By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The FIFA World Cup is only a little over a month away and the final countdown has begun in earnest. While it has not all been smooth sailing with regards to stadium preparation, here in Rio de Janeiro the iconic Maracanã is ready for football’s biggest tournament to kick-off.
There are twelve cities hosting the FIFA World Cup, however Rio de Janeiro has the biggest role to play of any of them. For starters, the Maracanã will host seven games during the competition, even with the Estádio Mané Garrincha in the country’s capital city, Brasília for the most matches.
Of course the World Cup’s showpiece, the final, will be here in Rio. It is not the first time the stadium has hosted the prestigious decider, in 1950, the first and-to-date, only time Brazil has hosted the tournament, the final was also played at the Maracanã. On that day, millions of Brazilian hearts were broken as the Seleção went down 2-1 to Uruguay in a defeat that shocked the country.
This year however, the only way Brazil will play at the Maracanã is if they reach the final. First up for the iconic football pitch, there are four group stage games to be held at the stadium, with three former world champions set to appear on the hallowed turf.
Argentina versus Bosnia, on June 15th, Spain versus Chile, on June 18th, Belgium versus Russia, on June 22nd and Ecuador versus France, on June 25th, will all take place in Rio. In the knock-out rounds a second round tie, on June 28th, a quarter-final, on July 4th and the final, on June 13th, will also be played at the Maracanã.
Mark Lassise, an American living in Brazil who hosts and writes a TV series Olhar Estrangeiro as seen on Globo Esport every Thursday, has been visiting all the host cities in Brazil and tells The Rio Times the Maracanã is more than ready for the World Cup. “[The Maracanã] may have lost some of its magic of the past by reducing the size by 20,000 plus. On the other hand, the championship stadium for the World Cup final is in great shape.”
“Complete with first world upgrades including: four big screen stadium televisions, a new club level and easy access entrances. All the games I have experienced have been safe, fun and without violence. […] the best part is that this is the only World Cup stadium fans can arrive at with only a short walk to the gates.”
For those football fans in Rio and going to the Maracanã for the first time Lassise offers a tip. “Take the metro [subway] with confidence from the Zona Sul (South Zone). It is a consistent twenty minute ride from General Osório metro station [in Ipanema].”
In addition to the World Cup games, the Maracanã has made a welcome return to club football in Rio de Janeiro. Following the forced closure of the Engenhão Stadium – which is now only expected to reopen in early 2015 – use of the Maracanã for clubs Fluminense, Flamengo and Botafogo has been paramount.
After closing for reformation works in September 2010, the stadium was reopened at the end of April last year, and in the past twelve months it has returned to play a prominent role in both international and domestic football. Last year it was one of the stadiums used to host the FIFA Confederations Cup, and was the scene of the final, where Brazil comprehensively dispatched world and European champions Spain 3-0.