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

DNA Sunday (Mumbai) - - SPORT -

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!

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