By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – After two years and nine months Rio’s Maracanã Stadium has reopened in time for the Confederations Cup. Yet before the FIFA tournament, comes the arena’s second test-event on June 2nd when the Brazilian national side host England at the Maracanã, as part of the Football Association’s 150th anniversary celebrations.
Then comes the World Cup dress rehearsal in the form of the FIFA Confederations Cup. Rio will be the most busy host city over the next twelve months.
June’s competition will see three games at the Maracanã Stadium. First, on June 16th, CONCACAF champions Mexico face Euro 2012 runners-up Italy in a Group A clash.
Four days later, in a Group B fixture, world and European champions Spain take on Oceania title holders Tahiti.
The Maracanã will then bring the curtain down on the tournament on June 30th with the final. Cariocas are fervently hoping the Seleção goes the length; it is the only scenario that will see the national team play in Rio.
“The only way we [Cariocas] will see our national team is in a final, either this year, next year, or both. Personally I’m hoping the final will be Brazil v Spain. The two best teams in the world!” Romero Moraes, a Fluminense fan, told The Rio Times.
The following year Rio will see more World Cup action than any other city besides capital Brasília. Four group stage games are followed by a second round game, a quarter-final then the final. Yet while the Maracanã will be pivotal during the Confederations and World Cups – a total of ten games will be staged at the stadium – its role in domestic football is at present less defined.
Since its reopening at the end of April no other game has been held at the stadium. It was originally planned that a club match involving Fluminense, Flamengo or Botafogo would take place at the Maracanã, possibly a Copa Libertadores encounter featuring Fluminense.
As the premier club competition in South America a bigger crowd would have been guaranteed. Alternatively, the final of the 2013 Campeonato Carioca was mooted as another possibility.
Flamengo and Fluminense, the two Carioca clubs who are used to playing home games at the iconic sporting stage, have been forced to find alternatives over the last six weeks, despite the stadium being declared approximately 97 percent ready.
That has been no mean feat since the closure of the Engenhão Stadium. Vasco da Gama have allowed the use of their privately owned São Januário stadium, but some games have been sent further afield. The Estádio Moça Bonita in Bangu, Volta Redonda’s Raulinho Oliveira and even the stadium in Minas Gerais city Juiz de Fora have been used to host matches.
The issue of private ownership of the Maracanã is also a contentious one. At the time of writing the amount of public money lavished on the reformation works stands at over R$1 billion. Having invested such vast amounts from the public coffers the idea that private owners stand to make tens of millions in profits rankles with locals.
“All the money invested in the Maracanã was public. Giving it to private bodies shows a complete lack of respect to not only the Carioca but the whole Brazilian people,” Renata Rocha, a theatre actress in Rio, told The Rio Times.