After years of renovations, the fabled Maracana Stadium has reopened in Rio de Janeiro.
An exhibition match featuring teams led by former Brazilian stars Bebeto and Ronaldo played Saturday before a crowd of 25,000, many of them workers who have labored to modernize and upgrade the Maracana, site of the 1950 World Cup’s final match.
A crowd estimated at 200,000 attended the final game of the 1950 competition, in which Uruguay snatched the title by beating Brazil, 2-1.
Once renovations are complete, capacity will be 82,238 for the facility that will be the showpiece venue for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. It will host a friendly with England June 2 and as a Confederation Cup venue stages a match between Mexico and Italy June 16.
Brazil president Dilma Rousseff and her predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva were among the spectators. The stadium was closed nearly three years ago as part of the renovations, and many of the workers have been at the site since 2007. Ronaldo, a member of the 2002 World Cup-winning team, praised the workers in an address to the crowd.
“Congratulations to all of you, you are the heroes of this transformation," Ronaldo said.
A second test match will be played May 15 with 50 percent capacity before the official re-opening at full capacity June 2.
The Rio state government has invested an estimated $430 million to renovate the stadium and surrounding areas, where a complex of restaurants and shops are to be constructed. Two consortiums are competing for a 35-year lease to operate the Maracana and its surroundings
Privatization of the site has met with resistance. A banner was unfurled inside the stadium that read: “No to privatization and demolition.”
“We want to alert people to what is happening,” Amanda Asuncao told AFP in reference to the forced evictions of properties around the stadium area. “Privatization will take Maracana and soccer away from the people and the majority for the benefit of the elite.”
FANS THROW CAXIROLAS IN PROTEST. All 2014 World Cup stadium test games -- staged to test the readiness of organizers -- have not gone well.
A match between Vitoria and Freddy Adu's Bahia was briefly interrupted when fans threw hundreds of caxirolas -- a maraca-like instrument -- on the field to protest the home team Vitoria's play.
The hand-sized caxirola -- based on the African instrument caxixi -- is Brazil's replacement to the noisy vuvuzela of South Africa 2010 infamy -- indeed, it's the official fan instrument of the World Cup.
"It doesn't mean that something like this will happen if Brazil is losing a match during the World Cup," Brazil Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo said.
That remains to be seen as Brazil's national team was loudly jeered by nearly 50,000 fans in Belo Horizonte after another subpar performance in a 2-2 tie with Chile.
An earlier "evento-teste" at Fortaleza's Arena Castelao was marred by the death of two fans on the way to the state league match between Fortaleza and Ceara.