This summer’s World Cup will be held in Brazil with 32 teams playing 64 games across 12 venues. Dave Taylor looks at the stadiums and cities hosting the greatest show on earth.
The 78,000 capacity stadium, better known as the Maracana, is the main temple of Brazil’s second religion and home to Rio’s four biggest clubs – Flamengo, Botafogo, Fluminese and Vasco da Gama. Specifically built for the 1950 World Cup, the subsequent Final saw it hold 200,000 fans as Uruguay beat Brazil. Today the arena, situated in East Rio, has been totally overhauled with a new roof and a new lower tier. Yet the awesome atmosphere remains and with direct subway links to the city centre it is also much easier to reach.
HOSTING: Argentina-Bosnia-Herzegovina, Spain-Chile, Belgium-Russia, Ecuador-France, Round of 16, Quarter-final, Final.
CITY LIFE: Just outside the stadium is the Walk of Fame which immortalizes some of Brazil’s greatest footballers, including Carlos Alberto Torres, Dunga, Garrincha, Pele, Rivelino, Ronaldo, Romario, Socrates, Tele Santana, Vava, Zagallo and Zico. Another treasure nearby is the bronze statue of Brazil’s first ever World Cup-winning captain, Hilderaldo Bellini. There are numerous watering holes (Botecos) and sports bars situated to the west and south of the stadium which serve the best draft beer (Chope) available. Rio is also home to the legendary Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, Christ the Redeemer statue and the Sugar Loaf Mountain cable car.
The new home of Corinthians holds 48,000, but due to FIFA’s minimum capacity 17,000 temporary seats will be added for the tournament. The Itaquera, as it is called, was one of the venues of last summer’s Confederations Cup but is perhaps better known for the accidental deaths of three workers. Situated in one of the poorer parts of the city it is a 20km metro ride from the city centre. The city is the birthplace of Brazilian football, after English-educated Charles Miller introduced the beautiful game to his fellow-countrymen in the late 1890s. It is also the home of three of Brazil’s most famous clubs in Corinthians, Palmeiras and Sao Paulo – all former world champions.
HOSTING: Brazil-Croatia, Uruguay-England, Netherlands-Chile, South Korea-Belgium, Round of 16, Semi-final.
CITY LIFE: As Brazil’s biggest city with a population of over 12m, Sao Paulo is full of incredible contrasts and has a stunning choice of nightlife with some of the world’s finest clubs, bars and restaurants. One of the many great bars in the Vila Madalena area is the noted Sao Cristavo, which has almost 3,000 artefacts of Brazilian football history on its walls. The fantastic forests of the Costa Verde and sun-kissed beaches, along with Santos – the home of Pele – and Brazil’s football museum are an hour’s drive.
The thoroughly modern stadium, holding 46,000 fans, is part of a superb recreational complex and was built specially for the World Cup. Although 20km from downtown Recife, on the western outskirts of the city, it is well served by local transport and is uniquely powered by solar energy. It is also the new home of Nautico, one of the city’s three major clubs.
HOSTING: Ivory Coast-Japan, Italy-Costa Rica, Croatia-Mexico, United States-Germany, Round of 16.
CITY LIFE: An hour’s drive will take you to the beautiful beach of Porto de Galinas, regularly seen as the best in Brazil. The unique Forro music and dance style originated here. The colonial town Olinda, a UNESCO World Heritage site is mid 19th Century Europe transported to the tropics and is unique in South America.
Built on the site of the Estadio Mane Garrincha, which was a tribute to the greatest Brazilian winger of all time, it was opened for last year’s Confederations Cup. Its design is inspired by the work of the celebrated Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, who designed Brasilia itself. With 288 pillars forming the exterior and holding up the circular roof, it can hold more than 70,000 spectators, making it the second largest arena to feature at the World Cup. It is also the stadium that is on standby if any of the other stadiums are not finished in time.
HOSTING: Switzerland-Ecuador, Colombia-Ivory Coast, Cameroon-Brazil, Portugal-Greece, Round of 16, Quarter-final, Third/fourth play-off.
CITY LIFE: Amongst the fabulous modernist buildings of the capital is the breath-taking Itmarat Palace, which is part of the only 20th-Century city to be given UNESCO world heritage status. There are also some fine eating steakhouses (Churrascarias), while a visit to the Parque Nacional de Brasilia is worthwhile.
The Pantanal is a fabulously modern stadium that seats 43,000 fans and is among the smallest of the World Cup arenas. At the end of the tournament 15,000 seats will be removed and local teams Cuiaba and Mixto will move in. Situated a short ride from the centre of town the stadium is part of a complex that includes a park, a lake, restaurants and leisure facilities.
HOSTING: Chile-Australia, Russia-South Korea, Nigeria-Bosnia-Herzegovina, Japan-Colombia.
CITY LIFE: A few blocks from the stadium are many bars and restaurants, which serve delicious espeto (barbecue skewers of different meat wrapped in manioc flour). A small city, it is not too far from the Amazon jungle, deep in the bio-diverse Matto Grosso region with jaguars on the dry land and piranhas in the rivers.
As a listed national monument, the stadium’s facade and roof had to be preserved and after modernisation the 130,000 capacity was reduced to 64,000. The running track was also taken out allowing the pitch to be lowered and a new bottom section added. Outside there is a fabulous plaza which is elevated from the surrounding area affording commanding views. Local clubs Atletico Mineirao and Cruzeiro hold court there and there is always a boisterous atmosphere.
HOSTING: Colombia-Greece, Belgium-Algeria, Argentina-Iran, Costa Rica-England, Round of 16, Semi-final.
