RIO DE JANEIRO — Rio de Janeiro’s new-look Maracana Stadium finally gets to stage its first proper football match on Sunday after a rebuilding programme plagued by delays, burgeoning costs and concern that ordinary fans will be priced out of the shiny plastic seats.
Report by Reuters
England’s first visit to Brazil for 29 years will mark the end of a long drawn-out, $500-million programme to modernise the arena which will host seven matches at the 2014 World Cup, including the final.
“The Maracana looks lovely and it’s really great to be back,” Bebeto, 1994 World Cup-winning forward and member of Brazil’s World Cup organising committee, told reporters. “It’s always good to return. I feel at home.”
However, Bebeto’s former strike partner Romario, now an outspoken member of Brazil’s Congress, disagreed and said the stadium had ceased to be the seething cauldron where he scored some of his greatest goals.
“What they’ve done is atrocious,” he told reporters. “The stadium was the best stage in the world and the politicians and officials managed to destroy it. It’s totally different.”
Initially built for the 1950 World Cup, the Maracana was supposed to be ready for its re-inauguration in December, six months ahead of the Confederations Cup in June.
After repeated delays, it was officially re-opened with a game on April 27. However, the match featured two portly teams headed by former internationals Bebeto and Ronaldo, the stadium and surroundings were far from finished even then and only 30 000 people were allowed in.
Sunday’s friendly will be the only professional match to be staged there before the Confederations Cup, regarded as a test event for the World Cup, kicks off on June 15.
The Maracana has always been regarded as the spiritual home of Brazilian football.
It has witnessed Brazil lose the 1950 World Cup final to Uruguay, Pele’s 1 000th goal, and the swagger of players such as Garrincha, Zico and Romario.
For half a century, crowds of more than 100 000 and reputedly sometimes nearly twice that have watched Rio’s big four teams play there, as well as the national side and Pele’s Santos, who often played important games there in the 1960s.