The FIFA World Cup host cities in Brazil are important to the draw. As teams consider what their draw has presented in terms of the teams they will face, they must also consider the challenges and benefits of the various host cities. This year, with a buzz already surrounding the draw process because of the format that was chosen to deal with the abundance of European teams, the drama could really explode if the venues play as large a part in the contests as the play on the field. A review of the stadiums and their respective cities demonstrates how real that possibility is in the case of some of the cities.
The Arena de Sao Paulo, in Sao Paulo, is the venue for the Cup opener. Construction was nearly complete on the completely new stadium until last week when a construction accident that killed two people caused significant damage and delayed the anticipated completion until February. Like Rio, this city is used to international tourism and has the infrastructure in place to handle an event like the World Cup. Newcomers to the city, however, will want to take note of the fact that walking on the streets is an art that needs to be practiced. Drivers in that city have been known to make a game of frightening pedestrians and will seldom stop or even slow down for people crossing streets. The expansive, and well-maintained, subway system makes for a much better way to navigate the city for the uninitiated. This city is among the most temperate of those hosting the World Cup games for FIFA and, with a brand new stadium as a venue, there will be little to complain about for the teams slated to play here.
The Estadia do Maracana, in Rio de Janeiro, will host the Cup final. This stadium is one that originally began operating in 1950, but which has been completely renovated for the Cup. This is the city that every North American and European pictures when they think of Brazil. The city is used to tourists and has a bus system that has years of experience in catering to people who are not local. The thriving tourist economy, however, was built on the backs of a disenfranchised lower class that continues to hold a grudge. This city is known to be the setting for political protests and demonstrations, including strikes that delayed the renovations to the stadium. Much to the chagrin of FIFA officials, it is almost certain that plans to take advantage of the eyes of the world being focused on the city are in the works. In addition, the dichotomy between the affluent and poverty-stricken in the city is played out in the landscape of the city. There are, beyond a doubt, parts of the city that no tourist will ever want to visit. Sticking to the beaten path is going to be the best advice for visitors. The roads leading down into Rio from other areas like Brasilia and Sao Paulo, at higher altitudes, are dicey. While somewhat improved in recent years, travelers between cities will want to be aware that automatic transmissions have been known to die there. The practice for locals has always to be to put the vehicle in first and make the excruciating descent with eyes open, praying all the way. While very humid, the temperatures should not present much in the way of a challenge to teams in the competition.
The Estadio Nacional, in Brasilia, will host the playoff between the third and fourth place teams as its final match. This renovations for this stadium, which was originally opened in 1974, have made it the most expensive of the FIFA World Cup venues. Brasilia is the capital of Brazil, and was a planned city, designed to be seen by the world as a serious seat of government. Because it is the capitol, there is a chance of seeing some of the political protests as in Rio, but the local population has little heart for it. It is laid out in an orderly grid that visitors will find simple to navigate, but they will find little there to hold their interest beyond the actual matches. Located in the highlands toward the center of the country, there are no beaches or much of anything at all to hold the attention of tourists. They will have to create their own excitement in this city, though a moderate and dry climate make it the most desirable venue from that perspective.
The Estadio Mineirao, in Belo Horizonte, will host six matches, ending with the first of the semi-finals. The stadium, opened originally in 1965, had its renovations shaped by the fact that it is one of Brazil’s national monuments. While interior modifications were extensive, great consideration for maintaining the historical integrity of the exterior facade were made. Despite this, FIFA officials have raved about the aesthetics of the stadium. The city is nestled within the mountains to the North of Rio de Janeiro, and is a mid-sized city that is known for the ready availability of inexpensive jewelry and gemstones to locals. Tourists, however, will need to be wary of scam artists trying to take advantage of that reputation if they want to avail themselves of the local wares. The relatively painless commute to Rio, in addition to the mild and dry climate, will make this a popular second choice destination for latecomers unable to make arrangements in one of the larger cities.
The Estadio das Dunas, in Natal, will host four matches, including the second match of the competition after the kick-off in Sao Paulo. The stadium was built on the site of another that was demolished in 2o11. It was designed to look like sand dunes, and while it is not yet complete, it is expected to be finished by the end of December. This city is located at the closest point to Europe and Africa of the venues, providing the shortest trip for visitors from those regions. FIFA officials defending the choice of host cities may not admit how important today’s draw was to the teams coming to Brazil for the World Cup, but the nearly 97 percent humidity and high temperatures that are common at that time of year make it a brutal place to play.
