The Athens Olympic Stadium will host the final of the soccer competition at the 2004 Athens Olympics, government officials decided yesterday. «For the final, the decision has been made to hold it at the Athens Olympic Sports Center. For the soccer preliminaries we have many solutions for Athens which are compatible with the Olympics,» Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos said after a meeting with Prime Minister Costas Simitis, Environment and Public Works Minister Vasso Papandreou and Sports Minister Giorgos Lianis. As for the Karaiskaki Stadium, the original choice to host the final, Venizelos said he is in talks with concerned parties about its refurbishment but added it will not be used as an Olympic venue. The new arrangement came a day after International Olympic Committee (IOC) officials inspected progress in the preparation of the Olympics. «I am especially satisfied with the progress in the venue operations work,» Gilbert Felli, who headed the team ahead of a major IOC inspection visit in early November, said on Thursday. «But we must be on guard because of the time pressure and all parties have to keep working at the same pace.» Felli added: «As for hospitality and accommodation, we can say we have begun to see the light at the end of the tunnel.» Lacking adequate hotel space, Athens is still struggling to find ways to accommodate the visitors expected to arrive for the Olympics. Precise estimates have not been made, but insiders say Athens should brace for more than the 250,000 visitors that descended on Sydney for the 2000 Summer Olympics. Earlier this week, Athens 2004, the organizing committee, announced that it had booked seven luxury cruise ships, two of them still under construction, to berth in the port of Piraeus in order to accommodate some visitors. Another four cruise ships have been independently booked by international sponsors, national Olympic committee delegations and media. Athens has also called a tender for a company to manage some 1,500 apartments that will be rented to visitors during the Games in August 2004.