By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The last two weeks have offered some positive news for Brazil’s 2014 World Cup preparations which has suffered from numerous delays and criticisms. In December the host country has seen the first two stadiums – of the twelve planned – declared ready for the tournament and reopened for use.
The first arena to be completed was Castelão Stadium, in the northeastern city of Fortaleza, and was officially opened last Sunday, December 16th. A large celebration marked the occasion, attended by president Dilma Rousseff who has become more involved in Brazil’s efforts to catch up with preparations for the mega-event.
Live music accompanied the occasion and the stadium was packed to its 64,846 capacity. World Cup secretary Ferruccio Feitosa, who has been responsible for the Fortaleza project, had requested fans attend the event decked out in green and yellow, the colors of the national team and was not disappointed.
Fortaleza fans will be treated to the sight of the Seleção (national team) playing on June 19th, when Brazil play their second group stage match at the Castelão against Mexico, the side that defeated them in the final of the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
The famous arena had been closed for over two and a half years, having been shut since June 6th, 2010 for extensive renovation and modernization works. Once again, president President Rousseff was present for the opening celebration.
The stadium has a new capacity of 62,547, considerably smaller than the pre-upgrade size, but the first official match at the new stadium should guarantee a sell-out.
On February 13th, historic rivals Atlético-MG and Cruzeiro will meet in the Minas Gerias state championship. The game will see plenty of stars on the green stage; Réver, Bernard, Ronaldinho Gaúcho and Montillo are all likely to feature in a memorable encounter.
There are two major changes to the new stadium, primarily the pitch being lowered by over three meters to improve visibility for all inside the arena. The idea is that no matter where fans are seated, they should have an unimpeded view.
Second, like the Maracanã, the number of VIP suites has been largely increased, in the Mineirão’s case to eighty. A use will easily be found for such a luxury during the World Cup but whether they will be filled regularly afterwards is questionable.
As with the Castelão Stadium, the Mineirão Stadium will be used during the Confederations and World Cups, hosting two group-stage games and a semi-final. While it is not guaranteed Brazil will play in the Mineirão during the Confederations Cup, the Seleção will touch down to play their semi should they top Group A.
Carlos Alberto Parreira, new technical director of the Brazilian national side, is excited by the update Mineirão. “This stadium [the Mineirão] is on a par with some of Europe’s best. “I feel as if I could be in Europe. It’s beautiful, modern and there’s safety for the fans,” he said.