San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
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Costa Rica will battle with Venezuela before a full stadium to inaugurate the Under-17 Women's World Cup

UPDATE: Venezuela spoiled the host’s opening game as the Vino Tinto crushed Costa Rica, 3-0.

The game begins at 8 p.m., and also can be watched on Channels 6 and 7 in Costa Rica. Tickets are cheap, and still available for other matches during the tournament — which are taking place in San José, Tibás, Liberia and Alajuela.

After Venezuela, Costa Rica plays fellow Group A rivals Italy on March 18 and Zambia on March 22 in the first round.

The World Cup, the first major FIFA tournament hosted in Central America, runs through April 4. FIFA’s Joseph Blatter will be in attendance for that championship match. Costa Rican Football Federation President Eduardo Li hopes the under-17 women’s tournament will be a springboard for future FIFA events here.

“[Blatter] will come here for the final, and will talk with media on April 3, that is confirmed,” said Tatjana Haenning, FIFA’s Head of Women’s Competitions, during a press conference Friday.

Li said he was proud of the welcome Ticos were giving to this World Cup event. Ticket sales also were going fast in Liberia in the northwest province of Guanacaste, where two games also were scheduled for Saturday.

Costa Rica had the World Cup briefly taken away from them by FIFA on Feb. 28, 2013 after preparation for the tournament seemed too far behind schedule. President Laura Chinchilla even made a personal phone call to FIFA officials to ask for a second chance. Costa Rica was reinstated as hosts by the end of March. A year later, Haenning said she’s very satisfied with how everything worked out. And at last, on Saturday afternoon, the games were under way.

Italy shut out Zambia, 2-0, in the National Stadium prior to Costa Rica’s primetime matchup. Simultaneously in Liberia, 230 kilometers northeast of the capital, Ghana defeated 2008 champions North Korea, 2-0, in the first Group B match. Germany and Canada were set to play at 8 p.m.

Costa Rican coach Juan Diego Quesada felt positive about his team’s draw.

“On paper it looks like a group we could emerge out of, but we’ll need to treat every game as if it’s our last,” Quesada said. “Our priority is still to make it past the first round, and this squad is equipped to do that.”

The national team has only qualified for this World Cup once before, in 2008. Costa Rica failed to make it out of the group stage that year. But no opponent in Group A  has had success at this World Cup. Italy and Zambia are both playing in their first Under-17 World Cups. Venezuela, in its only World Cup appearance, exited during the group stage in 2010.

Midfielder Gloriana Villalobos — the team’s 15-year-old captain — said she was pleased with Costa Rica’s chemistry and discipline during preparation and believes the hosts can impress with a strong performance in the tournament.

The final two groups will open their tournament Sunday. In Group C, New Zealand plays against Paraguay and then Spain and Japan clash in the late game in Tibás. In Group D, Alajuela, Mexico faces Colombia followed by China versus Nigeria.

In the previous Under-17 Women’s World Cup, which took place in Azerbaijan in 2012, the opening match had 30,250 spectators. That record number topped the first two World Cups: in Trinidad and Tobago in 2010 (13,646) and New Zealand in 2008 (13,123), according to FIFA data.

France, who won the 2012 World Cup in Azerbaijan, didn’t qualify for the Costa Rica edition.

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