New Maracanã - Rio de Janeiro
New Maracanã - Rio de Janeiro
Last edited by Luiz Henrick; 7th January 2012 at 03:30.
CATHEDRAL OF FOOTBALL CENTERPIECE OF 2014 WC, 2016 OLYMPICS
12/29/2011 6:19:34 PM
RIO DE JANEIRO - Venezuelan tourist Alexis Nunez was thrilled to be standing in front of the Maracana.
He crossed his arms, pulled down his shades and began staring at what he calls the "Cathedral of Football."
To football fans, there is something magical about the Maracana. It is the second-most visited tourist destination in Rio, behind only the Christ the Redeemer statue.
Thoughts raced through Nunez's mind as the sound of heavy machinery echoed from inside the famed venue.
"I was just thinking about all the history of this place, about all that has happened inside this stadium in the past," he said. "All the legendary matches, all the great players, all the fans that used to pack this stadium. It's just amazing to be here, there is nothing like it."
One of the most recognizable stadiums in the world and the home of Brazilian football, Maracana is filled with history and packed with tradition.
It's where Pele scored his 1,000th career goal in 1969, and where nearly 200,000 people watched the 1950 World Cup final, when Brazil was stunned by Uruguay in what became known as the Maracanazo. It was the largest crowd ever known to have watched a football match.
"Can you imagine what it was like to be sitting in there for a match like that?" the 28-year-old Venezuelan publicist said.
But with a year to go on an extensive renovation project, the best may yet be to come for the famed stadium.
Brazil will attract the world's attention in the next few years by hosting the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Rio Olympics, and the Maracana will be the centerpiece of both events. It is scheduled to host the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics, the first ever in South America, as well as the final of the World Cup, the first in Brazil since the 1950 tournament.
"I was thinking about how nice it would be to be here again three years from now, but this time inside the stadium, for a World Cup final," said Nunez, proudly wearing Venezuela's national team jersey. "That's my goal now, to be back and to watch a football match at the new Maracana."
Nunez was visiting Rio de Janeiro for a week and didn't want to leave the city without stopping to see the Maracana. Hundreds of other tourists like him visit Maracana every day, buses filled with people stopping by even though it has been closed for renovations since 2010.
"It hasn't been only foreigners who have been visiting the stadium, even Rio people have been coming here to take a look at how things are going," said Marcio Pele, a 47-year-old Rio artist who for the past seven years has been making money by juggling a football in front of the venue, almost always wearing the yellow jersey of Brazil's national team.
"The football fans are still coming, they miss it," he said.
In addition to the Maracanazo and Pele's 1,000th career goal, the stadium also hosted some of the most important matches in Brazilian football, including several Brazilian league finals. Flamengo, Brazil's most popular club, was the latest to win the title there, in 2009.
Some of the top international matches at the stadium included two Club World Cup finals, in 1963 and 2000, as well as the 2008 Copa Libertadores final won by Ecuador's Liga de Quito over Brazil's Fluminense.
The final of the 1989 Copa America also took place at Maracana, when Romario scored with a header to give Brazil a 1-0 victory and the title in front of more than 130,000 fans.
Among the many soccer personalities on the stadium's "sidewalk of fame" is former Brazil and Flamengo great Zico, the player with the most success at the venue with 333 goals in 435 matches.
But there hasn't been a match at Maracana since a 0-0 draw between Flamengo and Santos in the Brazilian league in September 2010.
Maracana, which belongs to the city of Rio, is undergoing a $470 million renovation. When the face-lift is completed in late 2012, the stadium will maintain its traditional look but will have new facilities and amenities, including a new roof and a new seating capacity of 76,000.
Maracana was constructed for the 1950 World Cup and the goal was to build the biggest stadium in the world at the time. The gigantic project was a huge undertaking for the local government, but officials wanted to showcase Brazil's progress and boost the nation's pride after World War II. It took less than two years to build for the World Cup, although it wasn't entirely completed when the tournament began.
Officially named Estadio Jornalista Mario Filho, for one of the most prominent Brazilian sports journalists, the stadium also hosted some of Brazil's most historic events not related to football, including a Mass celebrated by Pope John Paul II in 1980.
One of the stadium's darkest days was July 19, 1992. That's when more than 120,000 fans were at the stadium for the Brazilian league final between Flamengo and Botafogo and a railing in one of the upper sections collapsed, killing three people and injuring about 50.
It was common for crowds of more than 100,000 people to watch matches until then, but the tragedy prompted authorities to reduce the number of fans allowed into the stadium. Its seating capacity was constantly diminished in years following the accident.
Maracana hadn't undergone a significant renovation since being revamped for the 2007 Pan American Games that took place in Rio. There were a few changes after the 1992 accident, and it also was upgraded before FIFA's inaugural Club World Cup in 2000.
The most recent renovations have not come without controversy, with critics saying they are too costly and filled with irregularities. Workers' strikes also have hampered the project.
Still, the overall feeling remains one of pride, especially for those directly involved in getting the Maracana ready again.
"This is going to be good for everyone in this city and in Brazil," said 67-year-old Joao Lourenco, a construction worker at the venue taking a break from the scorching Rio heat. "We are proud to be working hard to get this stadium ready, we know it will be a big stage for the entire world again in just a few years."
Cathedral of Football Centerpiece of 2014 WC, 2016 Olympics