Soccer transcends sport in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It is an overwhelming feature of the brazilian identity present from the televisions in the bars to the matches improvised in the brazilian beaches. Follow your mark through the favela tournaments, the legendary Maracaná stadium and the newly opened Soccer Museum.
Not only the sea breeze and bossa nova will seduce you on the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana. There is also the beautiful soccer people play on the sand, as a daily ritual for children, youth and adults. At first, their pirouettes will catch your attention, but then you will understand the next world soccer star could possibly rise from there.
Rio, favelas, and soccer
Brazil, five-time World Cup champion, is synonymous with football, and Rio de Janeiro is its heart. Each neighborhood treasures a particular play style, the story of a child who became a legend, or the tale of another who lost everything when on top of fame.
Watching from the beaches of Rio you can see the colorful favelas (popular neighborhoods) that cling to the nearby mountains. In one of them, Jacarezinho, grew the great Romario, Brazil’s highest scorer with more than a thousand goals. From Vila Cruzeiro came former Inter Milan star Adriano, who after several crises has returned to live in the favela.
There are also other neighborhoods like Bento Riveiro, where you can walk the streets where played Ronaldo, champion with both Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Soccer is the way for many in Rio. If you want to go to the roots there are tours to the favelas where you can watch a tournament, but you must be cautious. You can also get close to the ‘escolinhas’ (schools) for men and women that several European clubs opened in the city, such as Barcelona, Inter, Paris Saint Germain or Rome.
Maracaná, the temple of soccer
If you want to feel the weight of soccer history, you must go to the Maracaná stadium, the temple of soccer. Before the World Cup 2014 the stadium could hold 200,000 spectators, most of them standing up without jumping during the matches. It has now reduced its capacity to 78,000, but it still holds its old halo of epic battles.
The stadium, above all else, has been the scenario of triumphs and geniuses that have emerged from the four clubs of the city: Flamengo, Fluminense, Botafogo and Vasco da Gama. Mythical names like Garrincha, Jairzinho (world champion in 1970), Zico (“the white Pelé”) and Ronaldhino (world champion in 2002) displayed their talent there.
Maracaná has also hosted two defeats the Cariocas do not easily forget: the loss against Uruguay in 1950, known as the Maracanazo, and the 7-1 beating by Germany in 2014’s semi-finals.
Festive matches, and The Football Museum
Rio has also two other stadiums, the Sao Januario and the Joao Havelange, both smaller than Maracaná but equally festive. If you stay several days in the city you must attend a match, and if it happens to be a classic, even better. You can join the torcidas (supporters’ clubs) that wear the shirts of their teams in the middle of batucadas and sambas. Many gather in the botecos (bars) around the stadiums, and then return there to continue celebrating… or to calm the defeat with music and alcohol.
To close the visit, you can go to the Football Museum in Barra da Tijuca, the 2016 Olympic Games neighborhood. You can explore there the World Cup history (Brazil has participated in all 21 editions) or the 190 trophies Brazil has won, including five World Cups (the only country to date).
In the museum you can even check the games Brazil has played against Peru or get into those moments with virtual reality glasses. You will go out to the Maracaná field, and you will feel the energy of the crowd encouraging you as if you were one more player.