By Robbie Blakeley, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Rio Times’ focus drops to the South, and Porto Alegre, in our series touring the host cities for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The birthplace of one of the greatest players in the last decade, Ronaldinho Gaúcho started his glittering career at local side Grêmio before French outfit Paris St. Germain snapped him up in 2001.
After turning down a move to English giants Manchester United, the buck-toothed genius joined Catalan side Barcelona where he lit up La Liga for three years, twice awarded the World Player of the Year Award in 2004 and 2005.
His international career has stalled of late, and he was controversially omitted from Dunga’s failed mission to South Africa in June. However, he is still a Grêmio legend and poster boy for the area, having spoken of his desire to return to Porto Alegre and end his career with his hometown club.
The city is home to two of the Brasilerão’s biggest teams, Internacional and Grêmio, and the derby between the two is fiercely competed. Both sides have met with illustrious success in their 100 year history. Grêmio have two national league titles to their name, as well as two Copa Libertadores, the South American equivalent of the Champions League, and a World Club Cup victory in 1983.
Not to be outdone, Internacional have won the Brasilerão on three occasions, and two Libertadores titles in the last four years, including 2010, as well as a Club World Cup.
It is Internacional’s stadium, the Estádio Beira-Rio, which will be used for matches during the World Cup. Already with a capacity of 58,000 and with a playing surface voted the best of the teams competing in the 2010 Brasilerão, improvements are merely to be made to the surrounding area rather than to the stadium itself. Parking around the ground will be expanded, and a huge complex will be built, complete with restaurants, shopping mall and bars.
Playing conditions will be far more favorable here than in the tropical climates of the North, with July average temperatures ranging from nine to nineteen degrees Celsius, and with more rain than during the rest of the year.
For visiting fans, Porto Alegre has a vibrant nightlife, perfect for celebrating your team’s victory or drowning your sorrows after defeat. Many bars have live music in the evening, and the city’s best clubs can be found in the trendy Cidade Baixa neighborhood, where revelers can be found drinking away the weekends and dancing both on the street and inside the halls; expect the party to really kick off once the World Cup draws visitors from all corners of the world.
The city already boasts an impressive metro and bus network, making travel around the city easy for tourists. The one drawback is the city’s limited highways – due to the lack of tourist destinations to the south, only two highways lead to and from the city, meaning arrival via road can be lengthy.
The best way is to fly in to the Salgado Filho International Airport. A R$122 million expansion plan has already begun on expanding the facilities, including runways and turning the second terminal into a passenger terminal as well as cargo. The work should be completed by June 2011, in plenty of time for the World Cup.