The Maracanã stadium in Rio, venue for next year’s World Cup final and the spiritual home of Brazilian soccer, has re-opened with an exhibition match despite not being fully finished.
Only two entrances were complete, some seats are still missing and the area around the stadium resembled a building site as the arena was re-inaugurated on Saturday with a match between teams led by former Brazil strikers Ronaldo and Bebeto.
The Maracanã is the fourth of the 12 World Cup stadiums to be opened, having missed the December deadline set by FIFA by four months. It will also stage matches at the Confederations Cup to be held in Brazil in June.
“Brazil is going to give a big lesson to the world and to those which didn’t think it would be possible to hold this World Cup and Confederations Cup,” Ronaldo told reporters on the touchline during a halftime interval.
“Another stadium has been delivered,” added the 1994 and 2002 World Cup winner, who is on the local organizing committee.
“It was a last-minute thing but that’s how it goes. We are happy with the result. The pitch is sensational. The stands are beautiful, so are the internal facilities, everything is really good.”
President Dilma Rousseff was present in the stands along with sports minister Aldo Rebelo, but left before halftime.
Of the six stadiums to be used for the Confederations Cup, only Fortaleza and Belo Horizonte followed the original schedule and were completed last December. Recife is due to be opened on May 14 and Brasília four days later.
The Maracanã was originally built for the 1950 World Cup and only the shell of the original stadium remains. That year Uruguay, to the frustration of Brazil, won its second world Cup.
Inside, it has been changed from double-deck to a single tier stadium which designers say gives supporters a better view while capacity has been reduced to 78,000.
The decisive game at the 1950 World Cup was watched by an estimated crowd of 200,000 while other huge attendances were common in the old days.
The Uruguayan striker who scored the decisive 2-1 goal, Alcides Ghiggia says only three people in the history of the stadium managed to keep the crown numb: Pope John Paul II, Frank Sinatra and him.
Critics are worried that the stadium will lose its popular appeal with higher prices once it re-opens for good. There have also been protests about plans to demolish the adjoining swimming pool and athletics track to build a shopping center and car park.