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 Thursday, September 26, 2002 16:27 EST

Beckham: England deserves great stadium

[Associated Press]

LONDON -- After almost a decade of planning, a $1.17 billion redevelopment plan was approved for Wembley Stadium on Thursday.

The new 90,000-seat stadium in north London, designed by Norman Foster, is scheduled to open in 2006. Critics are calling the plan the most expensive in the world.

Foster's design will include a "Triumphant Arch'' towering 400 feet above the stadium. Demolition on the old stadium is expected to begin Monday.

England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson supported the project.

"It's the most famous stadium in all the world and we know about it in Sweden,'' Eriksson said. "This will be a real football ground and England can be very, very proud.''

Midfielder David Beckham said the new stadium will fill a void in England.

"We deserve, as a nation, a great stadium,'' Beckham said. "We need a national stadium. The plans that I've seen have been amazing and hopefully it's going to be a big part of my life.''

Wembley was built in 1923 and was the site of England's greatest soccer triumph, a 4-2 victory over Germany in the 1966 World Cup final.

"It's been a long wait in many, many ways,'' said Adam Crozier, head of the English Football Association. "I don't think anyone would suggest there haven't been mistakes made. I think there is no doubt is has taken far too long.

"We believe we will have the finest stadium in the world.''

The last match at Wembley was played on Oct. 7, 2000, a 1-0 Germany victory over England.

Plans to redevelop the site have been delayed by bankers and investors wary of rising costs, political infighting over the project and squabbling over whether to include facilities for athletics.

The site is also located in one of the least accessible areas of north London.

Critics have pointed out that the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, where the F.A. Cup final has been played since Wembley closed, cost only $395 million.

Plans to build a national stadium were first announced in 1996, and costs have since tripled.

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