By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The FIFA World Cup kicks off tomorrow (Thursday, June 12th) and the stadiums selected to host the event have run out of time for final preparations. One stadium that has faced a saga of problems is the Arena da Baixada in the normally well-planned southern city of Curitiba.
Despite being known for its love affair with o jogo bonito (the beautiful game), Curitiba’s renovated Arena da Baixada will have a relatively low-key role during the FIFA World Cup. Just four games, all during the group stages, will be played in Curitiba.
Yet while no games in the latter stages will be played in the city, locals will still be able to witness some of the finest players on the planet at the Baixada Arena. On June 23rd, World and European champions Spain, considered one of the finest national sides in the history of the game and amongst the favorites to lift this year’s crown, come to town for their Group B clash with Australia.
Spain have won three consecutive national tournaments, making history in the process, and in Brazil are looking to add a fourth string to their bow. Their team boasts the talents of Sergio Ramos, Xavi, David Silva and Andres Iniesta and Brazilian born Diego Costa, who has opted to represent his adopted country.
Besides the Spain versus Australia match, Iran versus Nigeria, on June 16th, Honduras versus Ecuador, on June 20th, and Algeria versus Russia, on June 26th, conclude Curitiba’s World Cup itinerary. Afterwards, the Baixada will be released by FIFA.
Mark Lassise, an American living in Rio who hosts and writes the television series Olhar Estrangeiro, as seen on SporTV’s Tá Na Area every Thursday, has been visiting the host cities in Brazil and tells The Rio Times the renovation works at the Arena da Baixada are of the highest standards.
“The inside of Arena da Baixada is awesome, there appears to have been a higher quality of materials used in its construction and design than that of all the other stadiums,” he said.
“There are two huge support trusses that hold the roof in place. It is large enough for camera crews to roam, so there should be some great shots should the games happen.”
With its European climate, Lassise recommends visiting fans wrap up warm. “Just relax and dress warm. It will be the dead of winter [in South America] with frost and very seldom snow dustings. The vibe of Curitba will make any European or American feel close to home.”
All doubts surrounding the Arena da Baixada are now close to being fully resolved, but for a while, earlier this year, the stadium’s viability as a World Cup stadium was touch and go. After work building stopped in late 2013, FIFA issued the city of Curitiba with a deadline of February 18th to provide assurances that the arena would be ready and tested in time for the World Cup.
Thankfully, especially for the locals, building work sped up at the site but it is the project which is the second most behind schedule, with fans and FIFA waiting with baited breath to see whether everything goes according to plan over the next month.
Once the World Cup is finished, there is no danger of the Arena da Baixada becoming one of the much feared “white elephants.” The stadium is the home of Campeonato Brasileiro Série A side Atlético-PR.
The club was the surprise package of last year’s Brasileirão, finishing third and qualifying for this year’s Copa Libertadores. At the league’s break point for the World Cup, Atlético sit in eleventh place, with thirteen points from nine games.