Maracana – Chaos Rules
The famous pitch itself became the stage for some of football’s oddest incidents. Most notorious was the firecracker farce during a FIFA World Cup™ qualifier between Brazil and Chile in 1989, when Chile walked off the pitch after goalkeeper Roberto Rojas pretended he had been hit by a firework thrown from the crowd. Rojas, who cut himself with a razor he had hidden inside his glove, was banned for life. Meanwhile, the firecracker-thrower, 32-year-old Rosemary Mello, posed naked for Playboy as she enjoyed her 15 minutes of fame.
The same year saw Botafogo and Fluminense go to the stadium purely for a penalty shoot-out, which they had forgotten to play a few days earlier – that year’s Brazilian championship match had a ruling that all drawn matches should end in penalties, with the winners getting two points instead of one.
Another mix-up over rules led to both Vasco da Gama and Botafogo completing laps of honour and claiming to have won after the 1990 Carioca championship final. Botafogo were eventually awarded the trophy by a tribunal.
Another meeting between the sides in 1996 was held up for a total of 20 minutes as directors from both clubs ran onto the pitch to contest refereeing decisions. Such pitch invasions have sadly become routine, and tend to drag on because police and hangers-on also invade the field along with hordes of television cameramen and radio reporters.
Two years later, Vasco were awarded the first walkover in the stadium’s history when Botafogo failed to turn up for a match at the stadium because of a fixture list dispute.
But it was not always like this. In its heyday, the Maracana was the biggest and one of the most striking arenas in the world. Designed by Rafael Galvao, Pedro Paulo Bernardes Bastos, Orlando Azevedo and Antonio Dias Carneiro, it has an unusual circular shape, consisting of two large tiers. From the outside, is not as imposing as might be expected, the maximum height being only 24 metres (78 feet).
Built for the 1950 FIFA World Cup™, construction was approved in 1948 by President Eurico Gaspar Dutra and completed in only two years. The stadium was inaugurated on 16 June 1950, with a game between Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo select XIs, Didi having the honour of scoring the first goal.
The first competitive match was played eight days later, with Brazil beating Mexico 4-0 in a World Cup group game. Brazil went on to dominate the tournament, looking invincible as they ran up 7-1 and 6-1 wins over Sweden and Spain respectively. With the tournament being decided by a four-team minileague, Brazil needed only a draw with Uruguay to win the World Cup.
Confidence was so great that victory celebrations had already been planned before the game. An official crowd of 173,830 watched, although it is widely believed that around 205,000 were present. But Uruguay had not read the script and came from behind to win 2-1 and silence a disbelieving crowd. It became known as the “Maracanazo” and even nowadays is remembered when the two countries meet.