Modern, pristine and worthy of any city in the world, the Estadio Único Madre de Ciudades stadium breaks the urban skyline of Santiago del Estero, a modest Argentine city that beats to the sound of national folklore.
Nestled on the banks of the Río Dulce, some 1,000 kilometres north of Buenos Aires, the stadium recently served as one of the host venues for the FIFA U-20 World Cup.
The stadium "offers the possibility of having important events on a sporting level” and brings benefits to “sectors such as gastronomy and tourism," Julio Marchant, the stadium's public relations director, said of the venue that opened in March 2021.
With a capacity of 30,000, extendable by another 10,000, the stadium’s cylindrical shape combines with fine latticework in shades of white and grey reaching up to the roof and covering the stands, letting the sun shine directly onto the pitch.
This is what Argentina's noblest stadium, named after the city that hosts it, looks like. Santiago del Estero is known for being the “Mother of Cities” – it was the site from which the Spanish crown launched expeditions to found other settlements in what today is known as Argentina.
Faithful to tradition
An imposing cathedral, a symbol of its colonial era, and a market laden with the spices used in regional foods such as empanadas and tamales attest to the city's retro spirit.
On the streets, trees laden with oranges and acidic juices are another dominant colour that contrasts shjarly with the imposing figure of a stadium in a vacant lot, a 10-minute drive from the city centre, that looks to the future.
Every Sunday this disparity is even more visible when, near to the stadium, santiagueños and visitors alike gather at El Patio del Indio Froilán.
In the open air, this popular space serves as a stage for the enjoyment of song and dance, especially chacareras, a typical sound across this region of Argentina that is considered to the cradle of the country's folklore. Guitar and the bass drum are intertwined and ring in the air, while those perusing suffer no shortage of handicrafts and regional food.
The festive atmosphere here is a stark contrast to the economic crisis ravaging the country. Inflation in April was 8.4 percent, the highest monthly figure in three decades, and prices rose 32 percent in the first four months of the year. The city of Santiago del Estero, and the wider province, suffers from one of the highest poverty rates in Argentina.
"In Santiago we have a lot of good things and the stadium is really nice. But I also think that other things were more necessary, like a factory so that there would be more work," complains street vendor Marisa Sisti.
Others are more positive. Miguel Ibarra, another street seller from the capital, celebrates the arrival of a world-class stadium.
"I am from Santiago and the stadium is a very good thing for the province. I'm proud of our stadium, it's great," said the 47-year-old, who saw a slight increase in his sales of football shirts during the U-20 World Cup.
Argentina were eliminated in the round of 16 and given the limited number of tourists travelling from abroad, the youth championship has failed to have a major impact.
Nevertheless, the turnout in the stands has been very good, says Marchant, a former footballer who played for Boca Juniors, Racing Club and a host of other sides in Portugal, Mexico, Colombia and Uruguay.
The stadium has regained the shine it had in March when it hosted occasions like the final of the Supercopa Argentina and the homecoming celebrations for Argentina’s national team when the newly crowned Qatar 2022 world champions faced Curaçao in a friendly.
Maradona, always in the limelight
Diego Maradona, a figure almost omnipresent throughout Argentina, is also honoured at the stadium in Santiago del Estero. A statue of the national team’s legendary '10', who died at the age of 60 in November 2020, guards one of the entrances to the stadium.
With his hands on his hips and the ball at his feet, Maradona's statue gives fans another reason to visit the stadium where Central Córdoba plays its home matches in the national top-flight.
As Santiago del Estero bids farewell to the FIFA 2023 U-20 World Cup, its modern stadium looks sure to feature as a protagonist in many other important matches to come.
by Giovanna Fleitas, AFP