I am a huge sports fan. Sports and traveling are my two big passions. When I was in college and studied abroad in London, I was starved for sports so I got really into European football or soccer (and still am). I thought those fans were nuts but you haven’t seen soccer fans until you’ve experienced a game in South America. There is no better place to see a match than in Brazil’s temple to football, Rio’s Maracana Stadium.
The Maracana hosts all of the big national domestic games and holds a lot of international matches as well. All of the major Brazilian stars of the past half century have graced the pitch dreaming of it their whole lives. Pele, Ronaldo, Ronaldhino, Romario, you name it, have all played there where for Pele’s final game there were allegedly over 200,000 people jammed into the venerable stadium. The Maracana was also the site for the World Cup final when Brazil hosted and won one of their record 5 World Cup’s.
Football is a religion in Brazil. All the kids play it on the beach, in the streets and in the country. All the locals talk football and watch football wherever they can. They follow the domestic cups and especially the European ties because most of the great modern day heroes play in Europe for the big money.
All that really remains for the locals in Rio is their shrine, Maracana, which plays host to four local domestic teams including clubs like Vasco de Gama and Flamenco. The stadium itself is in pretty good shape considering how old it is. In fact, Brazil is aiming to land the World Cup in 2014 and the finals would probably be staged at the Maracana again, I mean where else would be appropriate?
The game I saw was a domestic semifinal tie between two local Rio teams, with Club America coming out on top and advancing to the finals to face Romario’s Vasco de Gama. The result didn’t matter because I wasn’t really too familiar with either team but the atmosphere was electric; even in the middle of the 100 degree day at the foot of Christ the Redeemer. The fans were crazy and and just sang and danced in the aisles the whole game. They all had their flags out while belting out their favorite team anthems. It was a lot of fun to watch. It was also nice to be at a game where the fans were passionate about their local teams but the atmosphere was relaxed without the immense pressure that you would see and feel in Europe at a major club match in England or Spain.
For me, it was a real treat to see the Maracana and to feel the history within the stadium. I went back to Rio for Carnival and the sun but the Maracana to me was a huge highlight and I would tell anyone to go and see a game.