Brazil’s favorite sport is also Rio’s, and you’ll see everyone from women to favela kids to beer-bellied seniors dribbling, passing, shooting, and scoring, particularly on the beaches. However, if you want to see the real deal, head to the largest and most famous futebol stadium in the world: Maracanã (Rua Profesor Eurico Rabelo, Maracanã, tel. 21/2229-2941, tickets R$15–40).
Built in 1950 to host the World Cup, the stadium seats close to 200,000 people. Even if soccer itself leaves you cold, it’s worth taking in a game for the sheer theatrics of the crowd as they toot whistles, beat drums, unfurl gigantic banners, and wield smoke bombs in team colors.
When things aren’t going well, fans shed tears, implore saints, and hurl death threats (as well as cups of urine—for this reason, consider seats in the lower levels, which are sheltered by a protective canopy). However, when victory rears its head, it’s like a collective mini Carnaval.
Rio’s four biggest and most traditional teams are Flamengo, Fluminense, Botafogo, and Vasco da Gama. Each has its diehard followers, but the most toxic rivalry of all is the legendary Flamengo-Fluminense (“Fla-Flu”) match-up.
Games are played throughout the week and throughout the year. When going to a game, avoid rabid fans on the bus and take the Metrô or a taxi. During the day, Maracanã is open for guided tours (9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, 8–11 a.m. on game days, R$14).
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition