By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The World Cup is finally here and anticipation is hanging in the Brazilian air. Not least because the Arena Itaquerão in São Paulo, host of the opening match tomorrow (Thursday), missed the FIFA full capacity test. Contrastingly, the Castelão in Fortaleza was the first to be completed of the twelve arenas being used for the tournament, having initially closed for World Cup related renovation works in March 2011.
The Castelão reopened in the first half of 2013, in time for the stadium to host the FIFA Confederations Cup. During the World Cup dress rehearsal, three matches took place in Fortaleza, including seeing the Seleção Brasileira – the Brazilian national team – take to the field.
In the 2013 Confederations Cup, Brazil’s 2-0 victory over Mexico, revenge for the nation’s defeat in the Olympic Games final the previous year, was played at the Castelão on June 19th.
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, says the atmosphere at the Castelão is something else. “The club football vibe there is intense,” he said.
“I went to two Ceará games and had a great experience both times in the stadium. Yet it is not the safest place in the world outside the stadium,” he warned. “It is built in the middle of a very poor area. I was thinking after the first time I visited that the organizers would improve roads, and store fronts in the neighborhood. On the contrary, I saw when I arrived this year they built a wall blocking the view of the neighborhood.”
For the FIFA World Cup, the action promises plenty of excitement to Fortaleza, the state capital of Ceará in Northeastern Brazil. In addition to another visit from hosts Brazil, former world champions Uruguay and Germany will also play group games at the Castelão.
Uruguay, champions in 1930 and 1950, take on Costa Rica on June 14th. In a repeat of last year’s Confederations Cup tie, Brazil will once again play Mexico in Fortaleza, on June 17th.
World Cup favorites Germany play Ghana on June 21st before Greece and Ivory Coast lock horns on June 24th. And the action does not stop there.
Two knock-out phase games will be held in the city. On June 29th, the winner of Group B takes on the runner-up in Group A in a second round tie.
If Brazil, who are in Group A, should finish second in the group, that would mean the Seleção playing two games in the Estádio Castelão. Finally, a quarter-final match will be played on July 4th, concluding Fortaleza’s participation in the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
In addition to World Cup football, the Estádio Castelão is also a regular on the domestic scene. Local side Ceará, currently sitting third in the Campeonato Brasileiro Série B, play home games at the stadium.