After a whirlwind three days in Rio, it was time to head to Curitiba for Australia’s final group game against the world champions Spain. I only had the day in the city so was eager to explore my surroundings before heading to the Arena de Baixada in the afternoon.
People told me that Curitiba is Brazil’s most efficient city and after walking around there in that morning, I can definitely see why. In-between the meticulous planned streets; there are bus stops enclosed in glass with a cylindrical form. This is not a city that leaves things to chance and if the weather turns sour, those waiting for public transport are suitably protected from the elements.
Most Brazilian cities aren’t like this. A few years ago, the local Curitiban government decided to close off many roads and turn them into pedestrian-friendly shopping malls. Here, a car isn’t a necessity as one can freely navigate these streets by foot or public transport.
You can well and truly see the European influences entrenched in this city. Out of all the places I’ve visited, this one reminded me of Melbourne the most. It is truly unbelievable.
Onto the football and it was time to head to the Arena de Baixada, a venue that by late April FIFA were preparing to revoke hosting rights to due to the lack of progress on the stadium.
While on the face of it, it’s a beautiful theatre of sport protecting the near 40,000 crowd from all the elements, one has to only delve a little deeper to see that this venue is far from ready. The bathrooms are missing some of their fittings and some of the concrete that lines the walls isn’t smoothed over properly.
Nonetheless, this was one of my favourite venues to visit in Brazil. The steep incline on the top level give those sitting there a fantastic view of the whole pitch. Much like AAMI Park in Melbourne, there simply isn’t a bad seat in the house.
While Australia was unlucky against Chile and the Netherlands respectively, they were comprehensively outplayed against Spain, despite starting the first 15-20 minutes well. Goals to David Villa, who will be sensationally plying his trade for Melbourne City in the A-League in the first half as well as Torres and Mata made this a comfortable 3-0 win for the fallen champions.
So that ended the Socceroos’ campaign. These three games were an invaluable learning experience and the fact that Australia outplayed Chile for a half and Holland for most of the contest is testament to the bright future of the national side and the strides made in just eight months under new management. Many lessons would have been learnt and none more so than the importance of a strong back four. Most of the nine goals Australia conceded could have been prevented with a more sound and experienced defence and that just adds to the questions that will remain long after this campaign is over.
With the likes of Good, Sainsbury, Williams, Kruse and Rogic all returning from injury in the coming months, the side can only get stronger as the Asian Cup looms, a tournament many are expecting Australia to win. With six friendlies planned in the three FIFA international windows prior to kickoff in January, there’s plenty of time to get things right.
Tomorrow I head to Belo Horizonte to see Costa Rica against England. Should be fun.