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World Cup opening match today

The big question for Thursday's opening match of the World Cup isn't whether host Brazil can beat Croatia but how the unfinished and troublesome Itaquerao stadium will perform.

Because of chronic delays, worker deaths and other problems during its construction, the new arena was never tested at close to full capacity. So heads of state, VIPs and other lucky ticket holders will, like it or not, become guinea pigs by making up the first crowd to completely fill the stadium and put full strain on all its facilities, safety plans and equipment, managers and staff.

"If that was me who had to run that event, I'd be extremely nervous," says John Beattie, president of the European Stadium and Safety Management Association, an industry group of sports-venue executives.