With a party atmosphere enveloping the stadium and featuring some of the biggest names in Brazilian football, high-class action returned on Saturday to the iconic stage that will host the Final of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014™. After two years and seven months of work, a modern, comfortable Maracana was reopened for the match between the Friends of Ronaldo and Friends of Bebeto – both Brazil 2014 ambassadors.
In the first test event at the new-look Maracana, which will also host the final of the FIFA Confederations Cup 2013 on 30 June and has been completely renovated inside yet looks virtually the same from outside, a crowd packed with well-known faces watched Ronaldo’s side emerge 8-5 victors.
In attendance was the Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, the Governor of Rio de Janeiro state Sergio Cabral and the Mayor of Rio Eduardo Paes, not forgetting the 8,000 workers who took part in the stadium’s reconstruction and who were given three tickets each. For this reopening event, the Maracana was filled to 30 per cent of its total 78,838 capacity.
“The reopening of the Maracana marks a very special moment for a stadium with so much history and such an aura,” said FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter, who sent a congratulatory message. “It’s every fan’s dream to watch a game in this footballing temple at least once in their lifetime.
“Unfortunately, other commitments prevent me from being there [this time], but I can hardly wait until I’m in the stands of the Maracana on 16 June, when Mexico take on Italy at the FIFA Confederations Cup,” Blatter continued. “The photos I’ve seen show the immense amount of work carried out in order to transform this stadium into a modern arena while preserving its historic characteristics.
"In recent months, many doubts were raised about whether the stadiums would be ready to host the FIFA Confederations Cup. But we trusted in the commitment made by the hosts and it paid off. I’m sure that you will all really make the most of this. My best wishes to you all and see you in June! For the game, for the world, for Brazil, for Rio and for the Maracana.”
The CEO of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ Organising Committee (LOC), Ricardo Trade, at the Maracana for the match, said that the arena’s reopening was a landmark moment. “Right from this first test event we’ve been able to witness how beautiful and modern the new Maracana is: it’s a fitting stage for the finals of the FIFA Confederations Cup and the FIFA World Cup, as well as living up to its own history.
“This is a landmark for the host venue, for Cariocas and for all Brazilians, as well as for the LOC and FIFA in terms of the preparations for these two events,” Trade continued. “We will continue to work with the host venue for a test event on 2 June which we’ll be operationally involved in: the friendly match between Brazil and England.”
The scorer of two goals on Saturday night, his first in the Maracana, Ronaldo took the microphone during the half-time interval to send a message of thanks to the workers present at the game. “Thank you so much,” said the member of the LOC Management Board. “You've been heroes. This [stadium] is beautiful and marvellous, congratulations to you all.”
Bebeto, a fellow member of the LOC Management Board, also got on the scoresheet and revealed his excitement at retreading a pitch where he had won major trophies during his playing days. “In my whole career, this was the best place I ever played,” he said. “Playing at the Maracana was always really special.”
A 2014 FIFA World Cup Ambassador and four-time world champion (twice as a player, once as head coach and once as assistant coach), Mario Zagallo was also present and tribute was paid to him before kick-off. “I played here many times, I won titles here, I made my debut for A Seleção here and I watched the 1950 FIFA World Cup here along with another 200,000 people,” said Zagallo.
“This is giving me goose-bumps, it’s totally transformed. It’s been remodelled but we’ve managed to keep the magic. It’ll always be the Maracana. We just have to win our sixth world title, winning it on home soil. The FIFA Confederations Cup is a part of that too."