Rio's iconic Maracana reopens for key World Cup test



Rio`s iconic Maracana reopens for key World Cup testRio de Janeiro: Rio`s famed Maracana Stadium reopens Saturday for an exhibition match that will serve as a first test ahead of the Confederations Cup in June and the World Cup next year.

Built for the 1950 World Cup, it underwent two years of extensive renovation in order to be ready to host four Confederations Cup matches as well as seven World Cup games next year, including the finals of both tournaments.

Saturday, "friends" of former soccer stars Ronaldo and Bebeto, who both won the World Cup with the national squad, face off in the iconic arena in front of 25,000 spectators, including President Dilma Rousseff and 21,000 workers involved in the renovation as well as their relatives.

It is the first of three tests in the renovated 78,838-seat sporting complex before the Confederations Cup kicks off in Brasilia on June 15.

The first Confederations Cup game in Rio will be a Mexico-Italy game on June 16.

A second test is scheduled for May 15 with 50 percent capacity, to be followed by the official inauguration on June 2 with a Brazil-England friendly.

"The objective of a test match is to check the teams, facilities and infrastructure so that eventual adjustments can be made to ensure everything runs smoothly when Maacana is inaugurated," the Rio state government said in a statement.

Maracana, which hosted a world record crowd of around 200,000 for the climax of the 1950 World Cup, will be the fifth of six host arenas to be completed for the Confederations Cup.

The inauguration of Brasilia`s 71,000-seat Mane Garrincha arena, has been postponed until May 18 because of problems in preparing the pitch.

Since 2007, the Rio state government has invested $615 million in Maracana, one of the world`s great soccer arenas.

The renovation will convert Maracana into a multi-purpose arena featuring bars, restaurants and shops.

Friday, opponents of the stadium`s privatization staged a new street protest and police used tear gas to disperse them.

And a group of indigenous people who were displaced in March from the historic former museum where they had lived since 2006, returned to the building, placing a banner on the roof to protest the planned privatization.

The former museum, which had been slated for demolition, was instead classed as a historical landmark.

Meanwhile two consortiums are competing for the 35-year operation of the Maracana complex and its surroundings.

Eight countries are competing in the June 15-30 Confederations Cup: Brazil, Spain, Mexico, Uruguay, Japan, Italy, Nigeria and Tahiti.

AFP