It may no longer be capable of holding 200,000 screaming fans, but the Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro’s world-renowned stadium that will host the World Cup Final on 13th July, still creates a phenomenal atmosphere. Last night, Botafogo played host to Unión Española of Chile in the penultimate group stage match of the Copa Libertadores, South America’s Champions League.
Botafogo have underperformed in the Rio de Janeiro State Championships, failing to qualify for the semi final stages after finishing ninth in the league table. But, speaking to fans before and after the game, it became clear that domestic football becomes a sideshow when inter-continental trophies are up for grabs. The Copa Libertadores is, understandably, a very prestigious competition. Winning it means an awful lot.
This is especially true for Botafogo, historically Rio’s fourth best team, who are seeking to win the competition for the first time. Playing in the Maracanã in front of 43,000 people (just over half capacity), Botafogo were unable to secure the point needed for qualification to the knockout stages, succumbing to a 1-0 defeat. However, qualification is still probable, but it would have been nice to reward the fans for some deafening support.
Men and women, young and old had donned their black and white striped shirts for their side’s trip to the Maracanã. But for all their screaming, booing, jumping and swearing, Botafogo were defeated. Until Canales’ 71st minute penalty, the home side had been dominant in possession, but lacking that cutting edge to force an opening. Bizarrely, attempted crosses that just eluded an attacking head were applauded far less than ambitious shots from 30 yards out. The Brazilians wanted to see their team win in style, a breathtaking golaço to secure victory. Such was the lack of quality in the final third, it seemed that only a wonder goal or penalty would break the deadlock. And sure enough, a clumsy challenge gifted a goal to the away side, who until then had barely had a kick.
After that, Botafogo crumbled, resorting to even more ambitious means in search of an equalizer. The crowd howled in rage at every misplaced pass, hairs were pulled out and fingernails shredded. The noise from start to finish was tumultuous. Optimism turned to anger as the Maracanã brewed up an atmosphere containing hope, disappointment and a small drop of ecstasy, thanks to the tiny contingent of away support.
With just one tier and gradually ascending seats, the stadium feels like a sprawling bowl. The circular shape both contains and amplifies the sound generated by raucous fans. Giving fans a taste of the Maracanã experience now, is preparing and exciting people for the start of the World Cup. When the world descends on Brazil, the Maracanã will be at the heart of creating an unforgettable experience. Just imagine what it will be like when it’s full…