By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL – One of the most famous arenas in Brazilian football, the Mineirão Stadium in Belo Horizonte, is ready and raring to go for the FIFA World Cup. The stadium will be one of the most frequently used at the tournament, with six games taking place in the Minas Gerais state capital.
Colombia versus Greece, on June 14th; Belgium versus Algeria, on June 17th; Argentina versus Iran, on June 21st; and Costa Rica versus England, on June 24th will all take place at the Mineirão. Afterwards, a second round tie, on June 28th and a semi-final, on July 5th, will conclude the Mineirão’s participation in the FIFA tournament.
Since reopening, the stadium has become the home of current Brazilian champions Cruzeiro. The renovation has included the creation of a leisure complex, a modernized press area, numerous shops, and a museum dedicated to the history of Brazilian football.
Mark Lassise, an American living in Brazil who hosts and writes a TV series Olhar Estrangeiro as seen on Globo SportTV’s “Tá na Area” every Thursday, has been visiting all the host cities in Brazil and described the stadium to The Rio Times. “Mineirão in Belo Horizonte is a classic stadium and one of the ‘Big Three’ of Brazil! […] The stadium is awesome; big, beautiful and well lit. The lower level seats are close to field level adding to the great experience.”
The Mineirão, like the Maracanã, was used during the FIFA Confederations Cup last year. It was the scene of the semi-final between Brazil and Uruguay, which the Seleção won with a late Paulinho header. Tahiti versus Nigeria and Mexico versus Japan were also played in Belo Horizonte. This year, however, the South-Eastern city has twice the amount of international action during the FIFA tournament.
Since making a comeback to hosting football, the Mineirão has been in the news for all the right reasons. Earlier this year, the stadium was voted the best of the 2013 Campeonato Brasileiro, alongside the Maracanã.
The vote was made by players and coaches of the clubs in the Brazilian top flight last season. The Mineirão received a mark of 9.4 (out of ten) while the average was 7.9. The criteria took into account the changing facilities, infrastructure, medical assistance, state of the pitch and press facilities.
Severiano Braga, operations manager at the Mineirão, expressed pride that the arena was ready for play in the upcoming World Cup. “We are satisfied with the good assessment [of the Mineirão] at a time when stadiums in Brazil are in the progress of evolution,” he said.
In terms of maintaining the quality of the playing surface, the Mineirão has a distinct advantage. Cruzeiro are the only club using the stadium, whereas, in Rio de Janeiro, for example, there are three sides regularly playing on the Maracanã surface.
Nevertheless the Mineirão has overcome every test it has encountered so far. In addition to the Brasileirão last year, it has been the home of Cruzeiro during their Copa Libertadores campaign this year. The highlight, so far, was a 5-1 thrashing of Chilean club Universidad de Chile during the group stages, and the side are through to the quarter-finals of the continental tournament.
Mark Lassise offers a tip for those traveling to the stadium for the World Cup, “Give yourself two hours to get to the stadium. There is a plan for a metro but there is no metro [and] the traffic is terrible on game days. The buses and taxis during FIFA games cannot arive in front of the stadium [so] expect up to a two kilometer walk for most people going to see a game at Mineirão. Keep in mind this holds true for most of the World Cup stadiums of 2014.”