“You can’t leave Rio de Janeiro without having seen the Maracanã Stadium!”
“The what?” I couldn’t even pronounce the word.
“The Maracanã Stadium! You don’t know what it is?”
“Sorry, never heard of it.”
“No, that’s impossible. Everybody knows Maracanã. It was the largest stadium in the world. It was were Pelé played his last game!”
Being a complete ignoramus when it comes to soccer that last remark didn’t make any impression whatsoever. Wisely, I refrained from asking who Pelé was. Obviously, he was an important player. You shouldn’t try the patience of Brazilians too much when it comes to futebol, I knew.
“Well, but isn’t it dangerous to attend soccer games in Brazil? I heard some games come with a lot of violence.”
“You’re right, there are some games that are risky. This one isn’t. Don’t worry. Tonight Fluminense and Internacional are playing. Both are decent teams with great supporters. You’ll see families with kids going there as well,” my host Marcello responded.
By the way, note that while the game is soccer to North Americans, in South America they play football (futebol for the Brazilians and fútbol for the Spanish speaking countries).
In Your Bucket Because…
- Well, Pelé played here and many other famous players.
- Hosting 7 games (including the Final) it will be an important stadium during the 2014 FIFA World Cup (and 2016 Summer Olympics).
- According to my host, this is a “must” for soccer fans and everybody else who visits Rio de Janeiro. And, in retrospect, I have to admit it was a fun experience. Just make sure you select the ‘right’ teams to cheer.
The stadium is situated in the Maracanã neighborhood, whose name derives from the Maracanã River that runs through the city. In Tupi Guarani, the original inhabitants of the region, maracanã was used for a type of parrot that used to live here. Officially, Maracanã is called Estadio Jornalisto Mario Filho, after a journalist who was a vocal supporter of building this stadium, but for some reason the name Maracanã stuck.
When Brazil won the right to host the 1950 FIFA World Cup, it was decided to build a new stadium in Rio de Janeiro. Construction started in 1948. That gave little time to build the stadium in the first place and in the Brazilian way of things the project was the subject of a lot of political discussions and wasn’t even close to being finished when it should have been. As a result the stadium did come into use in 1950 but construction went on until 1965.
The stadium’s size by capacity is something the Brazilians like to brag about. However, I learned that due to safety regulations the stadium can no longer hold those 200,000 spectators as was the case during the 1950 World Cup. The number was reduced to 80,000 and currently the stadium is under renovation once more for the 2014 World Cup with another reduction of seats down to 76,935. Having said that, Maracanã will remain Brazil’s biggest soccer ground.
What my host didn’t tell me about, is Brazil’s biggest disgrace in their history of futebol, which is, whether the Brazilians like it or not, an important part of Maracanã’s history as well. The opening match in 1950 started with a victory: Rio de Janeiro All-Stars beat São Paulo All-Stars 3-1. The first World Cup match was promising as well: Brazil defeated Mexico 4-0 and the Brazilians were elated.
The Finals weren’t going to be a big deal. After all, Brazil only needed a draw against Uruguay to win the World Cup.
They lost: 2-1 and Brazil was devastated.
There is a Soccer Museum in São Paulo, which has a room dedicated to that particular moment in history. The room is empty except for a screen, which projects those devastating last minutes of the 1950 World Cup finals. The shock of horror and the silence that dominated the stadium after Uruguay’s second goal came straight through that black and white screen. I tell you, even in my case, an absolutely non-soccer person, it made my flesh creep.
The Match Fluminense – Internacional
And so I was to see and experience that famous-cum-infamous stadium. With some trepidation, I will add, as I don’t care for crowds and I suppose I associate big soccer games (too much) with violence.
I shouldn’t have worried. Marcello was right. It was a friendly game. The stadium wasn’t full. There were chanting supporters and families with young kids, with food and drinks and having fun beating drums. The cheering was energizing with people jumping up from their seats. Nobody was demolishing seats or throwing dangerous objects and nobody was beaten up (which, I suppose, summons up the image I have of soccer games).
This game was showing exactly what sports in my eyes should be: fun, competitive, exciting.
I can’t recall much of the game itself. I can’t even tell you what color shirt was worn by what team. I can see on a photo that Fluminense won 3-0. For me it wasn’t so much about seeing that particular match, but about feeling the atmosphere of the world’s most popular game in one of the world’s most famous stadiums.
It was, however, a wonderful way to experience the thrill of Brazilians watching their futebol and to better understand why it is such an important part of Brazilian culture.
- You can attend a game and/or just visit the stadium, which also has a museum. Note that at the time of writing the stadium is closed due to the renovations for the 2014 World Cup but there is a special tower from which you can still take a peek into the stadium until it opens again.
- The stadium also hosts a lot of other events, including concerts.
- Address of Estádio do Maracanã: Av. Presidente Castelo Branco at Av. Maracanã.