By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – An icon of Brazilian football (soccer), the Maracanã Stadium, is almost fit for purpose again after two and a half years out of action for renovation works. This Saturday, April 27th, is the first ever match at the refurbished international standard arena, now meeting FIFA and the World Cup specifications.
The friends of Ronaldo versus friends of Bebeto exhibition encounter will be the opening test event to check stadium safety in preparation for June’s Confederations Cup tournament.
The match will be played for only ten percent stadium capacity and no tickets for the match will be on sale to the general public. The game serves as a thank you to all who have worked on the stadium over the past thirty months, as well as press, with Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff also in attendance.
This past Saturday, the stadium’s lighting, sound and video systems were all tested successfully. The Maracanã has four high-definition screens, each one placed directly over the corner flags. It is estimated the stadium is now 97 percent ready, only awaiting the installation of the last remaining seats.
The countdown has already begun across the city to June 2nd, when Brazil play England in the first official friendly after the reopening. The Maracanã has been in extra demand since the Engenhão Stadium closed last month due to structure concerns.
The anticipation of having the stadium back in use is hard to over-emphasise, as Mark Lassise, an American living in Rio, and producer of SporTV show Olhar Estrangeiro, explains: “It is of major significance because of the money dumped into it by the state government and the responsibility of accepting the games both for the Confederations Cup and the World Cup.”
Meanwhile works continue to go awry at Brasília’s Mané Garrincha Stadium. FIFA general secretary Jerôme Valcke has declared that world football’s governing body is “worried” about the slow progress at the arena, with the latest reports suggesting it will only be completed by May 18th.
The Local Organizing Committee (LOC) announced last week the stadium would not be ready this coming Sunday, April 28th, as originally promised. Instead, there will now be huge pressure to get the stadium checked safely in less than a month before Brazil kick-off against Japan.
The stadium is scheduled to host the Confederations Cup opening ceremony and match on June 15th. “We have a real concern with the Confederations Cup opening ceremony, because the Brasília stadium is a month behind schedule,” Valcke said.
However, despite the most recent delays, FIFA president Sepp Blatter declared himself confident Brazil would host a successful 2014 World Cup. Speaking at a press conference in Havana, Cuba, the 75-year-old said, “A year before the World Cup there are always problems. […] It was the same in Germany [in 2006] and in France [in 1998]. It’s safe to say that Brazil are going to organize a great World Cup.”
FIFA also declared last week that all stadiums that would only be used during the 2014 World Cup would have to be ready by December. The group stage draw for the tournament is on December 6th, and this is the date Blatter and Valcke want everything to be finalized in Brazil.