and Miyagi in Sendai.
 Al Dabal added: "We have seen so many stadiums and venues in our sporting life but I would like to tell you that what we saw in Korea and Japan is really very hard for any other country to surpass.
 "As a member of the AFC, I would like to say how proud I am to see such installations in Korea and Japan, and also to have been assured by the federations and organising committees that the 20 stadiums will be a very dear and excellent present to the youth of Asia after the World Cup."
 Al Dabal said he was particularly impressed with the stadium at Sapporo, where the pitch can be moved from under a dome protecting it from the severe winter climate in Hokkaido to allow the grass to grow naturally outside.
 "This is technology in its latest version," he said.
 Summing up the reception they had received in Japan, Al Dabal concluded: "The amount of enthusiasm we saw from governors, mayors and sports officials is a comforting sign that we will have everything which FIFA asks for in the stadiums.
 "It gives us the assurance that they (the stadiums) will meet our requirements and be a landmark in World Cup history.
 "We are very confi dent that the success of the 2002 World Cup will be very attainable."
 Al Dabal said further inspections were planned, and that he hoped all stadiums would stage trial matches several months before the World Cup kicked off.