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Once the spiritual home of Brazilian football, the Maracana has suffered a long period of decline and neglect. Brazil recently went seven years without playing a match there and former FIFA President Joao Havelange once suggested that it should be demolished and replaced by a brand-new stadium. The arena where Zico scored 333 goals and which witnessed Pele’s historic 1,000* goal has more recently become synonymous with the chaotic, the dangerous and the downright bizarre.
The problems began in the mid-1980s. Owned by the government of Rio de Janeiro state, the stadium was neglected by successive administrations. Meanwhile, the Brazilian football association (CBF) began taking the national team to play in other venues around the country such as Manaus, Cuiaba, Londrina, Goiania, Fortaleza and Sao Luis while Rio de Janeiro’s clubs, particularly Flamengo, fell into decline as the city lost its position as the dominant centre of Brazilian football.
By the early 1990s, the stadium was in bad need of repair. During one match, the upper tier vibrated alarmingly as supporters jumped up and down in unison and it was briefly closed so that shock absorbers could be inserted into the supporting columns.
That problem was solved, but in 1992, tragedy struck. Half an hour before Flamengo and Botafogo were due to meet in the second leg of the Brazilian championship final and with 145,000 people packed into the arena, part of the fence at the edge of the upper tier gave way under the weight of fans and dozens of people plunged onto the seats below. Three people died and more than 50 were injured (though the match still went ahead).
On match days, the streets around the arena became virtual no-go zones and it was common to hear the sounds of shots being fired as rival fans clashed. Ticket sales were equally chaotic, with touts having a field day.