“I’m going to the Maracana on Sunday.” Those words, a lyric from a famous Brazilian samba song, were once more on the lips of football fans this weekend, as 66,000 of them flocked to the revamped Rio de Janeiro stadium to watch A Seleção take on England in a friendly.
The last time the two world champions met at the stadium, which will host the Final of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, was in 1984, when the visitors won 2-0. On this occasion the honours were shared in a 2-2 draw, with Fred and Paulinho getting on the scoresheet for the hosts and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wayne Rooney replying for England.
The match was also an important test event for the Maracana in the run-up to the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013, which starts on 15 June, when the Brazilians take on Japan in the opening game in Brasilia.
With the tournament in mind, Sunday’s high-profile friendly gave the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Organising Committee (LOC) the opportunity to test 17 key operational areas at the stadium: spectator services, media operations, broadcasting, technology, volunteers, medical services, security, ticketing, competitions, hospitality, transport, marketing, accreditation, logistics, protocol, catering and cleaning and waste management.
A very interested spectator at the match, FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke said he was pleased with what he saw and felt honoured to be alongside Mario Zagallo. An on-duty soldier on the day Uruguay stunned Brazil at the Maracana in 1950, Zagallo went on to become a legend of the game, playing a big hand in four of the country’s five FIFA World Cup wins to date.
“The stadium is magnificent and the atmosphere for the game was exceptional,” said a delighted Valcke. “The fans made it one big party. Now we’re going to work hard to make sure that everything goes off well at the Confederations Cup.”
Voicing his approval at the tests carried out in Rio, LOC CEO Ricardo Trade said: “Today was a big victory for us and the state government. Everything went well. We have completed a series of tests and we are now turning our thoughts and focusing our efforts on the start of the FIFA Confederations Cup. We’ll be making changes where they need to be made.”
Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari was also full of praise for the new stadium and said his team enjoyed the experience of playing there: “The Maracana is a symbol of Brazilian football. We always have a good feeling when we come here. It’s unique. The players could feel that too. It’s a fantastic pitch for playing football on and the dressing rooms are superb. It goes without saying that they’ll be perfect when the Confederations Cup comes around. It was really great for us to come back to the Maracana.”
Another dignitary to express satisfaction at the result of the test event was Rio de Janeiro’s vice-governor Luiz Fernando de Souza, who said afterwards: “We have a stadium that is worthy of great athletes. This is a great legacy. It offers a lot of comfort and quality and all the fans are proud of it.”
In addition to the final on 30 June, the Maracana will stage two other games at the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013: the Group A match between Mexico and Italy on 16 June and the meeting in Group B between Spain and Tahiti four days later. Brazil’s biggest stadium will also stage seven matches at next year’s FIFA World Cup, among them the Final, to be held on 13 July at 16.00 local time.