Final test for unfinished Sao Paulo venue

Sao Paulo: The Sao Paulo stadium hosting the opening match of the World Cup staged a second test game Sunday but well below capacity, with one section temporarily closed and another 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 the two incomplete seating sections unable to accommodate fans as owners Corinthians met Botafogo for the test game before a crowd of 37,119 paying guests.

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.

Instead, 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."

That proved impossible Sunday.

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."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.

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. The hosts lost.

The 36,000 fans at that game 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.

Coverage was better if imperfect Sunday and the flow of fans via the metro was also much more fluid, with extensive signage.

"We were at the inauguration and some improvements can be seen from outside," Fabio Ribeiro, 38, told AFP.

In the media working area, however, most working areas had yet to be fitted out with plugs.

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 "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."

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.

Beyond 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 but where thousands of seats still have to be installed.

As the hosts strain to be ready, Brazil also faces the likelihood of renewed social protests over the $11 billion cost of the Cup.

Demonstrators are angry the government didn`t instead pour cash into sagging public infrastructure and sub-standard state health and education systems.

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

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