The Estadio da Baixada, in Curitiba, will host the four matches for the Group B teams. The stadium, originally built in 1914 and undergoing renovations still, is the most embattled of the FIFA World Cup venues. It is likely to be the last of the venues to be completed. With repeated delays reported, only the fact that tickets have already been sold in huge numbers has saved this city from having FIFA choose another location. Curitiba is one of the smaller cities on the list of venues, but it is no stranger to tourism. With some of the best surfing beaches in the world a relatively short drive away, it has seen its share of visitors. It has not, however, seen the volume of people that are expected to descend upon the city for the Cup, and may struggle to accommodate them. Further south than all but one of the venues, the temperatures will be a bit cooler than most of the other locations, but by no means will it be an extreme adjustment for the teams coming to play.
The Estadio Pantanal, in Cuiaba, will host the four matches for the Group B teams. The stadium, being built specifically for the Cup, is only slightly ahead of the one in Curitiba, and will not be completed until February at the earliest. FIFA inspectors have expressed slightly more confidence in the progress of the project than at the one in Curitiba, the capability of the city itself to support the event has been called into question. While not far geographically from Brasilia, it is light-years away in terms of capacity and infrastructure. A shortfall of hotel rooms and support services has already been noted, with more to be revealed as the Cup gets closer. This is not a part of the country that sees much tourist traffic, and it will show. In particular, visitors and teams alike will be affected by the fact that comfort measures for those not accustomed to the high temperatures and humidity are virtually nonexistent. This will present a problem, even in the Brazilian winter.
The Estadio Beira-Rio, in Porto Allegre, will host five matches, ending in a second-round meeting between the Group G and H winners. The stadium, originally built in 1969, is undergoing considerable renovations that include the addition of a new roof. While not yet complete, those renovations are expected to be completed on schedule. Of more concern to FIFA officials, the support structures surrounding the venue are nowhere near to being ready. Widely rumored to be one of the famous safe havens for refugees from Nazi Germany, a look at the architecture and style lends credence to the theory. A popular destination for tourists headed to see the Waterfalls at Foz de Iguacu, the city has a reasonable chance of providing a comfortable experience. Those looking for some great wines, oddly reminiscent of some European vintages, will find them here. The biggest consideration for teams and visitors in this venue will be the temperature. The furthest south of the host cities, it will be downright cold, and hugely different from other venues.
The Arena Fonte Nova, in Salvador, will host six matches, including one of the quarter-final matches. The stadium was built on the site of another which was built in 1951. It is one of the “green” stadiums built fot the Cup, re-using over 90 percent of the materials from its demolished predecessor. While Rio de Janeiro is famous to most as the “Carnaval” capitol of the world, Salvador is a perennial favorite destination for Brazilians when that time comes each year. Visitors from around the world will find a city that is ready to party, though with a significant downgrade in creature comforts from the larger southern cities. There is a more harmonious interaction between tourists and locals there, though people staying there should not ignore the perils associated with any city. Though the southern-most, and most comfortable of the five northern FIFA host cities, temperatures can still get uncomfortably warm. It should not present too much of a hardship , especially since the stadium has been designed with an eye toward keeping it cooler for both players and spectators alike.
The Arena Pernambuco, in Recife, will host five matches, including one in the second round of competition. While not completed according to the schedule originally requested by FIFA, the brand new stadium has been completed. Work on the support structures continues, plagued by the fact that this is a city that is just barely developed. The area surrounding the stadium is receiving considerable focus from organizers, who hope to make it more presentable for the world stage as quickly as possible. Regardless, it cannot possibly hope to provide the standard of convenience that most American and European tourists are accustomed to. The local population, however, is likely to bend over backwards to accommodate guests. Everyone in the region recognizes the potential gains to local development possible from hosting the Cup. Climate, however, will play a considerable role for this venue. This city sees so much rain that even visitors from England might not feel at home. Matches will most likely see very warm temperatures, with a whole lot of rain.
The Estadio Castelao, in Fortaleza, will host five matches, including one quarter-final match. The stadium is a new renovation of a stadium built in 1973 . The city itself is famous for the more than 15 miles of beaches in the surrounding areas. The laid-back attitude that most people associate with Brazilians in terms of schedules and timetables is even more pronounced in this area. Absolutely nothing gets done in a hurry here. Public transportation schedules may as well not exist. If you want to get there on time, you had better have your own transportation. As with all of the northern venues, temperatures will be hot and uncomfortable despite claims by FIFA organizers that efforts to minimize that are being undertaken.
The Estadio Amazonia, in Manaus, will host four excruciating matches. The stadium, built on the site of another of the same name that was demolished in 2009, has been designed to look like a basket weave, possibly to distract people from the tropical conditions in the region. Another of the “green” stadiums, more than 95 percent of the original structure was used in the building of the new one. While not yet complete, it is expected to be completed on time by the end of December. Located more thatn 9000 miles away from some of the other venues, this city is remote, in addition to having an unfriendly climate. With high heat, 90 percent humidity, and a propensity for thunderstorms, weather is the primary consideration for this venue. In fact, this is the best example of why the FIFA World Cup host cities in Brazil are important to today’s draw.
By Jim Malone