Scanty Stadium for first event of Rio Olympics

 
The 2016 Olympic Games in Rio got off to an underwhelming start at an almost-empty stadium tonight.
After a build-up plagued by organisational, health and security fears, Sweden and South Africa took to the field in the opening match of the women's football tournament in front of scarcely more than a few hundred fans at the 60,000-capacity Olympic Stadium.
Huge swathes of blue seats remained empty all around the deathly-quiet venue, the home ground for club side Botafogo.
More spectators, clad in both the yellow of Sweden and Brazil, drifted into the stadium as the match progressed, with the hosts taking on China in the second game of the day.
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The official attendance was given as 13,439. "Optimistic" is putting it kindly.
The same two teams, Sweden and South Africa, attracted a crowd of 18,290 when they met at London 2012 in Coventry, while the first match of that tournament, admittedly featuring Great Britain, was watched by 24,445.
The record books will show a 3-0 win for Brazil and a 1-0 victory for Sweden, but this was a world away from any sort of celebration of sport.
The stadium, in the north of the city and named after Joao Havelange, the now 100-year-old former FIFA president, was built for the 2007 Pan American Games and the capacity was temporarily expanded for the Olympics.
Not that it needed the extra seats on Wednesday.
The fans, if not flooded in, then at least came in sufficient numbers to ensure there were far fewer empty seats - and, just about, some semblance of atmosphere - when Brazil kicked off their campaign, captain and number 10 Marta receiving the biggest cheer of the afternoon.
The arena could still have been only about a third full, though, with the blue of the seats still overpowering the yellow-shirted rows of fans.
With Brazil deep in recession, Olympic tickets are a luxury few locals can afford.
No doubt things will be different when Neymar and company start the men's team's campaign in Brazilia on Thursday.
This, though, was an inauspicious beginning.
Even the performance of Marta - the five-time women's footballer of the year dubbed 'Pele in a skirt' by the man himself and scorer of 104 international goals - was in keeping with the tone of the afternoon: muted.
She was withdrawn before the end of the match and had an ice pack strapped to her right leg at the final whistle.
Brazil's opening goal was comical, Monica's looping header in the 36th minute finding its way past three Chinese defenders and into the net.
Andressa Alves, set up by Marta, hooked home the second from close range in the 59th minute and Cristiane added a late third.
It all felt rather low key.
The opening game was as lifeless as the statue of Nilton Santos - Botafogo's record appearance maker - which stands outside the stadium.
Sweden's winning goal in the 75th minute was in keeping with the contest, defender Nilla Fischer stabbing the ball home from virtually on the goal-line.
It was a first day of action that will not live long in the memory.

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