Party time as Maracana reopens
Rio's fabled Maracana Stadium reopened after a multimillion-dollar makeover that will make the legendary arena the showpiece venue of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.
A limited crowd of approximately 25,000 spectators thronged the Maracana, which hosted a world record audience of more than 200,000 for the 1950 World Cup but has now had its capacity reduced to a maximum of 82,238.
Spectators for the test event on Saturday watched a friendly exhibition match between select teams led by Brazilian World Cup winners Bebeto and Ronaldo.
Along with VIPs including Brazil President Dilma Rousseff and her predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, many of the spectators were workers who have helped transform the ageing venue since 2007.
Former Real Madrid striker Ronaldo, the star of Brazil's World Cup-winning side in 2002, paid tribute to the workers efforts in an address to the crowd.
"Congratulations to all of you, you are the heroes of this transformation," Ronaldo said to ringing applause.
Saturday's game was the first of three tests in the renovated arena 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.
Before then, a second test is scheduled for May 15 with 50 percent capacity, to be followed by the official inauguration of the venue on June 2 with a Brazil-England friendly.
Since 2007, the Rio state government has invested an estimated 430 million dollars in the Maracana renovations, which ultimately will comprise a multi-purpose arena featuring bars, restaurants and shops.
However, the redevelopment has met with controversy in some quarters, with protesters taking aim at the plan to privatize the venue.
Two consortiums are competing for a 35-year lease to operate the Maracana and its surroundings.
Protesters unfurled a banner inside the stadium that read: "No to privatization and demolition" -- a reference to the forced evictions of properties surrounding the venue which are being redeveloped.
"We want to alert people to what is happening," protester Amanda Asuncao, 32, told AFP. "Privatization will take Maracana and football away from the people and the majority for the benefit of the elite."
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