We are now exactly three weeks away from the FIFA World Cup kicking off in Brazil. On Thursday, June 12, the hosts and Croatia will take to the field at the brand new Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo to officially begin football's most illustrious tournament.
At least, that is the plan.
Because so near to the the start of what should be an enormous celebration of the game, three of the country's 12 stadiums have come dangerously close to not being ready, despite a FIFA imposed deadline of December 31, 2013.
Besides the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo, Curitiba's renovated Arena da Baixada, and the newly built Arena Pantanal in Cuiaba, have been left desperately lagging in the race to be ready for kick-off.
The idea of using 12 cities to host the World Cup, even in a nation as gargantuan as Brazil, seems pure folly, and the difficulties faced in just getting some building works off the ground has highlighted that. The sheer volume of work and expense has caused enormous delays to numerous projects.
But finally, the finishing line is in sight, with the Arena Pantanal handed over to FIFA yesterday.
On Sunday, the Arena Corinthians held its first test event prior to the World Cup warm-up friendly between Brazil and Serbia on June 6.
The result was not what was expected, as Corinthians lost 1-0 to lowly Figueirense, and the reports coming out of the stadium were largely negative, as reported by Estado de Sao Paulo (link in Portuguese).
Over 40,000 had bought tickets but supporters were delayed entering the stadium due to enormous queues. A lack of internet connection inside didn't help matters either.
These are the kind of minute issues that must be ironed out prior to hosting a mega event like the World Cup. And it is the reason FIFA are insisting on at least one more test event at the Arena Corinthians prior to the friendly between Brazil and Serbia, as reported by Almir Leite (link in Portuguese).
Corinthians v Cruzeiro, on May 29, should be used as a second event prior to international fixtures.
The Arena da Baixada, in Curitiba, ran a serious risk earlier this year of missing the World Cup completely. Seriously behind schedule at the turn of the year, FIFA gave a deadline of February 18 to provide assurances the home of Atletico Paranaense would be ready in time for action, as reported by Globo Esporte (link in Portuguese).
The Baixada passed that test but missed another deadline of May 13 to be delivered to FIFA. The new deadline is today, May 22.
Last Wednesday, May 14, a test event was held at the stadium between Atletico Paranaense and Corinthians, a hastily arranged friendly simply to serve as a gauge for preparations and work carried out since FIFA's last visit.
The stadium was reportedly in “chaos,” according to UOL Esporte (link in Portuguese). Organisation outside the stadium was virtually non-existent, with no place for the team buses from the respective clubs to pull up close by.
Complaints were also made about the condition of the toilets and press room. The friendly is the only test event at the stadium, with no further matches scheduled before the World Cup match between Iran and Nigeria on June 16.
The Arena Pantanal, in Cuiaba is the silver lining over Brazil's cloudy last-gasp preparations. At the beginning of this month, seating was still being installed at the stadium, as reported by newspaper Estado de Sao Paulo (link in Portuguese).
This was despite the fact the Pantanal had already hosted three matches. Mixto v Santos, on April 2, Luverdense v Vasco da Gama, on April 26 and Cuiaba v Internacional, on May 1, all took place without a full quota of seats.
The remaining chairs of the 41, 390 were finally laid on May 10.
The fourth and final test was held at the Pantanal this past Sunday. Santos took on Atletico Mineiro in the Campeonato Brasileiro, with the Mineiros emerging with a 2-1 victory.
According to Globo Esporte (link in Portuguese), the event passed with relative success. As a result, the Arena Pantanal was delivered to FIFA yesterday (May 21), who will now have responsibility for the stadium until the end of Cuiaba's involvement in the World Cup.
The final game to take place in the Pantanal is the clash between Japan and Colombia on June 24.