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FIFA says Curitiba will host WC matches, but stadium completion will cut it close

Curitiba A general view of the Arena da Baixada during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Host City Tour on January 21, 2014 in Curitiba, Brazil. (Photo by Friedemann Vogel - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

FIFA — and Brazil, for that matter — have long forgotten the Dec. 31, 2013, deadline to have all 12 World Cup 2014 stadiums finished. Once the calendar turned to 2014, World Cup officials simply wanted to make sure they actually had 12 venues to play in once June rolled around.

Curitiba’s 40,000-seat Arena da Baixada was the venue most precariously flirting with deadline disaster. And even though FIFA on Tuesday, Feb. 18, said the stadium remains in the mix to host, officials must still deliver on the behind-schedule and over-budget venue.

There’s no turning back now.

While said to be more than 90 percent complete, the Curitiba stadium won’t be ready until April, at the very earliest, and needed an emergency government loan to even get to the point it is now, let alone a finished state. But FIFA announced that it wouldn’t pull the stadium and create a logistical scheduling nightmare for fans and teams playing there. Instead, the games staring on June 16 featuring Iran-Nigeria, Honduras-Ecuador, Australia-Spain and Algeria-Russia will all get played in the venue after all.

Curitiba was originally slated to finish in December 2012 and include a retractable roof. The roof was scrapped long ago. So was any sort of deadline. At this point, Jerome Valcke, FIFA's secretary general, says via Twitter that finishing Curitiba is a "race against a very tight timeline."

With Curitiba—one of five stadiums still not completed—in the news, the unfinished 43,000-seat Arena Pantanal in Cuiabá has started to offer a new slate of concerns. A fire there in October 2013 was originally deemed minor, but a Reuters report claims that the venue underwent structural damage, which has forced FIFA to hire an independent inspector to check the stability of potentially cracked concrete and steel framing at the venue.

Assuming an “all clear” is granted, as Brazilian officials expect, the venue will open in late March or early April and host Chile-Australia, Russia-South Korea, Nigeria-Bosnia and Japan-Colombia during the tournament.

February didn’t bring much welcome news at the troubled 43,000-seat Arena da Amazonia in Manaus, either. The northernmost venue, which will host one of the United States’ group stage matches, still isn’t done and suffered its third worker death, the fifth death of a worker building one of the World Cup stadiums. A 55-year-old construction worker died while dismantling a crane across the street from the stadium. The death won’t impact the stadium’s planned in-time finish.

Estadio Beira-Rio, a 50-seat stadium in Porto Alegre, and 66,000-seat Arena de Sao Paulo in Sao Paulo are the other two unfinished venues, but both are expected to wrap this spring with Estadio Beira-Rio opening as early as March and April 15 as the expected open date for the Sao Paulo venue.

Estadio das Dunas in Natal opened in January after missing the initial Dec. 31 deadline.

The first six stadiums to pen included four of the country’s five largest World Cup venues (over 60,000 capacity).

• The first venue delivered to FIFA—an entire year ago—was Estadio Castelao in the northern city of Fortaleza. A remodeling of the 1973-built stadium will seat roughly 64,000 spectators for six matches, including a quarterfinal.

• What was once a 200,000-capacity monstrous venue that hosted the 1950 World Cup Final, Maracana in Rio de Janeiro has been completely rebuilt. The single-bowl structure now seats just shy of 80,000 and will host seven matches at the 2014 World Cup, including the final on July 13.

• With the original stadium leveled, the new Estadio Nacional de Brasilia—also opened in late 2012—will be the tournament’s second-largest, holding 71,000 spectators for its seven matches, including a quarterfinal.

• More than 62,000 fans can watch each of the six matches, including one of the semifinals, at the completely overhauled Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte.

• Welcoming about 55,000 spectators for its six matches, including a quarterfinals, the brand-new Arena Fonte Nova replaces a shuttered stadium in Salvador.

• The brand-new Arena Pernambuco in Recife opened in May 2013 and will seat close to 46,000 during its five matches. 

Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and technology for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb

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