I can finally say that I have ticked off one of my lifetime dreams by visiting the Mecca of football in Brasil – Estádio do Maracanã
When a World Cup game is played at the Maracanã everything in the city of Rio De Janeiro stops. A game at this iconic stadium does not only mean a public holiday for the locals, for them it means a religious ritual where thousands of football fans swarm to celebrate the world game.
The beautiful stadium holds up to 80,000 people and I was fortunate enough to have a ticket to the Russia V Belgium clash. It is the historic cultural icon of Rio De Janeiro and sits in the center of everything that makes this city so important. The favelas face one side of the stadium whereas the high-rise buildings are on the direct opposite side which holds an interesting contrast between lifestyles of the rich and the poor in Rio.
I was speechless as I walked through the gates to my seat. It almost felt like you were walking through the tunnel ready to run onto the field. I had a beautiful view of Christ the Redeemer overlooking the stadium.
It was a war between two European sets of fans. The Belgium fans were quick to overpower the Russians with their pre match songs. They had three sets of bays that were covered in a sea of red. Both teams had high hopes and desperately needed a win to clinch a spot in the next round.
Belgium came out with all guns blazing in the first 20 minutes and came close to scoring on multiple occasions. I was praying for a goal fest but the game ended up turning into a scrappy game of football and the fan frustration inside the stadium was evident.
The game was reaching the 80th minute and I began to get nervous in fear that I would never see a goal at the Maracana at the World Cup in Brasil. The frustration was contagious and soon enough the whole stadium was booing both teams every time they went back to their keeper. Amazingly enough, super sub Divock Origi came on to strike home a late winner against the Russians.
The stadium erupted and very quickly turned into a massive party. The fans continued to sing long after the final whistle and I managed to jump the fence into the Belgian fan area. They were through to the round of 16 and it really is amazing how important the World Cup is to every nation in this tournament.
The Maracana is one of those places that will leave you wanting more. I will be counting down the days for the next time I come face to face with the stadium which has been baptized as the home of football.
Ari is on the ground in Brazil to cover the 2014 World Cup for The TURF.