Brazil and England drew 2-2 at the reopening of Rio de Janeiro’s iconic Maracana stadium, which will host the soccer World Cup final in 13 months.
A crowd of 66,050 watched as England, which was outplayed for much of yesterday’s exhibition game, took a 2-1 lead with 11 minutes left on Wayne Rooney’s deflected shot. Paulinho’s volley three minutes later ensured that home fans in the revamped Maracana didn’t leave on a downer. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had earlier tied Fred’s second-half opener.
The match marked the end of a troubled renovation program for the 63-year-old arena. The Maracana’s rebuilding missed two deadlines and finished over budget at a cost of more than $500 million. Yesterday’s game had been thrown into doubt four days ago when the stadium’s reopening was suspended by a judge who said it didn’t have the required safety certificate.
“The Maracana is an emblem,” Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said in a post-match press conference. “We feel something different when we arrive. It’s magical.”
The stadium, one of the most well-known in soccer, holds the record attendance for a World Cup match when more than 170,000 spectators crammed into the facility to watch Uruguay upset Brazil in the 1950 final. That was the only previous time Brazil hosted soccer’s four-yearly championship.
Lilah Batista do Nascimento, who attended the 1950 final, was among those in attendance yesterday.
“It was absolutely marvelous,” do Nascimento, 82, said in an interview after the game. “But I have my doubts about whether Brazil can win the World Cup.”
Workers in hard hats and heavy machinery were still at the stadium on the eve of the match, the second of two games between England and Brazil in four months arranged to mark the English Football Association’s 150th anniversary.
Scolari, whose team was playing its final exhibition before Brazil hosts next month’s Confederations Cup, a tuneup event for the World Cup, praised the quality of the facilities.
“We value what’s been done,” the coach said. “The grass is fantastic, our changing rooms are amazing, it’s very, very good. Obviously some things will improve and they will be ready during the Confederations Cup and even better afterwards.”
Getting stadiums ready has been one of the biggest challenges for organizers of sport’s most-watched event. Delays in construction meant soccer’s governing body FIFA backtracked on an earlier demand stipulating the six stadiums being used for the Confederations Cup stage a minimum of three games before the June 15 tournament opener in Brasilia.
Yesterday’s match also heralded an adjustment for Brazilian spectators used to sitting where they liked. A numbered ticketing system was largely respected, though fans including Adilson Martins, 67, said others had refused to shift from seats that weren’t assigned to them.
They watched a scoreless first half that Brazil dominated as England goalkeeper Joe Hart produced a series of saves. The home team had 17 scoring attempts to three by England.
The second half started in near silence after authorities banned musical instruments from the stadium, meaning the absence of the samba drums that typically accompany Brazil’s national team. The atmosphere picked up after Fred scored off a rebound in the 57th minute when Anderson Hernanes hit the bar with a long range strike.
Oxlade-Chamberlain made it 1-1 with a low shot from outside the area with 23 minutes to go before Rooney silenced the stadium with a 25-yard shot that took a deflection off a Brazilian defender and ended up in the top corner.
Three minutes later the noise was back as Paulinho’s volley ensured the Maracana’s reopening didn’t end in defeat.
“It is big to play here,” England coach Roy Hodgson told reporters. “The clever money would have had us struggling to get any sort of result.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Tariq Panja at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at email@example.com