Flamengo, Maracanã

Flamengo the current Champions of South America were formed initially as a bit of a rubbish rowing club. In 1895 a group of rowers decided to enter a rowing competition as a way to impress the posh lasses of Rio. The lads managed to cobble together enough money to buy a boat that was so knackered it had to almost completely be rebuilt, and were ready to go. Chests puffed out, proud as punch, a sideways glance and a wink towards haughty women of Cidade Maravilhosa they were off. Now, the race didn’t go to plan, has any woman ever been impressed by a capsized boat followed up with a rescue mission by a fishing boat? Not for me to say, but that didn’t mean the end for these resilient young athletes. Just over a month after that initial race Clube de Regatas do Flamengo was formed but, it would however take a further 16 years for the football department to be established. A breakaway group of ten Fluminense players, dissatisfied with their own club approached Flamengo about starting a football team. Despite initial resistance on December 24th 1911 the football club was founded.

Flamengo have always been a powerhouse in Brazil, the club has provided some of Seleção’s greatest players from Leônidas da Silva to Bebeto, Adriano to Zico. Until 2019 though it was only under the captaincy of Zico that Rubro-Negro had managed to win the Copa Libertadores. That great side of 1981 also managed to bring home the Intercontinental Cup home from Tokyo, thrashing Bob Paisley’s Liverpool 3-0. Last year Mengo won the Libertadores again beating River Plate 2-1 with two late goals from Gabigol – Gabriel Barbosa in Peruvian capital Lima. Again, they faced Liverpool in the rebranded FIFA Club World Cup going down 1-0 this time in Extra Time. Despite recent success under former Benfica boss Jorge Jesus, it’s the side of the early 1980’s that are widely seen as the clubs best.

Since 1950, the Maracanã has been one of footballs most recognisable stadiums. Built to host the World Cup, the ground was the scene of one of the most shocking moments in Brazilian football history. Needing only a draw with Uruguay to lift the Jules Rimet trophy Brazil went down to a 2-1 defeat with Alcides Ghiggia scoring the winner for La Celeste 11 minutes from time. Maracanaço, The Agony of Maracanã haunts Brazilian football to this day and completely silenced the 199,854 in attendance. Post-World Cup the stadium has been used by the national team and Rio’s big four of Flamengo, Fluminese, Botafogo and Vasco, seeing such famous moments as Pelé “1,000th” goal to John Barnes becoming Maradon for a little while in 1984. In 2014 the stadium again played host to the World Cup, Brazil wouldn’t be at the final however after a 7-1 mauling by Germany in Belo Horizonte. Germany went on to win the final 1-0 against Argentina in Extra Time with a fine finish from Mario Götze.

We arrived on early flight from Buenos Aires into Rio and caught a taxi from the Airport to our hotel at the South end of Copacabana Beach. After dropping off our bags at the hotel, we ambled down to the beach and started the arduous task of drinking Brahma and eating more empanadas. Like with the Boca match we’d got our tickets through Home Fans for about £100 due to the match being a near sell out. We met Matheus, our guide at our hotel at 6pm and then took the Metro to the ground. Somehow despite being barely able to breathe the Metro continued filling, and filling, and filling until we got to our stop. After ambling past the tyre shaped exterior we picked up some beers and churrasco’d skewered beef. The drinks followed and Caio, Matheus friend showed up before we made our way to a bar to collect our match tickets. After passing through the parameter fence and then turnstile we handed back our ticket cards and made our way to our seats. The noise, different to that of Boca was still relentless, you also got more of a sense of the size of the stadium being more elevated. Dad turned to me around 5 minutes in, “I think this is my favourite ground yet”.

Mengo were facing Ecuadorian side Barcelona (named after the other one and with a very similar badge) in the Libertadores. It was only a group game but being among the Torcida Organizada (Brazilian term for Ultras) the atmosphere was feverish. The hosts dominated from beginning to end, every attack was greeted by shrieks and if it failed, frustration. Mengo took the lead on the 39th minute after a cross from the right was met by a looping head from Gustavo Henrique. With halftime moments away Barcelona gave away a penalty which, was fired home by Gabigol. I snuck to get another beer and some water for Dad at half time, just as I returned to my position a corner was headed home from six yards out by Bruno Henrique. The game was over, the noise was not. Flamengo proceeded to improve their possession and pass completion stats over the following 40 minutes. This was the most impressive performance of the trip thus far. The final whistle went to much excitement and the South American champions were off and running again. We dragged our tired and weary selves back to the metro station where, despite my worry we were away quite quickly. We thanked Matheus for looking after us so brilliantly, our chats on the Brazilian education system, football and politics had been both informative and entertaining and returned to the hotel. Another huge night, another wonderful ground and two absolutely knackered travellers. The Maracanã did not disappoint.

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