By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – With the FIFA World Cup just around the corner the respective host cities are preparing for their involvement in sport’s most widely watched contest. The Arena da Amazônia, in Manaus, despite having one of the smaller roles to play, is nevertheless ready to welcome players and fans to the heat of the Amazon jungle, after going through no less than five test-events.
Of all the host cities few are in more picturesque or remote surroundings than the city of Manaus. Despite only hosting four World Cup games, all in the group stage, tourists may well be encouraged to stay on and experience the Amazon rainforest.
Yet the first and foremost priority for most visitors to Brazil’s distant north from June 12th to July 13th will be football, and it’s opening match is a mouth-watering prospect. On June 14th, former world champions England and Italy meet at the Arena Amazônia. It has been predicted both sides could struggle with the intense humidity of the Amazon, especially during the second half as fatigue sets in.
Following that, there are three slightly more low-key ties. Cameroon versus Croatia, on June 18th, USA versus Portugal, on June 22nd, and Honduras versus Switzerland, on June 25th, conclude Manaus’ rather brief role in the World Cup.
Mark Lassise, an American living in Brazil who hosts and writes the television series Olhar Estrangeiro as seen on SporTV’s “Tá Na Area” every Thursday, has been visiting all the host cities in Brazil and reveals he was pleasantly surprised by what he found in Manaus.
“Contrary to the reports and stories I was reading on the English news sites before I went that talked negatively about Manaus, I found an amazing city ready to host the thousands of English support that will surely be here for the World Cup. I found a city that now has the capacity to welcome foreigners and hold huge events for years beyond the World Cup,” Lassise told The Rio Times
“The games will be awesome here, the Americans and English will feel comfortable in Manaus. Though, the club passion here is somewhat subdued compared to the futebol spirit in the rest of the cities.”
Lassise also championed further exploration of the Amazon rainforest. “If you are going to Manaus do not miss the opportunity to take a boat ride up the Rio Negro river!”
“The Amazon is a life experience! Go to Ariau Amazon Towers, follow the path of Jacques Cousteau, and disconnect from all you know as reality.”
The Arena da Amazônia may have been a pleasant surprise for Lassise, but is unlikely to be a hotbed of Brazilian domestic football any time soon, with no local club gracing the Brazilian top flight since 1986. The team who will use the ground for home matches is Nacional FC, the oldest side is Manaus whose biggest title to date is the Amazonian state league.
Erected on the site of the club’s former Vivaldão home, the modernized version took almost three years to build. Work started in late 2011, with the stadium eventually being declared ready for FIFA World Cup action on March 9th, 2014.