Two memorable World Cup finals, 1970 and 1986, the final of the World Youth Cup 1983, plus countless other national and international classics: few other stadia in the world can boast a list of events to match that of the Aztec Stadium in Mexico City.
The Mexicans are proud of it, their opponents come in fear: in the Estadio Azteca the Mexican national team is very hard to beat. It is here that they have earned their position as a force to be reckoned with in world football. With the proverbial "twelfth man" on their team, and there are nearly always capacity crowds of 115,000 behind them, enthusiastically spurring them on, even seemingly invincible opponents find they have an uphill task.
The stadium came from the drawing board of Pedro Ramirez Vasquez, a prize-winning architect with many school buildings to his credit in Mexico, who also made a name by chairing the organisation committee for the 1968 Olympic Games. First drafts were sketched out in the early sixties, at which time Mexico had only the University Stadium, built in 1952, and the rather dull National Stadium, which dates back to 1923, the same year that Wembley stadium was built in London.
From the very start Vasquez was determined that a structure of this size and importance needed to have an architectural style that would last. So he travelled to eight of the world's major cities to look at their stadia and their construction. As early as 1962 it was clear that private boxes would be a good thing to incorporate into the new stadium, and that direct links from some parts of the stadium to the road system would also be important. But his budget was tight and set close limits on the ideas he would be able to carry out. Unimportant decorative touches and anything that would be considered as unnecessary frills would certainly be refused. Construction of the final design was overseen by Rafael Mijares Alcerra and it took four years to complete. Seven million man hours of work went into the project, and 100,000 tons of concrete. By comparison, Wembley Stadium needed a quarter as much.
But the result is certainly something to look at. Perhaps from an aesthetic point view it does not set any really new trends, but at the time of its inauguration it was probably the most modern sports arena in the world. The opening game was between Mexico and Turin on 26 May 1966, with seats for 107,494 spectators. Standing areas had been ruled out from the very beginning.
The first important international games were held as part of the 1968 Olympics, although no funding for the stadium came from the Olympic committee. In 1970 and again in 1986, the Aztec stadium was the focus of the football world, just as Vasquez had intended it should be, and he was awarded the FIFA gold medal. But another part of Vasquez' plan was that the stadium should be used at least twice a week as a venue for other fixtures, and this was made possible by the functional structure that allowed spectators direct and easy access to their seats. Various changes were carried out to modernise the rather spare design and increase the capacity to 115,000 for the 1986 World Cup. A suspended roof supported by 50-metre long steel girders offered weather protection to over 80% of the seating. There are nearly 600 VIP boxes in three tiers, which separate the lower tribune ring from the two upper ones. Visitors to the VIP boxes have their own access road into the stadium; they and the teams and other VIPs are the only ones allowed to park under the stands.
To an observer, the Aztec stadium does in fact look rather like a multi-storey car park. It is located on an open tract of land on the south eastern edge of Mexico City, a site which has the advantage that 17,000 cars can be parked close by, and there is also room for food and souvenir sellers - about the same number it often seems when they all turn up before a match. An underground rail link connects the stadium to the city centre, and only 180 metres from the main entrance there is a motorway access junction.
But is the Aztec Stadium a good one for watching football? Is the sheer size not a bit on the big side for allowing everyone to enjoy the game? The answer is quite clearly no, since Vasquez was very conscious of the needs of football when he drew up his plans, and tailored them to the demands of the game. The distances inside the seemingly vast oval are deceptive; both goals and the sidelines are relatively close to the lower stands, only about nine metres separate them, in fact. From every sector, spectators have a superb and unrestricted view of the pitch. The layout of the stands follows an old formula which the ancient Greeks used in their arenas.