When Group A kicks off on Friday in the city of Yekaterinburg, 12,000 Egypt and Uruguay supporters will find themselves watching the match under open skies at either end of the stadium as Russia’s easternmost World Cup venue hosts its first match.
The Ekaterinburg Arena normally holds 23,000 fans, but Fifa’s requirement that all host stadiums be able to seat at least 35,000, presented a problem.
The stadium, which opened in 1957, was a protected landmark and its historical facade — replete with columns, bas-reliefs and stucco details in the Soviet, neoclassical style — had to be preserved.
So the organisers came up with a novel idea.
Why not build two temporary, 45-metre stands outside the venue and offer the fans a view through big holes at either end of the ground?
Outraged critics called it an absurd jerry-rigged eyesore with others applauding the idea as a clever and sustainable solution.
But are the vertiginous stands safe?
A Fifa spokesperson told The Guardian: “In the case of Ekaterinburg, temporary seats are being installed in order to ensure that the renovation work would conserve the historical façade of the stadium and that maintenance costs are reduced after the Fifa World Cup.
«Inspection visits and detailed reports have shown that the temporary seats in the Ekaterinburg Arena fully comply with all safety and security requirements.”
The Moscow-based architectural firm which devised the plan has essentially built a new stadium inside the existing walls and added stands that can be removed after the tournament.
When the tournament is over, the arena will be reduced to a capacity of 23,000 seats and serve as the home ground of local side FC Ural Yekaterinburg.
The first World Cup match played at the Arena will be Egypt versus Uruguay in Group A.
The arena will also host matches in Groups F and H, plus a clash between Australia’s Group C rivals, France and Peru, on June 21.