By Robbie Blakeley, Contributing Sports Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Being a city renowned for its passion for o jogo bonito (The Beautiful Game), and with the legendary Maracanã Stadium out of action until 2013, Rio’s football (soccer) fans are left without an iconic sporting seat. There is still plenty of action to watch though, and the alternatives in Rio are Botafogo’s Engenhão Stadium, and Vasco’s São Januario Stadium.
The Engenhão, or Estadio Olimpico João Havelange, to give the arena its full name, opened its doors in 2007 after four years in the making. Named after the former FIFA president, the stadium gets its nickname from its location in the Engenho de Dentro neighborhood.
Since its opening, the stadium has been the home ground of Rio side Botafogo. However, the club do not own the stadium, instead renting it from the City of Rio de Janeiro, meaning many fans fail to recognize the ground as a true “home”.
Since the temporary closing of the Maracanã for renovations required by FIFA and the 2014 World Cup, rival clubs Fluminense and Flamengo have also set up camp at the stadium, due it being the biggest public stadium left in the city. But not all fans are happy.
Lifelong Flamengo fan Caio Neves is one supporter certainly looking forward to the return of the Maracanã. “Travel to and from the Engenhão makes life far more complicated. I live in Niterói, meaning I have to take the ferry to Rio and then a bus to get to the match. Before, I could take a direct bus to the Maracanã in just 45 minutes.”
The best way to get to Engenhão from the Rio’s city center is by bus. On Avenida Presidente Vargas, the 277 bus heading north drops people right outside the stadium.
In contrast, Vasco own the historic São Januario Stadium that they have called home for over 75 years. What it lacks in modern architecture it more than makes up for in atmosphere.
Built on a European model in the mid 1920s, the four terraces stand close to the pitch; when the stadium is sold out, which happens far more frequently than with the Engenhão, the din from the top of the picturesque hill can be deafening.
The stadium can hold close to 35,000 fans and was the first football stadium to be built in Rio. No wonder the Vascainas are proud of their ancient home. Like the more modern Engenhão, the stadium is located in Zona Norte (North Zone) and it can be difficult to get there if you don’t know where you are going.
It is possible to take the train, but the best way is by the 473 bus which drops outside the gates. Located on a hill in the Vasco da Gama neighborhood area, this stadium is worth the visit, if not just for the view then to see Ricardo Gomes’ vastly improving Vasco side play.
The Maracanã doors will remain closed for approximately another eighteen months, currently scheduled for reopening in January 2013. Now is the perfect opportunity to get out and explore a little more of the city’s rich football heritage.