By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Brazilian football season is drawing to a close and as such opportunities to watch a game at the iconic Maracanã Stadium are now sparse until after the holidays. There are, however, a few of matches at the football (soccer) arena before the end of the year.
On the Brasileirão (the major national tournament) final weekend on December 8th, two Carioca clubs are scheduled to play in Rio. Flamengo takes on Cruzeiro while Botafogo hosts Criciúma. It is yet to be decided who will play at Maracanã but Botafogo, with more on the line, has the more compelling case. The Glorioso needs the points to qualify for the Copa Libertadores, South America’s premier club competition.
The last game to be played in Maracanã in 2013 will be the Jogo das Estrelas (Star Games) held on December 28th. The stadium will not be used then until mid-January, when the 2014 Campeonato Carioca, the Rio de Janeiro state championships, kick-off.
For Jonathan Cooper, an adopted Carioca and Flamenguista, a visit to Maracanã is an absolute must for any visitors to the Cidade Maravilhosa. “The Maracanã is a fantastic stadium and the fans can create a vibrant atmosphere even when it isn’t full. Regardless of the number of fans inside the stadium it is one of the world’s most famous football arenas and I always thoroughly enjoy my visits when I’m in Rio,” he told The Rio Times.
The Maracanã Stadium renovation was an expensive and lengthy project. It cost over R$1 billion of public money and rendered the stadium unusable for over two and a half years.
The ground was closed from September 2010 until April of this year when it reopened with an exhibition match featuring former greats Ronaldo and Bebeto. It has since passed from public to private ownership, with consortium Maracanã SA securing a 35-year lease on the stadium.
Since then, Rio clubs Fluminense, Flamengo and Botafogo have all reached agreements to use the ground for home matches. Vasco da Gama occasionally uses the stadium but more often uses their own stadium, the São Januário.
Four months after its official opening, the guided tours resumed from Monday to Saturday every hour between 9AM and 5PM (on match days, the last visit starts four hours before kick-off).
Maracanã will play an enormous role in June and July during the 2014 World Cup. Seven games will be played at the stadium, the joint-most alongside the Estádio Mané Garrincha in the nation’s capital city Brasília.
Four group stage games, a second round tie, a quarter-final and then the final will all be played at Brazil’s most famous sporting stage. It will be the second time the Maracanã has hosted the World Cup final, following Brazil’s shocking 2-1 defeat to Uruguay in 1950.
The stadium, officially named Estádio Jornalista Mário Filho, was originally built to host the World Cup in 1950 but the first game was played shortly before the competition began, between all-star teams from Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. With the official attendance at the the infamous final against Uruguay in 1950 a staggering 199,854, the capacity has gradually been reduced to today’s 78,639.