Estádio Independência, home of América Futebol Clube, is likely not a football stadium that will ring a bell among many football fans. And even in its own city of Belo Horizonte, a good 400 kilometres north of Rio de Janeiro, it gets eclipsed by the larger and more famous Mineirão. Still, it has hosted one of the greatest World Cup upsets of all time, and it will soon reopen after a recent reconstruction has turned it into a modern arena.
Estádio Independência’s history starts at the 1950 World Cup, which was also the reason it got built. During the World Cup it only hosted three group matches, but one of these, the one which pitted England against the USA, led to massive shockwaves going through the football world.
England had arrived at the World Cup as one the favourites. It had boycotted the earlier versions of the tournament, but set foot in Brazil with some of the world’s best players, whereas the USA team consisted of a mix of ill-prepared part-time players. The US withstood the early English pressure though, and then managed to sneak in a goal. England’s subsequent efforts to turn things around were of no avail.
Though the match had started with a disappointing crowd of only 10,000 people, the stadium filled up quickly when the Brazilians learned of the possible upset over the radio.
After the World Cup the stadium became the home of Belo Horizonte’s three major teams: Atlético Mineiro, América, and Cruzeiro, as well as of the smaller Sete de Setembro FC (but who did own the stadium).
Even though América, founded in April 1912, had started off as the most successful club of the city, it had been slowly surpassed by the other two. Winning another state championship in 1948 could not change that. Independência, which could initially hold 30,000 spectators, therefore soon turned out to be too small for Atlético and Cruzeiro, and construction began of the larger Mineirão.
While Atlético and Cruzeiro moved up north to the completed Mineirão in 1965, América (and Sete de Setembro) stayed put at the Independência.
Over the next decades the state of the stadium slowly deteriorated, though América did acquire ownership in 1989.
With Brazil’s boom in the 2000s and Mineirão’s redevelopment for the 2014 World Cup, funds became available for the reconstruction of Independência, and in early 2010 demolition started of the old stadium. A rather unfortunate timing, because renovation works on the Mineirão had started at about the same time, which meant that no stadium was available in the city and that all three clubs had to move out of town to the Arena do Jacaré.
Works are all but finished now and the redevelopment has given Independência a complete new look. The previously bowl-shaped stadium has been replaced by a rectangular structure with three steep stands, connected to each other by two corner towers and a roof. One of the short ends has been left open with only the dressing rooms and a screen occupying the space.
The result is a modern stadium with a capacity of 23,950 seats. At the same time the club has made a slight change to its name by replacing the “Estádio” for the currently in Brazil popular “Arena”.
The Arena Independência officially opens this Wednesday and América has invited Argentine side Argentinos Juniors for the occasion. Whether this sets off the club to future glory remains to be seen, but it at least is a good start to celebrate its centennial.