Rio's revamped Maracana overcomes setback to host England friendly
After narrowly escaping cancellation on safety concerns, Rio stadium welcomes England
After an embarrassing brush with cancellation, the iconic Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro will host its first official match since an extensive renovation when Brazil tackle England today in a glamorous friendly.
A local judge ruled on Thursday that the game could not go ahead as the stadium did not meet minimum safety requirements, only for the decision to be overturned after city authorities scrambled an appeal.
The Rio state government later explained that a mandatory safety report had not been sent to the relevant local authority because of a "bureaucratic failure".
The saga was the latest unedifying setback in the story of the stadium's refurbishment, which has been beset by delays and disputes since work costing the equivalent of nearly HK$4.7 billion began 30 months ago.
The stadium was officially opened on April 27 when teams led by Brazilian greats Ronaldo and Bebeto played an exhibition match in front of a limited crowd of 25,000, but today's game will be the first time that a full audience of paying spectators is admitted.
The arena retains its famous circular shape and monolithic concrete shell, but it has a new roof and its two tiers have been replaced by a single tier of vibrantly coloured yellow, sky-blue and white seats.
Built for the 1950 soccer World Cup, in which the hosts succumbed to a traumatic 2-1 defeat by Uruguay in the deciding game, the stadium has witnessed some of the greatest feats of Brazilian superstars such as Pele and Zico.
The renovated ground has a seat capacity of 78,838 - having accommodated crowds of up to 200,000 in its heyday - and is scheduled to host four matches at this month's Confederations Cup, as well as seven World Cup games next year, including the finals of both soccer events.
England's last game in Rio was a 2-0 friendly win in 1984 that featured a stunning solo goal by former Liverpool winger John Barnes.
Mark Chamberlain, father of current England winger Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, played in that game and his son said he was thrilled by the prospect of walking in his father's footsteps.
"There is nothing better than being able to go and play at the Maracana," said the Arsenal winger. "It's amazing."
England were criticised for an uninspired display in Wednesday's 1-1 draw with the Republic of Ireland at Wembley, but manager Roy Hodgson has defended his players.
"Do I believe, from what we saw against Ireland, that we are on the right track? The answer is yes," he said.
"Other people will have other opinions. They're entitled to them and welcome to them. We will wait and see."