By Robbie Blakeley, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - The Rio Times goes down south to Curitiba, capital city of the state of Paraná, as our series examining the 2014 FIFA World Cup city hosts draws to a close. The former capital of Brazil (the city held the honor for all of three days in March 1969), is a far cry from many of the cities we have explored in this series.
There are no beaches, few famous chic bars and mammoth tourism hotels; not known for its sun, and in June and July the sight of frost on the ground welcomes early risers. Here, temperatures will be around the thirteen degrees Celsius mark, so dehydration will not affect players with such severity.
Instead of sea and sand, Curitiba’s vast areas of green space can make one forget you are in the middle of a metropolis. The city contains three parks and three woodland areas packed with breathtaking scenery and wildlife, perfect for afternoon strolls.
Because Curitiba offers something so startlingly different, tourism has traditionally been kept relatively quiet in the area, until recently. With people searching for something different from bars and beaches, more visitors have turned to Curitiba as a holiday destination. In 1994, the Linha Turismo was founded, a guided bus tour throughout the city which takes in parks, squares and gardens, as well as the city’s Wire Opera House, whose striking landscape is surrounded by a lake.
Curitiba has two major football (soccer) teams, Coritiba FC and Atlético Paranaense, as well as a plethora of amateur sides. Atlético are enjoying a fine season, and occupy a position in the top half of the Brasileirão first division. Coritiba are recently top of the second division, having faced the ignominy of relegation on the final day of the 2009 campaign after a 1-1 draw with Rio side Fluminense.
It is Atlético’s home, the Arena da Baixada, that will be renovated for use during the 2014 World Cup. The capacity will leap from just over 25,000 to 41,375. Given the stadium’s modest size, it has never before hosted an international match, and the resources will need to be tested during the 2013 Confederations Cup. If the stadium fails to meet FIFA’s standards, it will be dropped from the list of venues for the following year’s global tournament.
The city’s most famous footballing superstar is Fenerbache attacking midfielder Alexsandro de Souza, who started his successful career at Coritiba FC. He has close to 50 caps for the Seleção, and, while never having been part of one of Brazil’s World Cup squads, does possess two Copa América medals, won in 1999 and 2004.
Unlike other World Cup cities, Curitiba does not have its own airport. The closest to the city is the Afonso Pena International Airport in São José dos Pinhais. Once in the city itself, public transport is the best way to get around as Curitiba’s many one way streets can make it a maze for first time visitors. The Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, is fast and cheap, and drops ardent soccer fans a stone’s throw from the city’s stadium.