All Nearly Ready for Soccer Fest


With a blessing and a papal plea for good sportsmanship, Italy laid aside years of chaotic preparations and civic bickering Thursday to shout jubilant welcome for the futuristic soccer stadium here that will be headquarters of the 1990 World Cup.

Pope John Paul II, Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti, cup officials and representatives from teams of two dozen competing countries, including the United States, joined 75,000 Romans in inaugurating the white steel-rimmed oval in Rome's northern suburbs.

Over long, frustrating months of work delays and traffic jams, the 80,000-seat stadium emerged as a symbol both of Italy's coveted role as host of the world-riveting soccer championship and the national travail to get ready for it.

Play begins in the monthlong soccer extravaganza June 8 in Milan in a match between defending champion Argentina and Cameroon that will be televised to about 140 nations. Italy plays Austria the next day in the Roman stadium, which John Paul blessed with a call for a competition in which neither players nor fans "yield to temptations of individualism and violence."

Sport must be "at the service of man and not man at the service of sport," said the Pope, who played goalie as a young man in his native Poland.

"Be conscious of your responsibility," the Pope cautioned players. "You must become a model for millions of young people who need leaders, not idols. They need men who know how to communicate to them the thrill of challenge, the sense of discipline, the courage of honesty and the joy of altruism."

Thursday's ceremony on a bright and cloudless spring afternoon was a dress rehearsal for the stadium, where the cup final will be played July 8, and also for the sophisticated security that will underpin every game in a tournament jeopardized by potential fan violence.

With a week still to go, all but one of Italy's 12 World Cup playing fields are ready, but public works ranging from roads to train stations to advanced telecommunications still await finishing touches in almost every city.

In Rome, a new rail link between Fiumicino Airport and the city is running--but not well. Roads are spanking-new around the stadium, but many further away are unfinished, and traffic signals are still missing in most places. After lengthy restoration that was supposed to be finished for the cup, the historic Trevi Fountain in downtown Rome is still dry.

There had been concern that the Rome stadium, built for the 1960 Olympics and overhauled for the cup at a cost of $140 million--twice the original estimate--would not be ready, but in true Italian fashion, the stage is set just in time for the curtain.

Stadiums in the other 11 cities that had been reviled as monstrous inconveniences and traffic obstructions are now winning rave notices from architectural critics and sportswriters alike. The stadiums in Genoa, Turin and Bari are new, and the rest have been restructured. Joao Havelange, president of the International Soccer Federation came for John Paul's blessing Thursday and called Italy's cup facilities "absolutely first class."

And then there is Naples. "The Naples stadium will be ready--1/100th of a second before play starts there--but it will be ready," promised World Cup chief Luca di Montezemolo in an interview.

Despite heavyweight government attempts to head them off, strike threats abound on the eve of the cup: air traffic controllers to traffic cops, to bus drivers to railway engineers.

The largest and most complex security network in Italian history is in place, but officials still fear there will be violence stoked by British and Dutch soccer vandals called "hooligans." More than 3,000 specially trained police are guarding the Sardinian capital of Cagliari, where England will play its three first round matches, one of them against Holland.

Despite stringent attempts to keep the worst of known agitators off the island, police expect that hundreds of hooligans will turn up among an anticipated 10,000 British fans. Local officials in Cagliari are pondering whether to ban alcohol on game days there.

Amid the Roman festa Thursday came a grim pre-cup warning from Scotland Yard.

"We have got a lot of good intelligence in this country about plans being made that will involve the Dutch--plans for hooligan activity," said Chief Constable Malcolm George of the National Football Intelligence officials. Sardinian courts will be open in special sessions throughout the weekend of England's June 16 match against Holland, Italian officials promise.

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