Brasil 2014 World Cup: Belo Horizonte

Belo Horizonte, in the state of Minas Gerais, is often described as Brasil’s third city. Although I’ve been in Brasil many times before, this is my first visit here.

It’s a neat, landlocked city where around two million people live and work. On first impressions, it reminded me of a sprawling mini-São Paulo that also has steep inclines a lot like San Francisco – but James, a friend who has lived here for 10 years, thought that was rather favourable and instead compared it to Birmingham, England.

But it’s a pleasant place with very friendly people (like most of Brasil), who pass their time drinking and chatting in any one of the city’s alleged 12,000 bars. The Savassi district is probably the most popular area to socialise and has a great selection of bars and restaurants to enjoy a cold chopp (beer) or a potent cairpirinha.

Parque Municipal: an oasis of calm in a bustling city centre

The city centre itself is compact and set out on an easily-navigated grid system, locked within the Avenida do Contorno. The streets are busy with people, shops, bars and vendors all vying for space and attention. The bustling and colourful Mercado Central is definitely worth a visit for the varied local produce and the fascinating local characters. The Parque Municipal is the welcome lung of the city, another recommended spot for relaxing, reading and people watching.

Oscar Niemeyer’s Igreja de Sao Francisco de Assis

To the north of the city is the Pampulha district, where iconic architect Oscar Niemeyer designed many buildings including the beautiful Igreja de Sao Francisco de Assis. It’s close to the Estadio Mineirão, where the World Cup games will be played, and is definitely worth a visit if you think your team needs some divine intervention ahead of their game.

The games scheduled to be played here are Colombia vs Greece, Costa Rica vs England, Argentina vs Nigeria and Belgium vs Algeria, before a second round game and the glamour of a semi-final. England fans in particular will be pleased by the mild climate here after the sweltering heat of Manaus in Amazonia.

Estadio Mineirão: where six World Cup games will be played

In the last week, the Brasil national team – known colloquially as the Seleção – have played twice. First, they dispatched Panama 4-0 with a fairly substandard display and then laboured to a 1-0 win over Serbia in a game that was littered with niggling fouls and rising frustration. The locals tut-tutted their way through the second win, shaking their heads as Neymar and co struggled to impress against robust opposition.

Currently, it feels like there is little buzz around the World Cup itself. I have yet to meet a Brasilian who has tickets to any of the six games to be played here. However, once the tournament begins (and if Brasil get off to a winning start as expected), it’s easy to imagine the city coming alive with excitement.

I’ll be returning here for the semi-final on July 8 and it will be interesting to see just how much World Cup fever has taken hold by then.

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