Maracanã — even God plays football here
As the iconic stadium in Rio gets ready to host its fi rst match of this WC, Amlan Jyoti Hazarika takes a stroll down memory lane and recalls a game he watched there many years ago
OBrazilian league title every season. Along with the other stadiums in the country, Maracana, too, hosts many matches of the league. So, was it an opportunity for me? Undoubtedly, yes. After all, the season was on and there was a game coming up in big Maracana. However, my thoughts raced ahead with 50 different permutations. For, the budgeted trip to South America would have to do away with a certain itinerary. Well, so be it, I thought, and sought the help of my friend Andre Luiz Cota.
Andre was delighted. As an avid Fluminense fan, he was looking forward to the game against arch- rivals Botafogo. But there was a condition, he said, tongue fi rmly in cheek: “You will wear a Fluminense jersey!” What have I got to lose, anyway, I thought. We were a gang of fi ve — four hard- core fans who had football in their blood and a fi fth who liked football more than any other game. So, getting tickets was sorted out. Apparently, I didn’t pay for it. My enthusiasm for the game worked wonders ( nothing else would have, as my friend would not have heard of India in the context of football!).
And there we were, on a Sun- nce on top of the Sugarloaf Mountain, the monolithic granite jutting out of the sea at the mouth of G u a n a b a r a Bay, you can feast on the luxurious view of Rio de Janeiro, the most sought- after tourist destination in the world. Well, what do you then see from 1,300 feet? Much, of course, including the sexy Copacabana beach and, ahem, Estádio do Maracanã! Yes, the Maracana stadium!
Jose Maria, my guide, became nostalgic: “That’s where we lost the World Cup fi nal to Uruguay in 1950.” And that’s the year the iconic stadium was built. Brasilieros were heartbroken by the 1- 2 defeat. They went on to bring home the Jules Rimet and FIFA Word Cup on fi ve occasions after that, but the dream of winning the trophy at home still remains. The ‘ quintocampeão’ are hopeful of fulfi lling it now.
Maracana, since then, has seen billions of footfall and a lot of football. As the game is a religion for these happy- go- lucky Brazilians, for most of us here in India, since our school days, football has been a synonym for Brazil. And being in that country, it would have been sacrilegious if one did not watch a beautiful game played by the countrymen of Garrincha, Pele, Zico et al.
Jose went on to narrate things about Maracana and football. He deconstructed the best matches that he watched over the years, the players he admired, their qualities and the feeling of being in Maracana when it is packed with more than a hundred thousand people. Fluminense, Vasco da Gama, Flamengo, Botafogo — the major clubs of Rio — and the others like the Palmeiro, Corinthians and Santos clash for the day evening at one of the largest stadiums in the world. Truly, it was quite a different experience because everybody around spoke only Portugue — Moreno, Mulatos and Cafuzos — all bound by the language. In fact, Brazil is the largest Portuguese- speaking country. Their tongue perhaps had given me more of a feeling of being in the thick of football action. With his broken English, Andre was my man Friday. The atmosphere was electric. He rattled down famous names who played for Fluminense — Ademir, Carlos Alberto, Delei, Didi, Filipe and Romario. Romario was at the fag- end of his career then, and I sincerely wished he played in the match that day. Botafogo support- ers were also spread all over and they were ubiquitous in their jersey. This club boasts of players like Baldochi, Socrates, Rai, Cicinio and Doni. As the match began, my eyes tried to spot Romario, but Andre told me he was on the bench. Disappointed, but not dejected.
As I sipped in every moment of the game, my attachment to the football- crazy country grew. Fans dissected every faulty move made by the players. In between, I was elated to be a part of the ‘ Mexican wave’ a couple of times. The game ended 1- 1. Although it was not an adrenaline- fi lled clash between the two almost- 100- year- old rivals, the self- gratifi cation for an Indian had to be seen to be believed. As for the Brasilieros, they love their life as much as they love ‘ futebol’. Later in the night, as we walked down the promenade along Copacabana, a group of people by the beach were deep into singing and dancing forro — another famous dance, besides the samba. It was a mixed lot of Fluminense and Botafogo supporters as was evident by their jerseys. Perhaps, they were strangers, but their motto was one — enjoy life. This brings to my mind an anecdote: In the early 1990s when the Brazilian economy was in tatters, a foreigner visiting the country was surprised to see a similar group eating, drinking and singing by the bay. When he asked them what was the secret behind their gaiety even in such depressing times, one of them shot: “God is Brazilian”.
World Cup enthusiasts, get ready for Maracana. Even God plays football there!