Brazil 2014 World Cup: Rio De Janeiro Guide to Maracana Stadium
Less than eight months from the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil and the country is racing against the clock to prepare the six remaining stadiums in time for June's big kick-off.
But here in Rio de Janeiro, the world famous Maracana Stadium was finally completed at the end of April after almost three years of reformation works.
And it had its first major test during the World Cup's unofficial dress rehearsal. This year's Confederations Cup, held in June and won by Brazil, used six of the twelve stadiums that will host matches next year. The Maracana was the stage for Brazil's 3-0 dismantling of Spain in the final.
Now the city and its football landmark are gearing up for their second crack at holding the sport's most celebrated tournament.
Brazil previously hosted the World Cup in 1950. On that occasion the vast majority of the action took place in the south and southeast parts of the country, with a solitary match being played in Recife in the northeast.
Next year the action will be spread far more evenly across Brazil's massive terrain. But that brings its own problems, and the delays in preparation is indicative of the difficulty of having one separate organizing committee for each host city.
As Brazil's most famous metropolis, the iconic Maracana will be the scene of the final, just as it was in 1950. 63 years ago Brazil was dealt the biggest blow of its sporting history when Uruguay triumphed 2-1 against the odds in front of over 200,000 spectators.
And since its inauguration well over half a century ago the Maracana has come to represent more than just a place to play and watch football.
Built in a little over two years, the concrete bowl came to be a theatre for the city's masses. Since its renovation, which came at a cost of over R$1.2 billion, some locals argue the stadium has lost a little of its soul.
Botafogo supporter Renato Rocha said, “The Maracana looks beautiful but it's not for everyone anymore. They have taken away the 'general section' [the standing area] and increased the prices. We waited so long for the new stadium but it isn't designed for everyone.”
Next year the Maracana will have one of the most important roles to play during the World Cup. Rio de Janeiro has been allotted seven games, the joint highest amount alongside capital city Brasilia. That includes the final, a quarter-final, a round of 16 tie and four group stage games.
As a football reporter based in Rio de Janeiro, I have had several opportunities to go to the Maracana. Without a doubt it is now on par with Europe's biggest names.
Standing outside the stadium, little appears to have changed. It is only once you enter that you can see the vast modernisation that has taken place. Access, security and press facilities are all first-class, whilst the three-tiered terracing has been cast into history for seating.
FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke made a visit to the stadium upon its completion in May and declared his thoughts on the new arena to Brazilian sports daily Lance.
“It's a special moment for those who love football. It [the Maracana] is unique. It is incredible what has been done. The Maracana is beautiful and ready,” he said.
As a result the pitch is taking a battering, as two games a week take place to the detriment of the turf. New grass will need to be laid, but from a logistical standpoint the stadium is ready and raring to go.
But it must be pointed out that positivity over the stadium has been starkly contrasted by public feelings of unrest.
Huge protests were staged during the Confederations Cup, partly against public spending on a World Cup which will reportedly cost R$27 billion to stage whilst little investment is made into Brazil's health or education systems.
Whilst Rio's World Cup preparations are virtually complete, there are various levels of delays in other parts of the country, and FIFA has deadlines of December 31 for all stadiums to be delivered.
With five of those six remaining stadiums behind schedule, it is refreshing to see, at least on a sporting front, the Cidade Maravilhosa waiting with baited breath.
Away from political disturbances, the Maracana is an apt setting for the planet's most important football match for the second time in its history—the World Cup final.
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