SAO PAULO -- The stadium set to host the opening World Cup match in less than three months opened for a brief practice session on Saturday, with construction workers taking a break to watch players step on the field for the first time.
Although the Itaquerao stadium isn't expected to be ready before mid-April, Brazilian club Corinthians trained in a closed session open only to journalists.
The Itaquerao was one of the six stadiums expected to be finished by the end of 2013, but a crane collapse that killed two workers in November caused significant delays to the venue where Brazil will play Croatia on June 12.
Two other stadiums are unfinished ahead of football's premier event, one in the southern city of Curitiba and the other in the wetlands city of Cuiaba.
With cranes still in the background and a lot of infrastructure work yet to be completed outside, Corinthians players took to the field as a few hundred workers watched from the stands. A few dozen fans tried to get in but were not allowed because of safety reasons. A priest from a church in the lower middle-class neighbourhood where the stadium is located was invited to lead the players' prayer before the start of training. Official goalposts were still not used, but former Brazil midfielder Jadson had the honour of scoring the first goal in a scrimmage. Organisers say the 68,000-capacity venue is nearly completed, and the field has been in place for several months. "This is historic," said team director and former player Edu Gaspar. After the training, the team gave away balls to the workers in attendance. Some workers were picked to participate in a mock penalty shootout. Brazil promised to have all 12 venues completed by the end of 2013. Despite being selected seven years ago to host the tournament, infrastructure work outside the venues remains delayed and organizers are running out of time. FIFA's main concern is with the temporary structures needed for the media, sponsors and technical teams. FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke said this week that host cities have "to race" to get the work done. Although Sao Paulo organisers have been saying the Itaquerao will ready on April 15, Valcke said he doesn't expect the venue completed before mid-May, about a month ahead of the opener. This week, constructors installed the giant roofing structure that collapsed after the crane failure late last year.