Montevideo's Estadio Centenario stands at a profound crossroads of past and present on the face of planet football. A monument to South America's steadfast love for the game, the concrete colossus with a capacity of 100,000 was the main stage on which the drama of the inaugural FIFA World Cup ™ unfolded - introducing the world to the irrefutable notion of football as the one truly global game.
Built to host the first FIFA World Cup as well as mark the 100th anniversary of Uruguayan independence, the Centenario stands to this day as an indelible and unmistakable landmark of football and national identity. Despite taking place at the precipice of the 20th century's most debilitating economic crisis, 13 nations took a chance on the tournament and the Centenario hosted each of them at least once. The no-frills bowl was home to ten of the 18 matches, including all three knockout contests, earning its place in history as a "temple of football," so called by Jules Rimet himself.
A capital affair
The ambitious construction project of the Centenario began on 21 July 1929, but the capital largely lacked the requisite infrastructure and economic safety net to host an event of the magnitude envisioned by President Rimet. Nonetheless, local construction crews worked tirelessly to make sure the stadium would be ready on time.
Different work sections were contracted out to various construction companies with responsibility for the supply of water and electricity being handled by the local community. Under the supervision of architect Juan Antonio Scasso, three shifts were organised in order so that construction went on 24 hours a day.
The momentous efforts paid off by the time of Uruguay's FIFA World Cup ™ opener against Peru on 18 July - a match the hosts duly won 1-0, five days after the tournament had kicked off elsewhere in Montevideo.
Though the Centenario is considered the main host for the 1930 finals, there were two other venues also in the capital - the relatively tiny Pocitos and Parque Central. The first FIFA World Cup match - France's 4-1 reverse of Mexico - took place in front of just 1,000 spectators at Pocitos on 13 July. But importantly for Uruguayans, all five matches of the Celeste's games en route to collecting the first FIFA World Cup trophy came in the Centenario.
The final match saw the hosts roar back from a goal behind at half-time to upset neighbours and contentious foes Argentina 4-2, and become the first global champions of what, by that point, could be called the world's growing game. Uruguayan captain Jose Nazassi was the first player to hold aloft the 'Victoire aux Ailes d'Or' trophy, which was later renamed the Jules Rimet Cup. Celebrations went on for days in Montevideo, as the global era of football arrived with a domestic triumph. The game of football would never be the same.
*An echo of the past * Even three quarters of a century later, with the Centenario approaching its own centennial, the stadium remains the home base and often impregnable fortress for the Uruguayan national team. The Charruas have rarely lost while in the stadium's warm embrace, and even the very best in world football have trouble standing up to the proud tradition in the Montevideo shrine. Even the mighty Brazil have recorded just two official victories there in 20 attempts.
Uruguay's Copa America record at the Centenario is as near to perfect as any football fan can dream. The nation has hosted the South American championship on seven separate occasions, but only four times since the construction of El Centenario in 1930. And in all four, they went undefeated at the talismanic old ground and took the continental laurels on each occasion.
Montevideo's fierce club footballing rivals Penarol and Nacional have played countless derbies there and both call the artefact home. With very few modern amenities, the stadium stands today very nearly the way it was built to mark the first-ever FIFA World Cup finals. And to gaze upon the open, sprawling bowl and its proud tower climbing high into the sky, one is transported back to an era of button-down jerseys, long shorts and clunky boots - a time of innocence and broad invention.