x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

World Cup Diary Day 7: Curtain call for Curitiba

Brazil’s most-organised city staged its first World Cup match on Monday, and football aside, it was a resounding success.

Nigeria fans in Curitiba. Giuliano Gomes/Getty Images
Nigeria fans in Curitiba. Giuliano Gomes/Getty Images

CURITIBA // Brazil’s most-organised city staged its first World Cup match on Monday, and football aside, it was a resounding success.

Supporters from Nigeria and Iran populated Curitiba for the days leading up to the Group F encounter, with the Africans as strong in voice as their Middle Eastern counterparts in number.

From Toronto or Tehran they came, conversing in Farsi and English. Some stopped off at American and South American destinations, simply to make the most of a special opportunity. Once here, football assumed focus.

The Arena da Baixada, built for the tournament, sits tucked away in Agua Verde, 10 minutes by taxi from the city’s centre. On Monday, Nigerians could be found covering each other in green-and-white body paint. Iranian flags were carried above the crowd.

Yet the best bit was the sea of yellow and green; Curitibans may not have a particular preference for John Mikel Obi or Javad Nekounam, but they arrived en masse. At 39,081, the stadium was nearly full.

And it heaved and hummed to the sound of Brazilian verse, first with the enchanting Eu sou Brasileiro, or “I am Brazilian”. Ditties dedicated to Curitiba and Atletico Paranaense, the local teams, were exchanged throughout. Even Fifa received a special mention as the match stuttered to its 0-0 conclusion, although it was not too complimentary.

Curitiba’s inhabitants supposedly are notoriously reserved, but a cavalcade of boos greeted the final whistle, a reflection of the lack of goals. Once back to a charming public house named Stuart’s, its owner, Ferri, proudly flicked through photos snapped at his first live World Cup match. An avid marathon runner, he competed in Dubai in 2006.

“A beautiful place,” he says. “You are very welcome here.” It is a palpable sentiment, indeed.

jmcauley@thenational.ae