CITY LIFE: A party city where the local legend is: “The beach is too far, let’s go to a bar.” And in those numerous bars and restaurants the local sugar cane spirit cachacas is very popular. The region’s Comida Mineira cuisine is also decidedly expansive with ostrich and alligator on the menu. The more cultural aspects include the inspiring Inhotm contemporary art gallery and the intriguing Serra do Espinhaco Biosphere Reserve.
The 53,750 seater stadium was officially opened in April 2013 and is within easy reach of the centre. Uniquely one end is completely open and affords a panoramic view of the fabulous old city. Built on the site of the previous Fonte Nova stadium, the architects allowed much of the old design to remain. However, at night standing above a picturesque lake it resembles nothing less than a giant spaceship.
HOSTING: Spain-Netherlands, Germany-Portugal, Switzerland-France, Bosnia-Herzegovina-Iran, Round of 16, Quarter-final.
CITY LIFE: Salvador was Brazil’s first capital, from 1549 to 1763, and has a rich and varied history with some of the finest colonial architecture in the whole of South America. The city and region has its own unique Bahian cuisine with a mixture of African, Portuguese and Brazilian dishes. Another city with a big party history, its many diverse cultures include African drumming, dancing and the Nigerian Capoeira dance form, which is a blend of dance, martial arts and acrobatics. Plus a host of fabulous tropical beaches.
Originally opened in 1969 the stadium was rebuilt in 2013 with the reconstruction of the lower tier, a new exterior and roof. Designed in a fig-leaf shape it is situated by the Guaiba River and inside a scenic local park. As the largest football ground in the south of Brazil it holds 51,000 fans and is nicknamed the Gigante do Beira-Rio (The Giant of Beira-Rio). It is also home to one of Brazil’s biggest clubs Internacional, arch-rivals of their near neighbours Gremio.
HOSTING: France-Honduras, Australia-Netherlands, South Korea-Algeria, Nigeria-Argentina, Round of 16
CITY LIFE: The city is the capital of Brazil’s gaucho horse-riding culture and, for the adventurous, horses can be hired by the day. Although known as a business city, it also possesses a vibrant cultural scene with the famous Fundacao Ibere Camargo museum, which is by the riverside near the stadium.
Seating 44,000 the recently completed stadium is on the site of the old Vivaldao stadium and designed to resemble a traditional Amazon reed basket with its interwoven supporting features. The arena is part of an enormous complex that also has athletic facilities, sports venues and a swimming centre. After the tournament it will become the home of several local lower Division sides.
HOSTING: England-Italy, Cameroon-Croatia, United States-Portugal, Honduras-Switzerland.
CITY LIFE: The exquisite Manaus Opera House is something like the Vienna Opera House and well worth a visit. A must see is the meeting of the black Rio Negro river and sandy-coloured Amazon (Encontro das Águas) which run for 6km side by side without mixing. England will play there and their players, like everyone else, can visit the Amazon and take boat rides to see its giant Caymans and giant otters. Several good football bars include Touchdown and Cachacaria da Dede.
Built in 1973 and officially known as the Estadio Governador Placido Castelo, the Castelao is home to two fierce rivals – Second Division Ceara and Third Division Fortaleza. The original stadium was rebuilt in 2011 and now has a capacity of 57,000. Apart from a complete refurbishment, additions include a larger roof, a new lower tier and an underground car park. The Castelao, also known as the Gigante da Boa Vista, is one of Brazil’s biggest and was the first to be fully refurbished.
HOSTING: Uruguay-Costa Rica, Brazil-Mexico, Germany-Ghana, Greece-Ivory Coast, Round of 16, Quarter-final
CITY LIFE: A musical city with the accordion led Forro music very popular. Apart from football the stadium area doesn’t hold many attractions but the fabulous beaches of Jeri Coacoara and Praia das Fontes are full of life and a good place to base. Four wheel drive and Beach Buggy tours are also fun and popular. Free music performances in several City Centre Squares.
Built on the site of two old sporting complexes, the old Machadao football stadium and the neighbouring Machadinho sports hall, the new arena has a capacity of 33,000. To comply with FIFA rules another 10,000 seats will be added for the actual games. With its unique undulating structure inspired by the area’s famous sand-dunes, the separate roof sections are uniquely shaped like petals, which allows the sea breezes to flow around the whole ground.
HOSTING: Mexico-Cameroon, Ghana-United States, Japan-Greece, Italy-Uruguay
CITY LIFE: Known as Sun City because of its attractive tropical climate, there are roughly 300 sunny days a year. You can catch the rays on the spectacular beaches of Ponta Negra, Genipabu, Redinha, Pipa and the Pirangi which are served by the long coastal avenue of the Via Costeira. Natal is the home of Forro, rhythm inspired dance music now popular all over Brazil. Try a dune-buggy ride while eating the local delicacy, which is tapioca ice cream.
As one of the most tasteful and efficient of the 12 host stadiums, following its refurbishment, its new features include rows of extra seats that are parallel to the pitch. There is also a retractable roof, a new capacity of 41,000 and it is the home of local club Atletico Paranaense.
HOSTING: Iran-Nigeria, Honduras-Ecuador, Australia-Spain, Algeria-Russia
CITY LIFE: The city is the starting point of the fabulous Serra Verde Express train which runs through the Atlantic forest to the port city of Paranagua. Known as Brazil’s green capital it has many municipal parks along with dozens of squares, gardens and other green spaces. Also the home of the Oscar Niemeyer Museum, a modern contemporary art museum.