World Cup gives dusty farm city its day in the sun

CUIABA Brazil Mon Jun 16, 2014 12:15am IST

Ricardo Pineto, 8 years old, plays with his ball after filling a bottle with water for his family in the port market in the World Cup venue of Cuiaba June 14, 2014. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Ricardo Pineto, 8 years old, plays with his ball after filling a bottle with water for his family in the port market in the World Cup venue of Cuiaba June 14, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

CUIABA Brazil (Reuters) - In Cuiaba, they like to say there are two seasons: winter and hell.

That's not the kind of weather descriptor likely to draw hordes of visitors to Brazil's warmest state capital, this agricultural boom town also known as "hell," with temperatures in excess of 45 degrees C (113 F) in summer.

But the World Cup soccer tournament now playing out in the Cuiaba "winter" (a relatively mild 33 C, or 91 F) is giving this former backwater of 550,000 people the international stage it has long sought.

After years of construction upheaval and widespread disappointment over unfinished work, Cuiaba's inaugural match on Friday between Chile and Australia at the new, sleek Pantanal arena filled locals with pride.

"Now people know Cuiaba," said Aroldo Rodrigues, who sells the region's famous river fish at the Cuiaba port market. "The arena is really beautiful. The image we projected was great. People have had fun and it's been safe."

It's been a long slog for Cuiaba, which like Manaus, had to lobby hard to be chosen as a World Cup venue. Originally, the world soccer governing body FIFA wanted just 10 venues, but Brazil wanted to include two cities that would promote its unique natural treasures, the Pantanal wetlands near Cuiaba and the Amazon rainforest around Manaus.

Both cities have taken their share of knocks for being too hot, too far and too unprepared to receive teams and tourists.

Mato Grosso state police reported 12 cases of minor theft involving tourists near the stadium on Friday night and are investigating two cases of attempted rape, one involving an American.

But visitors to the World Cup say the bad press was perhaps undeserved.

"I thought Cuiaba would be much less developed and more rural, but it's not like that," said Francisco Quesada, 33, a schoolteacher from Chile who came to watch his team.

Quesada also said Cuiabanos, as the locals are known, "are so happy to be hosting the World Cup, they have been very affectionate with us."

At night, foreign fans and locals pour into squares like the Praca Popular, drinking cold beers and caipirinhas well into the night. The party scene ebbs and flows with a laid-back vibe, like the River Cuiaba that snakes around the city.

"We are very hospitable people," said Bete Campo de Souza, 55, a fruit-seller at the market who, like many here, came to Cuiaba decades ago, drawn by the economic promise of the frontier's rich farm lands. Mato Grosso state is now the top Brazilian producer of grains and soy, as well as beef.

While Cuiaba may show the world these days that it is an economic success surrounded by natural wonders, some think the premier soccer event and its four matches here make the city look better than it really is.

"We were looking at the stadium and it didn't even seem like it was our city," said dry goods merchant Kleverson Araujo, 21, who watched the first game on TV. "We had so many problems here."

But Araujo concedes the city's biggest event ever is an historic moment.

"I think it will change the city forever," he said. "I hope it brings more people here, because we really need it."

(Reporting by Mary Milliken; Editing by Dan Grebler)

Comments (0)
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.

  • Most Popular
  • Most Shared

WTA FINALS

REUTERS SHOWCASE

Two-match ban

Two-match ban

Pires gets two-match ISL ban for tunnel altercation.  Full Article 

'Clasico'

'Clasico'

Real fight back to take 'Clasico' spoils.  Full Article 

Domestic Title

Domestic Title

Old Trafford is more like Gold Trafford for Chelsea.  Full Article 

Row with Striker

Row with Striker

Taarabt row is over as QPR move on says Redknapp.  Full Article 

Formula One

Formula One

Caterham and Marussia to miss next races - Ecclestone .  Full Article 

Malaysian Grand Prix

Malaysian Grand Prix

Marquez takes record 13th pole in Malaysia  Full Article 

"Biting Harmless"

"Biting Harmless"

Biting is appalling but harmless, says Suarez  Full Article 

Asian Champions League

Asian Champions League

Juric strike gives Western Sydney edge in Asian final  Full Article 

NBA Preview

NBA Preview

LeBron's Cavs help bring focus back to the hardwood.  Full Article 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device.  Full Coverage