By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The FIFA World Cup is less than a week old but is predictably grabbing headlines across Brazil. With the first round of matches during the group stages close to completion, some of the planet’s finest players have been on display, captivating audiences across the twelve host city stadiums.
As hosts, Brazil of course got the party started last Thursday at the Arena Corinthians in São Paulo. Despite an understandably nervy performance they prevailed with a 3-1 win over Croatia. The stadium itself made it through the test unharmed. There had been much debate before the game about safety concerns at the Arena Corinthians due to a lack of capacity tests.
The third and final trial-event – in which the stadium must be close to full capacity – was not realized, and the World cup curtain raiser was the first time the stadium was filled to its 61,000 capacity. Next up for the Seleção was a trip to the Arena Castelão in Fortaleza and an entertaining encounter with Mexico, which ended goalless.
The opening games have seen strong performances from the majority of South American sides. On Sunday evening, a wonderful goal from four-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi helped Argentina to a 2-1 win over Bosnia at the Maracanã, with over 75,000 filling the stadium for the Cidade Maravilhosa’s first World Cup participation of 2014.
Carioca Rafael Coppola was present at the Maracanã and told The Rio Times he was impressed with what he saw. “Everything was very well organized at the Maracanã,” he said. “Queues to get inside moved very quickly with very little waiting time. There were several people to help out and the bathrooms were clean.” He added, “I found nothing to complain about. Tickets may be expensive for Brazilians but the experience was definitely worth it.”
After so many negative headlines over the last several years, the stadiums have all been relatively problem free so far. The final ground to see a match is the Arena da Baixada, in Curitiba, that hosted Iran versus Nigeria on Monday (June 16th), one of the most delayed building projects in the entire country during the run up to the World Cup but the goalless draw on Monday went without a hitch.
Another stadium that saw much negativity was the Arena Amazônia. Dave Groves is a British expatriate living in Colombia who traveled to Manaus for England’s opening game against Italy at the city’s brand new stadium. He told The Rio Times that despite enjoying the city, the stadium left a bitter taste in his mouth.
“Against all expectations our experience on Manaus turned sour once inside the stadium. There was booing for the England team with over eighty percent of the stadium being pro-Italy. It was very odd considering how welcoming people had been beforehand.”
The USA started their World Cup campaign at the Arena das Dunas in Natal, and American James Martin III had no complaints about the northeastern stadium. “Arena das Dunas was an amazing and beautiful stadium. It was a joy to watch the USA beat Ghana at such an aesthetic and stunning arena!”
The biggest problem so far was at the Estádio Beira-Rio in Porto Alegre, during the match between France and Honduras. Technical issues with the speakers and sound system meant that the national anthems of the respective countries, a pre-match custom during the World Cup, could not be played prior to kick-off.