Brazil’s Maracanã stadium is one of the great cathedrals of modern football and, 65 years ago today (June 16th, 1950), the first match was played there. Rio De Janeiro All-Stars beat São Paulo All Stars 3-1 in an exhibition match, with the great midfielder Didi the first player to score a goal at the stadium.
The stadium is officially called the Estádio Jornalista Mário Filho, after a journalist who supported its construction in the face of fierce criticism. Maracanã is the popular name, drawn from the Maracanã River which flows through the barrios of Rio’s northern zone and gives the stadium’s neighbourhood its name.
It was built for the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, with the first stone laid in 1948. Over 1,500 workers helped build the stadium, with a further 2,000 drafted in in the final months. It staged its first World Cup game on 24 June, with 81,000 people watching Brazil beat Mexico 4-0.
In fact, construction was not completed until 1965 – it seems flexible builders’ deadlines are neither new nor peculiar to the UK. In that first game there were no toilets and no press stand, and much of the stadium resembled a building site. When the stadium was finished, capacity was just under 200,000, making it the largest stadium in the world.
In 1954, a world record paying attendance of 183,513 was recorded for a match between Brazil and Paraguay, and in 1963 some 194,603 people were said to have entered the ground to watch the Flamengo vs Fluminese derby. But the biggest official crowd was 199,854 for the final match of the 1950 World Cup – the infamous Maracanazo in which Uruguay defeated Brazil to snatch the trophy and silence the massive crowd. Unofficial estimates say there were 210,000 there that day.
Alcides Ghiggia, who scored Uruguay’s winner, later said: “Only three people have managed to silence the Maracanã: the Pope, Frank Sinatra, and me.”
The Maracanã hosted various Brazilian domestic cup finals, and was also where Pele scored his first international goal, at the age of 15, and his 1,000th career goal. It was rebuilt for the 2014 World Cup, and its official capacity is now 78,838 – making it Brazil’s largest stadium.