Today, the eyes of the world will descend upon Brazil as the country hosts the opening match of the 2014 World Cup.
The Brazil v. Croatia match will be held in São Paulo’s new Arena de Corinthians, known by its nickname “Itaquerão.” The opening ceremony will include performances by Jennifer Lopez, Pitbull and local artist Claudia Leite.
As the country’s star players warmed up in the Teresópolis compound in Rio this week, the atmosphere near the São Paulo stadium was heating up. Striking subway workers shut down many parts of this already congested city, leaving thousands stranded. Landless workers belonging to the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Teto (Homeless Workers Movement—MTST) camped out nearby, and groups opposed to government overspending vowed that “there won’t be a Cup.”
From the beginning, a dark cloud loomed over Itaquerão, the future home of São Paulo’s popular Corinthians soccer club. In late 2013, a crane collapsed on part of the stadium, killing three workers and delaying construction. The multi-million dollar stadium was officially inaugurated last May, during a match between Corinthians and Figueirense of Florianópolis. The home team was defeated 0-1, and some hardcore fans claimed the grounds were cursed.
Another test match took place on June 2, as São Paulo’s Comitê Organizador Local (Local Organizing Committee) for the World Cup tested the stadium’s access, security, guest services, medical services, food and beverages, and cleanliness. According to the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo, there were still leaks in some corridors during the match, and some of the 40,000 fans present had to sit on improvised bleachers.
Officials are expecting 60,000 people to come cheer for their teams during today’s opening match. The crowd will include a mix of Brazilians and foreigners from all over the globe, who have traveled near and far and spent thousands of dollars for the chance to watch the “jogo bonito” (“the beautiful game”)—the term Brazilians use to describe Brazilian soccer.
If the opening match of the 2014 World Cup is indeed “beautiful,” the rest of the tournament should be a success. Fans drunk on excitement and Budweiser beer will cheer for their 32 teams, and television viewers will soak in the atmosphere from afar.
If the ugly signs of discontent, frustration and chaos that have loomed over Itaquerão show their face—or if citizens cover their faces in masks—the consequences and outcome of the World Cup in this country, which prides itself on its fun-loving image, could be unpredictable and irreversible.