Sunday’s World Cup final between Germany and Argentina will be played in Rio de Janeiro’s historic, iconic Maracana Stadium. Brazilians call it templo sagrado no país do futebol, or the “sacred temple in the land of football.”
Maracana, the largest stadium in South America, has a rich history, and it has been recently refurbished for this year’s World Cup, and for the 2016 Olympics and Paralympics, for which it will host the opening and closing ceremonies.
The Maracana was originally built for the 1950 World Cup, making it the second stadium to host two World Cup finals (the Azteca in Mexico City hosted the 1970 and 1986 finals). The 1950 final featured hosts Brazil against Uruguay — a match famous for its surprising result, a 2-1 loss for Brazil, who only needed a draw to win the tournament — but also as the largest crowd ever to attend a soccer match, with more than 199,000 spectators. At the time, the stadium was unfinished, and its completion took more than a dozen years.
The stadium is owned and run by the government of Rio de Janiero. In addition to soccer, it hosted some of the largest concerts on record in the 1980’s, including shows by Frank Sinatra, Tina Turner, and Paul McCartney — all attended by more than 180,000 fans.
Today’s Maracana, however, bears little resemblance to the original. It has been renovated multiple times; only the façade, a historic landmark in Brazil, remains from the original.
Renovations of the stadium were undertaken as a result of both tragedy and farce. In 1992, three fans were killed and fifty injured, when an upper stand collapsed — resulting in its conversion to an all-seated stadium, eliminating the terraces, and eventually reducing the capacity to 87,000. In the early 2000s, the stadium underwent further renovations as a result of corrosion of concrete and steel in the stadium due to excessive fan urination in the access ramps. The resulting renovation further reduced capacity, currently 73,500, and the problem was curtailed with “Urine Patrols” instituted to roam the stadium during games and forcibly direct patrons to added bathrooms.
The most recent renovation, completed at a cost of approximately $500 million, completely changed the seating bowl, replacing two tiers with one, and also improved access ramps, security, media and VIP facilities. The roof was also demolished and replaced, as the old concrete roof was deemed outdated and unsafe. The new roof covers the entire seating area, and is made of a cables and a membrane that is self-cleaning, collects rainwater for re-use in the stadium, and is fitted with 1,500 photovoltaic solar modules to produce solar energy, making the stadium environmentally sound.
Legendary footballer Pele has said, “Brazil eats, sleeps and drinks football. It lives football.” Brazil truly is the land of football, its significance there approaching a national religion. Sunday’s final will be played in the nation’s symbolic national cathedral — a fitting venue for the world’s biggest game.