KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY
— Just one year out from the Confederations Cup and a mere two years away from the World Cup itself, any sensible strategist might have expected Brazilian officials to have been swarming all over the recent European Championship finals in Poland and Ukraine.
Not a bit of it. The value of ‘knowledge transfer’ or even ‘knowledge acquisition’ may be over-estimated. But not, let it be said, for Belo Horizonte. Their representatives were at the Euro finals to see how a major international tournament works at first hand.
Belo Horizonte is, after all, a city with a proud World Cup history to celebrate, to enjoy and to maximise. Of all the provincial cities which hosted matches when Brazil last hosted the finals in 1950, it is Belo Horizonte whose name has run longest and loudest down the years – city officials have a legacy to live up to.
On June 29, 1950, England – playing in the World Cup for the first time and joint favourites with Brazil – kicked off against the United States. This appeared a mismatch between football giants and minnow. But, amazingly, the US won 1-0: it remains perhaps the greatest upset in the entire 82-year history of the World Cup.
The great Stanley Matthews, kept in reserve and watching from the stands, later recalled that England “missed a hatful of chances and never looked capable of scoring even if we’d played for nine hours, never mind 90 minutes.” The Americans’ winner was scored by a Haitian, Joe Gaetjens.
Wide training choice
Given the regularity with which England and the US have reached the finals in recent years a rematch in Belo Horizonte is not beyond the bounds of possibility – and Belo Horizonte, after all, is scheduled to host six matches in 2014 including one semi-final.
In 1950 the England party stayed as guests of a British mining company but in 2014 whoever decides to make Belo Horizonte their base will have a wide choice of state-of-the-art training venues.
“Belo Horizonte is an ideal place for anyone to stay,” says Flávia Rohlfs who was in Poland in her role as executive coordinator for Belo Horizonte city’s World Cup committee. “We are central so it’s less than two hours by air from Rio and Sao Paulo and we have direct air links to all the other venues too.
“We believe a lot of people will want to come to Brazil for 2014 FIFA World Cup and we want many, many of them to come to Belo Horizonte. We will have three games at the Confederations Cup including a semi-final and then six matches in the World Cup, also including a semi-final.
“We also have an average winter temperature of 20degC and it’s dry so it’s a perfect place to stay. We’ll be at the heart of the World Cup!”
Rohlfs is also confident that, whatever may or may not be happening elsewhere in Brazil, Belo Horizonte will be ready in good time because of an investment of B$1.4bn which covers stadia, 22 new luxury hotels, its two airports and a rapid transit system.
The city’s World Cup media officer, Rogério Bertho, is keen to ensure that visitors – from football teams to fans – are not left in any doubt about the sporting context. Local clubs Cruzeiro and Atletico Mineiro both lay claim to South American international cup successes and also boast two of the finest training centres in Brazil.
The 64,000 capacity Mineirão Stadium is undergoing a R$654.5M refit and should be ready by the end of 2012 which will make it one of the first – if not the first – of the 2014 stadia to come back into service.
Tourism? Media? A United Nations report apparently described Belo Horizomte as “home to the best quality of life in Latin America,” the New York Times considered it the “world bar capital” and – to provide a cultural balance – Ouro Preto – centre of a 17th century gold rush – is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
But the World Cup is about football. In Belo Horizonte they do that, too.
Pele was born in the Minas Gerais state, Ronaldo made his name there as a teenager, 1970 World Cup-winners Tostao and Wilson Piazza were born there, Ronaldinho plays there now.
But, of course, there is also the old Independencia stadium . . . for those with long memories and a taste for World Cup history.
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