Practice held at stadium hosting World Cup opener
SAO PAULO (AP) — The stadium set to host the opening World Cup match in less than three months opened for a brief training session on Saturday, with construction workers taking a break to watch players set foot on the pitch for the first time.
Although the Itaquerao isn’t expected to be fully ready before mid-April, Brazilian club Corinthians trained at its stadium in a closed session in which only journalists and workers could watch.
The Itaquerao was one of the six stadiums that were supposed to be finished by the end of 2013, but a crane collapse that killed two workers in November caused significant delays to the venue where Brazil will play Croatia on June 12.
Two other stadiums still have to be finished ahead of football’s premier event, one in the southern city of Curitiba and the other in the wetlands city of Cuiaba.
With cranes still in the background and a lot of infrastructure work yet to be completed outside, Corinthians players took to the field as a few hundred workers watched from the stands. A few dozen fans tried to get in but were not allowed because of safety reasons.
A priest from a church in the lower middle-class neighborhood where the stadium is located was invited to lead the players’ prayer before the start of training. Official goalposts were still not being used, but former Brazil midfielder Jadson had the honor of scoring the first goal in a scrimmage.
Organizers say the 68,000-capacity venue is close to being completed, and the pitch had been in place for several months.
“This is historic,” team director and former player Edu Gaspar told reporters.
After the training, the team gave away balls to the workers in attendance, and some of them were picked to participate in a mock penalty kick shootout.
Brazil promised to have all 12 venues completed by the start of the year but was not able to get them ready even though it was picked to host the tournament seven years ago. Infrastructure work outside the venues also is significantly delayed, and organizers are running against time to make sure everything will be completed.
FIFA’s main concern is with the temporary structures needed for the media, sponsors and technical teams. FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke said this week that host cities have “to race” to get the work done.
Although Sao Paulo organizers have been saying the Itaquerao will ready on April 15, Valcke said he doesn’t expect the venue completed before mid-May, about a month ahead of the opener.
Earlier this week, constructors installed the giant roofing structure that collapsed after the crane failure late last year. Organizers say only details have to be finalized.
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