By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The city of Fortaleza, based in the Northeastern state of Ceará, has an exciting part to play in June’s FIFA Confederations Cup. The city’s Castelão Stadium, ready for the most past since the end of last year, is set to host three matches during the tournament before going onto greater involvement in next year’s World Cup.
On June 19th, in the stadium’s first international, the Brazilian national side (or Seleção) play their second group game against 2012 Olympic champions Mexico. The clash sees a rematch of last year’s Olympic final, when the North Americans took the gold medal with a 2-1 victory.
With defeat still lingering in the memory, a result which ultimately cost coach Mano Menezes his job, victory and a commanding performance are imperative. New coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, who has overseen just one victory in his opening five games in charge, is under pressure to deliver a third successive Confederations Cup success.
As well as watching their own nation, there is more in store for Fortaleza, on June 23rd World Cup holders Spain arrive. The current European and world champions face African Cup of Nations winners Nigeria. With the likes of Sergio Ramos, David Villa and the midfield pair of Xavi and Andres Iniesta amongst their ranks the Castelão will be treated to some of the most exquisitely played football on the planet.
Unlike Brasília and Recife, Fortaleza’s participation will stretch into the knock-out stages, as on June 27th, the second semi-final is to be played at the Castelão. The match pits the winners of Group B against the runners-up in Group A. With Spain the clear favorites to top Group B it is likely they will return to Fortaleza for their semi, most probably against Brazil or Italy, the two favorites to qualify from Group A.
At the 2014 World Cup the city will host a further six games, making a total of nine across both competitions.
Having been treated to the Brazilian national side once, the citizens of Fortaleza are guaranteed a second look in 2014. As hosts, Brazil are currently the only side to know their group position – Group A, slot 1.
Therefore Brazil will play their second group encounter, on June 17th, 2014, at the Arena Castelão. Should the Seleção qualify from their group Scolari’s side will subsequently play a second-round or possible quarter-final tie in Fortaleza as well.
The draw for the World Cup group stage will take place on December 6th, only then will the Brazilians know who they will take on in the Castelão.
Undoubtedly the hosts will be the dream ticket for tens of thousands in the city. Fortlaeza could see the Seleção on three separate occasions, compared with Cariocas risk of not seeing the men in yellow at all during the 2014 World Cup. Brazil will only play at the Maracanã if they reach a Final.