By Robbie Blakeley, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – The Rio Times turns its gaze to Brazil’s North-East this week, and the city of Recife – home to Santa Cruz, Sport Recife, and Náutico football clubs – in our series looking into the venues set to host the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Brazil’s footballing production line produces fewer star players here than in the South, but the state of Pernambuco, of which Recife is the capital, has nonetheless been the birthplace to three greats; Vavá, Juninho Pernambuco and Rivaldo.
The former became the first player ever to score in two World Cup finals when he netted in Brazil’s championship winning 1958 and 1962 sides, scoring a brace in the 5-2 win over Sweden in ’58 and one against Czechoslovakia in the 3-1 win in ’62.
The recently-retired Rivaldo, who hung up his boots this year after winding down his career with Uzbek side Bunyodkor, started at local outfit Santa Cruz. The attacking midfielder went on to play in Spain with Deportivo La Coruna and Barcelona, where he is still lauded for that winning goal in the final minute against Valencia in the last game of the 2000/01 season; a magnificent bicycle kick from 25 yards that secured the Catalan club Champions League football.
Last but not least, Juninho Pernambucano, later dubbed ‘The King of São Januário’ for his storming performances for Vasco da Gama, started out with Sport Recife. Arguably one of the greatest dead-ball specialist in the modern era, he helped French outfit Lyon to seven successive Ligue 1 titles between 2002 and 2008.
Like many of the host cities, Recife will have a brand new venue built in time for the World Cup. The Arena Cidade da Copa will be a multi-purpose stadium, with a capacity of 46,160 – one of the smaller stadiums to be hosting at the event. Work has still to begin, and the project will only be completed after the Confederations Cup in June 2013, months before the competition starts.
Recife has a year-round tropical climate, and playing conditions, and those for the spectators, will be far more trying than in the cooler temperatures of the south. During June and July, temperatures often reach as high as 37 degrees Celsius during the day, a testing environment for any athlete.
Recife’s tourism industry is growing rapidly and will welcome the legions of fans flooding into the city. Porto de Galinhas has been elected by travel magazines as one of Brazil’s best beaches, and Boa Viagem, Recife’s biggest stretch of sand, is located in the glamorous southern zone of the city.
The sand stretches for five miles and chic bars, restaurants and luxury hotels have all sprung up as more visitors flock to the area. The Ricardo Brennand Institute and Olinda’s historic town center, listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, are must-sees for tourists.
As for the city’s infrastructure, Recife’s Guararapes International is the largest airport in the North-East. Refurbished in 2005 and now fitted with its own ‘Aeroshopping’ center, it is ready for the demands that such an event will bring.
The city’s metro system is also currently undergoing improvements, and when finished will be the second biggest system in Brazil, behind Sâo Paulo. Many metro stations are linked directly with the city bus network, and both can be used with one ticket. Expansion plans will be finished in time for Recife to welcome their World Cup guests, and should make traveling around the city considerably easier than ever before.