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Soccer: Women to kick off Games in Canberra

By Super

Canberra's Bruce Stadium

Canberra: Women soccer players will kick off the 2000 Olympics in the Australian capital Canberra on Wednesday two days before the Games' official opening ceremony in Sydney.

The action starts at 5 p.m. (0600 GMT) when Australia play Germany in Canberra and Sweden take on Brazil in Melbourne. Four men's matches will be held later in the evening with Brisbane and Adelaide hosting two of them.

Canberra sports officials are still trying to live down an embarrassing blunder which almost left the city without its scheduled 11 Olympic soccer matches between September 13-24.

Bruce Stadium, which is normally used for rugby, was re-turfed last month but the grass, grown in Cairns in tropical north Queensland, turned brown after being moved to Canberra where August temperatures fall to zero.

Attempts to paint the grass green failed to fool anyone and officials had to move quickly to order new turf which was hurriedly laid, receiving approval from the soccer world governing body FIFA just last weekend.

Margaret Reid, who is president of the upper house of the national parliament, was quick to push the debacle to one side.

"You can never put on an event of this size without some ups and downs," she said.

Events sold out

Officials said both Canberra's Bruce Stadium, with a 24,000 capacity, and Melbourne's MCG, which can hold about 95,000, were sold out for the events that will start the 27th Olympiad.

The women's games will be followed by opening ceremonies of differing size and razzmatazz then two men's matches at 8.00 p.m. (0700 GMT) with Australia versus Italy in Melbourne and the United States against the Czech Republic in Canberra.

Adelaide and Brisbane will also host men's games later in the evening with Nigeria playing Honduras and Cameroon versus Kuwait.

Melbourne, the long-running rival to Sydney, has been more ambitious in its entertainment plans for the MCG, the venue for the 1956 Olympics, which will include singer Marina Prior, Melbourne band Taxiride, Aboriginal entertainers, and skydivers.

The Canberra 12-minute gala ceremony was expected to feature 1,400 local schoolchildren, a military band and abseilers, ending with a five-metre high soccer ball entering the stadium.

Steve Doszpot, event director of Canberra's Olympic football, said it was Canberra's chance to put itself on the map as a soccer venue -- and on the world map.

"We have a bit of a complex about Canberra not being known internationally with most people thinking Sydney is the capital of Australia," said Doszpot who is also president of the soccer federation for the Australian Capital Territory (ACT).

Canberra, located about 280 km (175 miles) south-west of Sydney, was chosen as the site of the national capital in 1908 and named after an Aboriginal word meaning "meeting place" in 1913. The seat of government moved to the city from Melbourne in 1927.

(c) Reuters Limited.

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