Magic At The Maracanã

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Football writer Iain Pearce attends the official re-opening of the Estadio do Maracanã and England’s end of season shindig to Brazil!… 

Brazil 2  v 2 England (02.06.2013)

Rio de Janeiro has recently been asleep, but now the city’s Maracanã heart is back pumping and it was England, despite a poor performance, who nearly provided a shock resuscitation.

For the best part of three years the Maracanã has been full, not with vocal torcidas but with loud construction workers, playing out the familiar story of over-budget and ever-delayed building. Across town the city’s other major stadium, the Engenhão- to play host to the athletics at Rio’s upcoming Olympics- has recently been closed due to structural concerns and it had all left this great footballing city strangely subdued.

Stories of delayed stadium constructions ahead of a World Cup are as predictable as goalkeepers whinging about the new ball- it moves like a garage forecourt Thomas the Tank Engine flier, Joe Hart will possibly say a year from now. Fortunately, its Confederations Cup obligations mean that the mighty Maracanã is ready a year early, the more negative news being that according to most reports it, well, isn’t.

After some late rumours of cancellation the game was set to go ahead and for all the downcast nay-saying the place looked pretty fantastic in the glorious autumnal Rio sunshine. There was the odd scaffolding pole here or unfinished paving slab there, but on the whole it looked good and it felt ready. That was just as well, because a yellow and green tsunami was washing around the stadium hours before kick off. Besides perhaps the Dutch, few explode into colour at the football like the Brazilians.

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The thousand or so England fans had made a proximal (and beer selling, naturally) snack bar theirs for the early afternoon, inwardly exchanging battle scars as the Brasilieros enveloped around them.

The responsibility of bringing the Maracanã into the twenty first century was unenviable. Transforming an icon into a new stadium without losing what made it so vaunted was near impossible, but the results are strong.

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The remaining concrete outer structure remains, giving the place the familiar outward feeling of home, but inside all has changed. The aching two tiers are now a continuous one, the necessary corporate boxes slipping neatly into the curvature. Once inside the views from the cheaper seats to the expensive ones are similar and flawless. The roof is now fabric and stretches further, but has retained a shape reminiscent of before.

Less positively, the seats are the already passé gradual blending of national colours (the green being found on the pitch, an added quirk) but with the roof back-lit in similar trim after nightfall that decision of dullity can be forgiven.

Does the modernization weave a pattern of success? For me, yes. It will take some getting used to, but the Maracanã remains unique and apart from the recent crop of 2.0 stadia.

BRA4The Maracanã has transformed in the twenty nine years since England last played there, and I’d wager that the attendees have too, with the samba nation’s home of football sadly off limits to the Brazilians who wear fake seleção shirts as a daily uniform. Before kick off dozens of matching logo t-shirts are seen following Mastercard flags and inside it’s the same heartless branded experience you get everywhere else in FIFA World ™.

The atmosphere thus follows suit. The Mexican Wave was unfurled within ten minutes of the start and an audible whoop was let out each time the ball fell to Barca-bound Neymar. The squeal would almost have been acceptable if Joe Hart hadn’t been keen to carry out his own personal save of the month compilation.

The hosts in their new home had dominated the first half but were still booed off at the break. The England fans would have done something similar if they’d have been able to stifle their sighs of relief.

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The England players acknowledge the travelling contingent…

Second half and the match longed for a goal to make it less friendly. Fred netted a rebound for Brazil to get the afternoon’s sporting entertainment properly underway and with it the visitors remembered that they too had a role to play in the afternoon. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s splendid equalizer was soon followed by Rooney’s deflected goal and behind the yellow goal the cat was finally peeking out of the bag.

The ball looped then nestled and I didn’t jump up, cheer or fist pump, but as the woman in front of me looked round in dismay she had no choice but to see the beaming smile that I couldn’t keep from breaking out. At which point the friendly aspect of the match was again noted and greatly thanked.

Things became more amicable still when Paulinho notched a fully deserved equalized in the last ten minutes, aptly leading to a universal happiness to round off what had been a wonderful occasion.

With the calendar quickly whirling round eyes are increasingly turning to Brazil and its 2014 World Cup party. There is a year to go, and that building time may be fully required by some of the other venues, but in Rio de Janeiro things are in place and the Maracanã is set to retake its place at the head of world football’s table.

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The impressive new Maracana and mountain backdrop.

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