Few stadiums in the world can rightly claim to be genuinely historical monuments as well as sporting arenas. But the Maracana Stadium, or popularly known as the Estadio Jornalista Mario Filho, with its enormous expanse, colossal seating capacity, and majestic architecture, is one of them.
Where Is The Maracana Stadium
Inaugurated for the 1950 FIFA World Cup, the colossal stadium has seen some of the most incredible moments in Brazilian and world soccer history.
Throughout South American soccer, the Maracana stadium has taken on mythical proportions and has become an almost impregnable fortress. However, even a good performance does not guarantee victory there.
The hallowed ground, where up to 183,000 fans follow every move, has hosted some of Brazil’s greatest players, including Pele, Garrincha, Zico, and Romario.
World’s Biggest Soccer Stadium
The Brazilians set out to build the world’s largest soccer stadium under the guise of the FIFA World Cup. A truly majestic structure was to be constructed to mark the victory of the host country at the 1950 world championships.
Over 10,000 laborers toiled in the hot sun of Rio de Janeiro for over a year beginning in 1948. With its capacity of 43,000, the Maracana stadium surpassed Hampden Park in Glasgow, the previous record holder.
At that time, Brazilians were filled with great pride: “Today, Brazil has the largest and best stadium in the world. Now the world can marvel at our sporting prowess and grandeur.”
1950 World Cup
The Maracana stadium was officially introduced to the world before the opening match of the 1950 FIFA World Cup, where the hosts would play five of their six games (one would be at the Pacaembu).
After shocking Sweden and Spain 7-1 and 6-1 respectively, Brazil faced Uruguay as firm favorites and with the swagger of champions-elect going into the final match.
A draw was all Brazil needed to win the championship that year, as the final was played as a final group stage match.
One hundred seventy-four thousand people attended the final on 16 July 1950. However, according to reliable sources, this figure is much higher. There were 220,000 people in the Maracana stadium on that day, which was equivalent to 10 percent of Rio de Janeiro’s population at the time, recalled Joao Havelange, the President of FIFA between 1974 and 1988.
Things appeared to plan when Friaca gave the home side the lead, but Uruguay’s response was to rock Brazil to its core. The Charrúa won their title with a 2-1 victory, thanks to Juan Schiaffino and Alcides Ghiggia.
Without a doubt, the saddest moment in the history of Brazilian soccer was met by an eerie, haunting silence in the gigantic stadium. After that, the world’s media dubbed Uruguay’s shock victory as the Maracanazo, which is still used today whenever a visiting team wins at the stadium.
After the match, grown men fought back tears. Some fans left with the game at all square, thinking Brazil were champions, but by the time they reached the gates, their dream was already gone.
World Cup Presentation
As the story goes, Jules Rimet, then FIFA’s president, walked down to the field to present the trophy to the Brazilians. However, by the time he reached the pitch, Uruguay turned the game around and became world champions.
A little taken aback by the sudden events, Rimet discarded the congratulatory speech he had prepared for the Brazilians and handed the cup over to the Uruguayan hero Obdulio Varela.
Some say that Brazil has never fully avenged the defeat, but on 16 July 1989, a goal by Romario was enough to beat Uruguay in the final of that year’s Copa America on the same ground.
Maracana Stadium Records
In addition to hosting its ‘big four’ teams – Botafogo, Flamengo, Fluminense, and Vasco – the Maracana is a state property in Rio de Janeiro.
Some of the greatest moments in Brazilian soccer have originated at the Maracana, such as Pele scoring his 1000th career goal against Vasco in 1969.
A pitch invasion by hundreds of fans and photographers followed Pele’s 34th-minute penalty against Argentine goalkeeper Edgardo Andrada.
A poignant and evocative moment in the history of the Maracana came on 20 January 1983, when Garrincha passed away in the stadium, and his remains had to be brought there as a tribute. The idol was remembered and farewelled by thousands of fans.
The first FIFA Club World Cup final was played there in 2000, 50 years after the legendary Maracanazo. The cup was won by Corinthians against Vasco in front of 73,000 fans in an all-Brazilian affair.
Maracana Stadium Renovation
Following its renovation in 2013, the stadium now seats 78,838 spectators, making it Brazil’s largest stadium and South America’s second-largest after Estadio Monumental in Peru. The 2007 Pan American Games were held at this site, which hosted the football tournament and the opening and closing ceremonies.
Several matches, including the 2014 World Cup final, were played at the Maracana stadium during the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup and the 2014 FIFA Confederations Cup. In addition to hosting the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2016 Summer Olympics and Paralympics, the Estádio hosted the main track and field events.
As usual, the last word falls to the great Pele: “The Maracana is a special place for all Brazilians, but especially for me. There, I scored my first goal for the Auriverde against Argentina and where I scored my 1000th professional goal years later.
Main Image: Pedro Lopez