By Robbie Blakeley, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – As The Rio Times continues its look at the cities selected to host the 2014 World Cup, this week the spotlight focuses on Belo Horizonte. Twelve locations have been chosen as venues for the competition, arguably sport’s greatest prize, and with the clock ticking down until showtime work is beginning on all stadiums, and in some cases city infrastructures, to make sure the demands of welcoming tens of thousands of ardent football fans can be met.
Football plays a huge role in Belo Horizonte’s culture; Minas Gerais State is home to two of Brazil’s biggest teams, Atlético Mineiro and Cruzeiro, and the local derby is always a heated affair. Its location, the Mineirão stadium, is one of the country’s biggest, with a capacity of over 75,000 to be reduced along with Rio’s own Maracanã to comply with FIFA safety regulations, down to 69,950.
Given the city’s geography, the climate during the World Cup months will be far more favorable than in some other World Cup cities. In June and July temperatures range from 13-25 degrees Celsius, making playing conditions somewhat easier than in the dry or tropical heat to be encountered elsewhere.
The Mineirão closed for refurbishment in June 2010, and the works should take under three years to complete; it is hoped the stadium will be opened before June 2013 in order to host Confederations Cup matches and see how it might cope with hosting World Cup games a year later.
The city has also produced its share of exciting young footballing talents, most recently Kerlon, famed for his unique ‘seal dribble’ trick, where he runs with the ball amazingly balanced on the top of his forehead. Having lit up the U17′s World Cup in 2005, he earned his dream move to Europe, where an unfortunate double leg break has since hindered his progress at Inter Milan.
The city itself sits in the beautiful rural landscape of Minas Gerais State. Built on hills and surrounded by mountains, the capital city of Minas is home to several parks, including the ‘Parque das Mangabeiras’ which boasts superb views of the city and the surrounding countryside.
Also one of the prime homes of Brazilian culture, music, literature, museums and art are all in plentiful supply. Seminal Brazilian rock group Uakti, still going strong after thirty years in the business, started out in Belo Horizonte, and the musical movement Clube de Esquina, originated here during the 1960s.
Among the foodies, meat lovers will find all their cravings satisfied there; Minas is famed for its cattle rearing, and you would be hard pressed to find finer beef anywhere in Brazil. The city is filled with top quality churrascarias, all-you-can-eat barbecue restaurants, which boast higher quality fare at almost half the price you can expect to be charged in Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo.
Anyone tempted to try Brazil’s favorite tipple, cachaça, should also do so here. The famous spirit originated in the state, and as such shops offer a far wider variety of brands.
Regarding practicalities, Minas Gerais has the country’s largest federal highway network, with no fewer than four major roads leading in and out of the city. Road transport is therefore not a problem, and buses or taxis are recommended over the city’s tiny metro system, which has only one line with nineteen stations. There are plans underfoot to build two new lines and expand the existing one, but there is no indication the work will be completed by June 2014, when the World Cup party arrives in earnest.