By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The 2014 FIFA World Cup is almost exactly six months away and Brazil is preparing, psychologically as well as logistically, after the group stage draw this past Friday, December 6th. Twelve cities are set to host the biggest event in football (soccer), but the discouraging news emerged last week that none of the six remaining stadiums would be ready by FIFA’s deadline of December 31st.
The six cities still awaiting their arenas are São Paulo, Porto Alegre, Curitba, Manaus, Natal and Cuiabá. The Arena Itaquerão in São Paulo will be the stage of the tournament’s opening ceremony and match, featuring hosts Brazil vs Croatia, after last week’s group stage draw.
The Itaquerão was in the news for all the wrong reasons two weeks ago as two workers were killed on site after a crane collapsed and hit the roof of a section over the arena. It was originally thought building work would only be delayed by a month, but FIFA announced last week they only expect to receive the finished article in mid-April.
Given the problems now affecting progress in São Paulo, it is now unlikely a sequence of matches will be able to be test out the new ground. Local club Corinthians were set to use the Itaquerão during the 2014 Campeonato Paulista, the São Paulo state championship.
São Paulo is set to play a hugely important role during the 2014 FIFA World Cup, hosting six matches. As well as being the stage of the opening ceremony and game European giants Holland will take on Chile and former world champions Uruguay and England will lock horns at the Itaquerão as well.
In Cuiabá, the Arena Pantanal has also suffered setbacks. According to local reports, the stadium is 85 percent ready but still needs three months for completion.
News is slightly more encouraging in the south. The Arena Baixada and Beira-Rio, both of which have undergone extensive renovation works, are on schedule to be finished early next year, and Atlético-PR and Internacional should be able to play in their respective renovated homes for a few months prior to the World Cup kick-off.
The Arena da Baixada in Curitiba will receive European and World Champions Spain on June 23rd when they take on Australia. Brazil’s great rivals Argentina will play at the Beira-Rio against Nigeria.
As of last week the Arena das Dunas in the north-eastern city of Natal was 92 percent complete. The stadium will be handed over to FIFA on December 31st and is scheduled to host the classíco (local rivalry) between ABC and América on January 12th in the stadium’s inauguration match. The pitch, which workers began to install back in August, is ready for use and 32,000 seats are already in place. Natal will host four World Cup matches including Mexico versus Cameroon in Brazil’s group.
In the Amazon, Manaus’ Arena Amazônia is 88 percent ready. The roof has been installed and the metallic structure that will surround the stadium is awaiting completion. Miguel Capobiango Neto, a stadium co-ordinator, said, “It is very important in this final stage [of building] that we stick to the deadlines programmed.” The Arena Amazônia is due to host four matches during the World Cup, including Italy versus England.