Maracanã, the largest stadium of the world

The largest stadium of the world The history of Maracanã is, initially, the history of the World cup of 1950. Indeed, the competition, started again by Jules Rimet in 1946 after a total stop of the activities of FIFA during the second World war, was organized that year in Brazil, the only applicant country to […]

The largest stadium of the world

The history of Maracanã is, initially, the history of the World cup of 1950. Indeed, the competition, started again by Jules Rimet in 1946 after a total stop of the activities of FIFA during the second World war, was organized that year in Brazil, the only applicant country to the event, in a bloodthirsty world. In that occasion, the Brazilian State decided to construct a gigantic stadium, imagined by the architects Raphaël Galvão and Pedro Paulo Bernardes Bastos, the world’s largest stadium, and for a long time, considered capable to accomodate 200.000 people.

Actually, the exact maximum capacity is unknown. Brazil asserts to be more than 200.000, the Guinness Book allots 180.000 of them, others quote approximately 155.000. The first stone of the stadium was placed on August 2, 1948, when Maracanã stadium was born. Five weeks before the beginning of the competition, FIFA has dispatched on the spot Doctor Ottorino Barassi, president of the Italian Federation of football and the old organizer of the World Italian of 1934, so that everything could get ready, in particular the stadium, in time. On June 16, 1950, the inaugural match was between the young selections of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, and the final result was 3-1 for São Paulo. It was Didi who scored the first goal of the history of the Rio stadium, a work in Didi’s manner:

This day, Maracanã was still being built, just as at the time of the opening of the World championship, the platform of press was not ready, and the toilets were insufficient, but this didn’t matter. The essencial was ready, the major part of the stadium was finished (the rest would wait fifteen years to be ready), the competition could start.

Because of the disorganization of the national selections in the post-war period, only thirteen teams were qualified. The USSR refused to take part in the competition for political reasons, and the team of France, invited to replace the Soviet team, considered themselves too fragile to face again this type of test. India also declined the invitation after the refusal of FIFA to the request for their team to play with naked feet. Despite everything, there was still a positive point: for the first time, the British nation agreed to take part in the eliminating heats of the competition, at the same time as they were being integrated to FIFA; this way, England had a participation in Brazil. The curiosity of the competition lied in the organization in four unequal groups followed by a mini-championship between the four first teams.

The first group included four teams (Brazil, Yugoslavia, Switzerland, Mexico), and the second also included four teams (England, Spain, the United States, Chile), and the third included three teams (Sweden, Paraguay, Italy) and the fourth, only two (Bolivia and Uruguay). The reasons of this distribution were simply financial, Brazil required that a maximum of attractive posters take seat in Maracanã. With the help of short term loans, however, any Brazilian could take part in the excitement.

Other games has happened: in group 1, Brazil-Mexico (4-0, two goals of Ademir, one of Jair, one of Baltazar, 82.000 spectators) and Brazil-Yugoslavia (2-0, goals of Ademir and Zizinho, in front of 142.000 people); and in group 2, England-Chile (2-0, 30.000 spectators), Spain-Chile (2-0, 16.000 people) and Spain-England (1-0, 74.000 spectators). Brazil, which also scored 2-2 against Switzerland (which was an authentic revelation) in São Paulo, was qualified for the following matches. The popular enthusiasm was huge, and the government declared even non-working days when Brazil was playing.

The final group was formed by Brazil, Spain, Sweden and Uruguay (qualified after their only match of the round, against Bolivia, a victory 8-0!). We can’t forget about the elimination of the English team, who rub for the first time their pride of inventors of football to the reality of an international competition, and saw themselves beaten by the United States (1-0) and Spain (1-0). Another country remembered by the absence of hightlight: Italy, beaten in its group by Sweden.

The Maracanazo

Brazil confirmed its position of favorite by the time of its two first matches in the final group. Sweden was eliminated on July 9, 1950, loosing for 7-1 (four goals of Ademir, two of Chico, one of Maneca), and Spain on July 13, 6-1 (two goals of Ademir, two of Chico, one of Jair and one of Zizinho). The crowd watched in mass these two performances (139.000 and 153.000 people), with the increasingly many shouts of “O Brasil ha de gauhar!” (“Brazil will win!”). On July 16, Brazil faced Uruguay, who had, until that moment, only drawed with Spain (2-2) and won over Sweden (3-2). At the time of that true final in an unexpected competition, Cariocas were motivated by officially 173.830 spectators. Actually 200 to 220.000, that is to say almost the tenth part of the Rio population.

The point of the match would be enough for Brazil to be champion of the world. Nobody bets on Uruguay. This one was being dominated since the match begining by the brazilian team that was attacking to score. But Uruguay was resisting. By the time of the returning from the cloakrooms, the Auriverde seemed disturbed. The players didn’t have the right to lose. The whistles rise platforms on behalf of the disappointed witnesses of the virgin score.

