By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The northeastern city of Recife is finishing off the Arena Pernambuco as it gears up for major participation during the Confederations and World Cups. The brand new stadium is estimated to be 97 percent ready and will host its first test-event on May 14th.
The opener will be slightly less glamorous than Rio’s event last week. Instead of the people who have helped build the stadium being invited guests, the workers will take center-stage.
They will make up two teams to play the first ever match at the Arena Pernambuco. Only family members of those who have helped at the stadium will be invited.
The second test-event will take place eight days later, on May 22nd. Local side Náutico, who play in the Campeonato Brasileiro Serie ‘A’ and will move into the stadium after the Confederations Cup, will play a friendly game against a yet to be confirmed opponent.
Come FIFA kick-off time Recife will be in the thick of the action. The Arena Pernambuco will host three matches during June’s Confederations Cup. On June 16th, world and European champions Spain take on Copa America holders Uruguay in what promises to be a pulsating encounter. Three days later Italy play Japan in a Group A clash.
Recife’s final Confederations Cup commitment comes on June 23rd, also in the group stages when Uruguay face Tahiti in the final round of games.
Then, the following year during the World Cup, Recife will stage five games, giving a combined total of eight over the two tournaments, the same number as capital Brasília.
The Arena Pernambuco will see four group encounters and a second-round tie in 2014, all throughout June, meaning the stadium or city won’t be used during the tournament’s second half.
This means in both cases the city’s participation will be over relatively early. Whilst Recife does have a stronger footballing heritage than some host cities – notably Manaus, Cuiabá and Brasília – it still can’t compete with Brazil’s traditional footballing strongholds of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Porto Alegre and Belo Horizonte where the country’s most successful clubs are based.
Carlos Roberto Novello, who lives in Niterói but was born and raised in Recife, said: “Football is a massive passion in the Northeast but is constantly overshadowed by grander clubs in the South and Southeast.”
Yet by giving cities away from the South and Southeast a greater role in hosting the World Cup, the global spotlight can spread further. That said, Recife is no stranger to international football. During the 1950 World Cup, the last time Brazil hosted the competition, Recife was the only northeastern city to host the tournament – but even then it was just a solitary game.
On July 2nd, 1950, Chile comprehensively beat the United States 5-2 at the Estádio Ilha de Retiro. Only 9,000 watched the game, in comparison with the 200,000 who filled the Maracanã for the final, thought to be the largest ever crowd to watch a football match.
This time could be different. With the reigning world champions coming to town interest should be at a peak. Spain are the finest football nation on the planet and have stood atop the perch for five years since winning the 2008 European championships.
Paired with the arrival of an exciting Uruguayan side who can boast the exhilarating attacking partnership of Luis Suarez and the much sought after Edison Cavani and with Confederations Cup tickets going fast, Recife will be far more significant over the next year than in 1950.