Location: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Date of construction: 1950
Teams: Flamengo, Fluminense
Record crowd: 199,854
The Maracanã is arguably the most magnificent stadium in the world. No other stadium has ever had a record attendance of 200,000 people in a single match. This record was set in the 1950 World Cup final between Brazil and Uruguay, and in the 1964 Rio derby between Fluminense and Flamengo, the Maracana delivered another 194,603 spectators.
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Brazilians are world-famous for their fervour for football, and perhaps we can attribute some of that fervour to this footballing sanctuary. From the Rio State Championship to the Barclays Premier League, from the Copa Libertadores to the Club World Cup, from the Confederations Cup to the World Cup, the Maracana has seen almost everything.
The name Maracana is taken from a river that flows through Rio de Janeiro from the densely forested Dijuga Mountains to Guanabara Bay. In the local Tupi language, Maracana means ‘like a parrot’. It is a little known fact, however, that the official name of the Maracanã stadium is the Mario Ferrau Stadium, which belongs to the founder of the local sports newspaper who was instrumental in the creation of the stadium. But it must be mentioned that the Maracanã has a concomitant word, Maracanazo, which is the greatest tragedy in the history of Brazilian football.
Maracanazo changed a nation
What does Maracanazo mean? Translated into Chinese, it is called “Maracanazo”. It comes from the World Cup final defeat to Uruguay in 1950.
It was only the fifth game after the stadium was built and nearly 200,000 Brazilians flocked to the stadium in anticipation of their team’s crowning. Uruguay’s captain Varela ordered his players to ignore the rowdy fans and the phrase “Los de afuera son de palo” (The crowd in the stands don’t play) became a football classic.
Brazil took the lead first, Varela led the way by complaining to the English referee and trying to delay the restart, then Uruguay equalised and Brazil became anxious, then Guicia scored and the game was over.
Guicia’s goal ended that game, but it was a nation in mourning
200,000 Brazilians were beaten by 11 Uruguayans. The match was also Brazil’s last in white, and the team changed into the classic yellow jerseys dotted with a few blue and green for the start of the next World Cup. Goalkeeper Barbosa was accused of being responsible for the decisive goal conceded: he had expected Guicia to choose a cross, but Guicia shot. After that, a dead silence fell over the stadium.
The Maracanã tragedy had a very bad effect on Barbosa. For the rest of his life, he never escaped the contemptuous eyes of the people. He was shunned by everyone, and when he went out on the streets he was scorned by everyone. He longed for redemption and in 1963 he burned down the old goalposts of the Maracana Stadium, but this did not free him. At the dawn of the new century, he had this to say: “In Brazil, if you kill someone you get 30 years in jail; I, on the other hand, suffered 50 years in prison for a crime I didn’t commit.” This is the most tragic story of Maracana.
Controversy and disaster
The original site for the stadium was controversial – in the mildest of terms. In fact, councillors bickered over the site of the circular stadium. In the end, the stadium was not built in a residential area; instead, its creation led to the creation of a neighbourhood. Now, the Maracana is not just a stadium, it refers to the area around it and even includes a very convenient metro station.
The stadium was built very quickly, but the quality was not so good. Forty years on, the stadium’s structure has become untenable. The Maracana was renovated in 1985 and 1991, but Brazil’s wet weather and inefficient maintenance routines have raised concerns about its safety, not to mention the corrosion of the structure from fans’ urine over the past four decades.
“Everything (in the stadium) is so outdated and obsolete.” Flamengo player Wilson Gottardo recalled, “The bath water in the dressing room was unclean and there was a strong smell of damp. It was clear that something wasn’t right.”
In 1992, the Copa do Brasil final was played between Flamengo and Botafogo. Nearly 150,000 fans were singing and dancing in the stands, waiting for this final to kick off. Suddenly, the stands for the home team fans collapsed, which caused almost 50 fans to fall from the second tier stands, ultimately killing three people.
Unbelievably, that game went on as normal. “They just told us something had happened.” But the game was so important, with so many fans present, we couldn’t suspend the game,” said Gottardo. I can’t believe they didn’t tell us the exact details of the accident, knowing that my family was in the stands with the home fans!”
A new era
Flamengo’s 3-0 victory brought an end to the old days of Maracanã. After seven months of renovation behind closed doors, the seating capacity at the Maracana has been significantly reduced. The Maracana had its own king in the form of Zico. He scored 333 goals in 435 games at the Maracana and also received a statue on the side of the pitch. And, if you believe in the legend that Pele scored over 1,000 goals in his career, you should also know that Pele’s 1,000th goal was scored at the Maracana on 19 November 1969.
At the Maracana you can also see the shirt worn by another of its heroes, Garrincha, in 1962, the chair on which Queen Elizabeth once sat, the crossbar on which Pele scored his 1,000th goal and the foot sculpture of Vasco da Gama legend Roberto Dinamite. to have it removed. Eventually, the Maracana was refurbished again and hosted the 2014 World Cup final between Germany and Argentina. The stadium will also host the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics in 2016.
It took three years to renovate the stadium and the $500 million spent was no less than the cost of building a new stadium. The Maracana now has 80,000 seats and is a completely different stadium to what it used to be: the two tiers of stands are now one, but the sloping design gives spectators a better view of the game, and the stadium was reopened for a friendly match between Brazil and England in 2013.
Another area of pride at the Maracana is the new roof with 1,500 solar panels, making it the greenest stadium in Brazil. Not only is it self-sufficient in terms of electricity, but it can even share a portion of it to provide to the city of Rio. Meanwhile, fans can enjoy the convenience of 60 bars, 292 toilets, 17 lifts and disabled access. And of course, the changing rooms have been redesigned: there are now four changing rooms in the stadium, each with an artificial turf warm-up area where players can train with the ball.
Maracana was born for a World Cup that was a disaster. Maracana ended in a physical disaster, but has been rebuilt with a new lease of life. Although its former form is almost impossible to find, the atmosphere and history of the Maracana has never changed under that circular roof. The Maracanã is worth a visit.