With only five days to go before the start of the 2014 World Cup tournament, thousands of international travelers are streaming through Miami International Airport headed to various cities in Brazil where the soccer games will take place.
Others who are going elsewhere are also picking up soccer gear as championship fever grips the world.
“I’m buying souvenirs since I can’t go to the World Cup,” said Sonia Beracha, a Venezuelan who stopped at an MIA shop where she bought an Italian national team jersey. “My favorite team is Italy.”
MIA has become a veritable transit hub for travelers from across the globe headed to Brazil for the World Cup. The event also fits the strategy of Aviation Department Director Emilio González to turn MIA into a world-class airport.
The number of travelers headed to Brazil from Miami has increased dramatically largely because of the World Cup, according to MIA officials.
“We are expecting about 100,000 passengers will be traveling to Brazil through MIA,” said MIA spokeswoman María Levrant. “This is 30 percent more than traveled to Brazil last year.”
A recent MIA statement said the airport will be the largest U.S. gateway to Brazil for the World Cup, offering service to 10 of the 12 host cities. MIA has more flights to Brazil than any other U.S. airport, the statement said.
On Saturday, many travelers checked in for flights leaving MIA for Brazilian destinations after buying souvenirs at airport shops or stopping to admire and photograph a display of artistic murals about the tournament at Departure Gate D30 in the North Terminal. The artwork is on display now and will remain on site during the tournament.
On the day the tournament starts Thursday, MIA officials said, several events will take place at the airport including dancers who will suddenly appear doing Brazilian dances.
Among those waiting to board a Brazil-bound flight Saturday was Paulo Victor of Sao Paulo.
“There are many great expectations about the World Cup down there,” said Victor, as he sat waiting to board his flight near the World Cup artwork display near Gate D30. “We hope Brazil wins the cup. We have to win.”
The North Terminal exhibit, titled Show Your Colors, features original artwork by students from the Design and Architecture Senior High in Miami’s Design District.
Thirteen DASH seniors worked for three months to create the artwork, near the departure gate, which serves American Airlines flights bound for Brazil. Two other airlines also fly the Miami-Brazil routes: TAM and GOL.
Among travelers admiring the artwork was Gus Fielding, a reporter with Kyodo News who was waiting to board a flight to Brazil.
“I’m covering the Japanese national team,” said Fielding, who is from England, but now lives in Japan.
Fielding said that in his heart he wants England to win, but that he is also rooting for the Japanese team.
Japan played two pre-World Cup exhibition games in Tampa against Costa Rica and Zambia — winning both matches.
Besides the art exhibit, MIA and the businesses there are also offering other events including several Nintendo Wii soccer game stations. Levrant said that during the tournament a giant TV screen in the airport hotel lobby will show game action.
At an MIA shop nearby, Martijn Welten bought a small jersey for his son, Ties, who turns 10 Sunday in Curacao, a part of the Netherlands in the Caribbean.
Welten said he may travel to Brazil if the Dutch team starts winning.
“I will be going to Brazil for sure,” he said.