At the beginning of the second half, the spectators went quiet, and started to doubt. But all uncertainties were suddenly eliminated: at 46 minutes, Friaça, the right winger of the Seleção, opened the score. The whole Maracanã exulted, and demonstrated its joy. “O Brasil ha de gauhar!”. But this goal that came by surprise didn’t reassure Brazil. On the contrary, this one seemed nervous, while Uruguay, which didn’t have anything to lose, was playing the football which had dominated the world in the 20’s. So, it happened what seemed logical: at 65 minutes, Uruguay drawed by Juan Schiaffino.

So, Brazil should hold this result which ensured the trophy. The Seleção was in a very difficult situation, driven back in its surface, and at 79 minutes Alcides Gigghia confirmed the uruguayenne domination with a deathly goal (it was told that several people succumbed of a heart attack at this same moment in all the countries, when they found out about this goal). It was finished. A few minutes later, the platforms were agitated, the war was declared. The English referee, George Reader, whistle the end of the match: the Brazilian players cried over the lawn, the anger of the crowd exploded. Jules Rimet in person had to go down on the lawn to give the trophy to the uruguayen captain, Varela. The police force evacuated under its protection the players of the two teams, and the referee, in order to avoid a disaster. The Brazilian trainer, Flavio Costa, escaped from the furious supporters.

In the memories of the uruguayennes, the match got a glorious name: Maracanazo. In the memories of the Brazilian, this national catastrophe remained a throbbing bruise, even after half-century and five titles later. A strange end for the World 1950 (whereas at the same time was held the match between Sweden and Spain, in which we saw surprisingly the Scandinavian being classified in the third place thanks to a victory 3-1). Moacyr Barbosa, the Brazilian guard, lived all his life a martyrdom: in 1963, the administration of the stadium, which installed round posts, offered him, with irony, the old goals, those of the final… For some people, the best guard of the history of Brazilian football (but a victim of his condition of being black in a country of mixed race but contaminated by racism), Barbosa died in 2000, still hated by some people (like by the leader of the Brazilian federation of football, who expeled him in 1993 from a match of Seleção, to which he had been invited from a tv channel to be the comentator).

The house of legends

The history of Maracanã does not stop there, but the fifty following years could pass as a detail. However, the stadium was useful for the great matches (in fact, the majority of the matches) of the three main football clubs of Rio de Janeiro, domiciled in the rest of the time in the suburb: Botafogo de Futebol e Regatas (main home: stadium Caio Martins, in Niteroi, current capacity of 12.000 people), Clube de Regatas Flamengo (main home: stadium José Bastos Padilha, in Gávea, current capacity of 8.000 people), and Fluminense Futebol Clube (main home: stadium of Laranjeiras, current capacity of 8.000 spectators). It was there that the titles of these three teams were disputed. And especially the championship of the State of Rio, prestigious and disputed, often gained by one of these three clubs. By Botafogo (winner for nine times) in 1957, 1961, 1962, 1967 and 1968, then in 1989 after one season without defeat, in 1990 and 1997. By Flamengo (winner for ten times) in 1953, 1954, 1955, 1963, 1965, 1972, 1974, 1978, 1979 (this year, two editions took place, both won by Flamengo), 1981, 1986, 1991, 1996, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2004. By Fluminense (winner for fifteen times) in 1951, 1959, 1964, 1969, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1976, 1980, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1995, 2002. The titles accumulate, and will still accumulate in Maracanã. But to be complete, it would be necessary to mention the cup Guanabara, the championship of Brazil, the cup of Rio, the cup of Brazil, the continental competitions, etc. There are too many competitions, titles, passionants matches, that it would be impossible to name all of them.

But to understand better why Maracanã embodies the Brazilian football, it is also necessary to quote names that have became legends in the lawn, with the shirt of their clubs, or with Brazil’s shirt, playing the majority of the matches at home (and sometimes, with the two shirts): Barbosa, the unhappy guard of the final of 1950, titular for 35 times in the Seleção; Dida, the first striker of Maracanã, 244 official goals in matches for Flamengo in nine seasons (second striker of the club, behind Zico), 420 in his career, three times champion of Rio, n°10 in Flamengo as in the Seleção (before Pelé drawed him aside from his way), champion of the world in 1958. And then Pelé, of course, The King. God for all the Brazilians, but adversary for the clubs of Rio when they met his team of Santos (São Paulo). At March 5, 1961, in Maracanã, he scored the most beautiful goal of the history of the stadium (that a plate affixed by the journalist Mario Filho commemorates still nowadays): face to face to Fluminense, Pelé beats successively six defenders and also the guard, scoring the second goal of Santos (final score: 3-1). And then, in 1969, Pelé scored there the thousandth goal of his career. It is said, as a joke, that this goal had been already ordered a day before the championship, and that even the adversaries were informed about this. This unforgettable moment could only happen in one place in the world, Maracanã, in front of 125.000 people, against Vasco de Gama (one of the clubs from Rio, which have seen the Maracanã opening), and the victory goal scored by penalty face to face to the guard Andrada (final score: 2-1 for Santos).

