World Cup gives dusty farm city its day in the sun

Sun Jun 15, 2014 2:35pm EDT
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By Mary Milliken

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 this agricultural boom town, Brazil's warmest state capital. The place endures temperatures in excess of 45 degrees C (113 F) in summer, also known as "hell."

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 to travel to 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. [ID:nL2N0OV0DI]   Continued...

A barber shaves a customer while the World Cup soccer match between Colombia and Greece is shown on a television (top) at the port market in Cuiaba June 14, 2014.      REUTERS/Eric Gaillard