Final test for unfinished Sao Paulo venue

The Sao Paulo stadium hosting the opening match of the World Cup staged a second test game Sunday, with its upper north terrace closed and its southern counterpart at half capacity on firefighters’ orders.

The new Corinthians Arena remains an unfinished addition to the skyline in Brazil’s stylishly affluent business hub, with two temporary seating sections unable to accommodate fans as owners Corinthians met Botafogo for the test game before a crowd of some 40,000.

They witnessed a 1-1 draw, Jadson on target for the hosts and Edilson for the visitors from Rio.

FIFA had expected that, with just 11 days to go before Brazil open their Cup extravaganza against Croatia, the stadium would be able to hold a full capacity test for 65,000 fans.

Two temporary seating areas are unfinished, the scaffolding betraying the fact that the venue is still a building site.

FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke had tweeted after visiting the stadium on May 21 that “it is vital for us that all facilities will be tested under full match conditions including the temporary seats & associated facilities.”

But that proved impossible Sunday, given the work still undone.

Compared to an initial test match on May 18, metal detectors were in place at the entrance and a metallic gray material covered the temporary seating structure on the stadium’s southern side.

– ‘Much work remains’ –

“The stadium is very beautiful — but much remains to be done for the World Cup,” said Anderson Almeida, 27, as he found his seat in a temporary seating section open for the first time.

“I’ve brought my Saint Jude shirt in case the stairs fail,” joked his father Jeorge, 70, in allusion to the many delays the stadium has experienced and accidents claiming the lives of three workers.

One of the three construction workers fell from an unfinished seating area on March 21.

Eventually, the stadium — known as Itaquerao after the part of the city in which it stands — held a first test game on May 18 between Corinthians and Figueirense, which the hosts lost.

The 36,000 fans at that opening test faced broken elevators, exterior lighting problems, patchy cell-phone connectivity and a drenching storm that forced some to move to higher seats because part of the glass-paneled roof was still unfinished.

Brazil officially handed the arena over to FIFA on May 21, long past the original December 31 deadline.

Corinthians say the venue will end up costing between 920 million and 950 million reais ($417 million and $431 million) — or 14 to 18 percent over its original budget.

The stadium will not merely host the opening game — it will be the theater for the pomp of an opening ceremony to be transmitted by some 600 broadcasters to a worldwide audience of around a billion people.

The 25-minute spectacle will feature 600 artists and incorporate the World Cup anthem “We Are One” sung by rapper Pitbull, Jennifer Lopez and Claudia Leitte.

Valcke left operational experts to oversee final preparations as they “test all aspects and then make the final adjustments to ensure all will be perfect for the opening ceremony and the opening match on 12 June.”

– ‘Hell’ –

Valcke has already candidly admitted, however, that FIFA has been through “hell,” cajoling and marshaling organizers to jump through the various logistical hoops involved in staging the event.

Outside of Sao Paulo, the city of Curitiba almost lost the right to remain a venue over its own delays, Porto Alegre has been racing to finish the area outside the venue itself and a worker died at Cuiaba on May 8.

Just this week, Valcke had a nasty surprise at Natal, whose stadium was inaugurated in January despite thousands of seats still needing to be installed today.

As the clock ticks down and the tardy host cities strain to put the finishing touches on their venues, Brazil must also face the likelihood of renewed social protests over the $11 billion cost of the Cup.

Many civilians say it would have been far better to put more government cash into sagging public infrastructure and sub-standard state health and education systems.

Brazil could have pushed its Cup bill even higher with more cities involved. FIFA president Sepp Blatter has said that Brazil initially wanted to host matches in not 12 but 17 stadiums.


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