Let us quote Vavá, striker beside Pelé in the Selection (and player of Vasco de Gama), champion of the world in 1958 and 1962. Nílton Santos, left-back of Botafogo from 1948 to 1964, for all his carrer, won four championships in Rio, and two World cups (1958 and 1962). Zagallo, attacker of Flamengo (1951-1957), then of Botafogo (1958-1965), won five championships in Rio, and he was also twice champion of the world. In the following decade, there is of course Amarildo, striker of Flamengo (1956-1962), then of Botafogo (1962-1963), before joining Italy: he won the championship of Rio in 1961, with the title of the best striker, and in 1962. There was also, a little later, Carlos Alberto, the fast fullback, with his travels between Rio (Fluminense in 1963-1965, Botafogo in 1971-1972, Fluminense again in 1976-1977, Flamengo in 1977) and Santos (1965-1971 and 1972-1976), before following Pelé in a gilded retirement in the United States, he won two championships in Rio (1964 and 1976), and the World of 1970, among others.

In Brazil, there is no lack of talent. Bebeto, attacker of Flamengo from1984 to 1988, then in 1996 after his season in Spain, victorious of the championship in Rio with Flamengo in 1986, the best striker in 1988 (and 1989 with Vasco), victorious of the World cup in 1994. And Romário, four times winner of the championship in Rio, twice with Flamengo, revered in Brazil mainly because of his victory in the World cup of 1994 (at the time he was considered the best player), dissatisfied at the time with his passages in Europe then in Qatar, is still in activity with the shirt of Fluminense, at 38 years, recently striker for the nine-hundredth time in his career in an official match.

The end of the reign?

Maracanã held, many times, significant matches. The records of multitude were always rising: after the 173.830 spectators (official) of Brazil-Uruguay of 1950, in March 21, 1954 a new record was set in the Brazil-Paraguay match, with 183.513 spectators. It is however always estimated that the Brazil-Uruguay match of 1950 is the true record of multitude, even if it is impossible to quantify it precisely. Maracanã is also the place of the record of multitude, for a match between clubs, in all the history of the world football. This record was established at the time of a match between Flamengo and Fluminense in 1963, with 177.656 paying spectators. It is said as a joke, that the lowest number of spectators of Maracanã is only 148 people, at the time of a match between the FC Bangu Tsunami (North-American club of Minneapolis) and Deportivo de Quito, competing for Taça Libertadores (i.e. Copa Libertadores, official Spanish name). The stadium was named Mario Filho, as a tribute for this sports jornalist, after his death, in 1966. Founder of Jornal of Sports, friend of the players (in particular of Pelé), author of books about football (The Black in Brazilian Football, 1947; Travel around Pelé, 1964), creator of several competitions (as the tournament Rio – São Paulo), and responsable for the begining of the construction of the great stadium, in which some people affirm that he should have been buried.

The heart of Brazilian football also held other important events. Initially, as a joke, a match-exhibition of Harlem Trotters Earth, American basketball players, in 1952. A few years later, another man visits Maracanã and becomes also one of the legends of the stadium: Jean-Paul II blesses the Brazilian crowd there. The same year, the thirty year anniversary of the stadium was celebrated by a Brazil-USSR match, and Frank Sinatra comes to ensures one of his most successful concerts. It was not the last event of this kind: the American group Kiss, Sting, Tina Turner, Paul McCartney, Madonna, Rolling Stones… The stars of the popular music like to find in Maracanã the worship of joined people. Football would pass almost in the second plan. And we’re not even talk about volleyball (Brazil-USSR in 1983).

Maracanã is a historic building in every aspect and in the spirit of all the Brazilian people. It is also a historic building officially, thanks to the classification by the State in 1998, and, for this reason, it cannot be demolished. By the way, the projects related to it are about restoration and modernization, and the main reason which accelerates the restorations of the stadium is the security. In 1992, the collapse of a part of the protection railings caused the fall of some supporters which rested on it, and the death of three of them: this serious accident was followed by the closure of several platforms of the stadium, and a detailed study of the monument. All of this shows signs of its tiredness, which worries the experts. It is also noted that the structure of the stadium, of concrete, is seriously corroded mainly because of the urine of thousands of spectators in a hurry, revealing itself a stadium with insufficient sanitary instalations. In 2000, the stadium was saved by its fiftieth anniversary, the building was renovated, and numbers of seats was lowered, for a current capacity of 103.045 people.

The future of the stadium is not yet really defined. The rumours of privatizations do not have any more course, since the acquisition of the monument (before property of the town of Rio) by the Brazilian State. But the stadium will not be able, certainly, to remain for a very long time without new restorations, this time a major one, with perhaps a total reorganization or at least a partial reconversion. Time is changed: the stadiums are not anymore only gigantic monuments reserved for the worship of football.

Translation: Ana Carolina Furlaneto Saraiva

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