The Top 5 FIFA World Cup Stadiums
Since the inaugural edition of the FIFA World Cup in 1930, the stadiums hosting the world’s most prestigious football tournament have always been of great interest to followers of the game. But why do we have such great affection for these colossal edifices?
The significance of each stadium is, of course, based on its international repute as a host venue of the world’s most popular tournament. But, our love of these edifices runs a little deeper.
Most obviously, the memories created watching some of football’s most momentous and historic events become synonymous with the stadium in which they occurred. Joyous or down-right heartbreaking, a stadium is ever remembered for hosting specific matches close to our hearts.
The atmosphere generated in a stadium also makes or breaks its popularity. The ambience in a stadium can be euphoric and delightfully overwhelming, especially when watching such an emotive game as football. Great stadiums are designed to enhance the natural atmosphere generated by the crowd. Stadiums built to funnel the noise and excitement of the crowd to every ear, and give fans the impression of being close to, or on top of the pitch, will always find a captive audience.
We also love the uniqueness of FIFA World Cup stadiums. From their often inimitable architectural designs to their humongous capacity and top-notch high tech facilities, designed to make playing or watching the game an enjoyable experience for both players and spectators alike, FIFA World Cup arenas are a feast for the eyes and senses.
Football fans the world over have their favourite stadiums, whether for their physical attributes, the atmosphere, the fond memories of the matches played, or any number of other reasons. With many more countries yet to host the World Cup, the list of these global icons can only get longer. For now, though, let's take a look at five iconic stadiums that have hosted matches of the FIFA World Cup in the past:
1. Maracanã Stadium (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
Arguably the most famous stadium in world football, the Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro was built after Brazil won the right to host the 1950 FIFA World Cup.
The stadium, which is owned by the Rio de Janeiro state government, holds the undisputed record for the largest attendance at a single match with 199,854 spectators in the stands. The match in question was the 1950 World Cup when Uruguay became world champions after beating Brazil 2-1.
The Maracanã Stadium, which hosted several matches of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil, including the final match between Germany and Argentina, was renovated in 2013. In preparation for the 2014 tournament, the stadium’s capacity dropped to almost 79,000 making it the largest stadium in Brazil, but only the second-largest in South America after Estadio Monumental in Peru.
The venue, before the 2013 renovations, hosted 150,000 or more spectators on 26 occasions. The last time the stadium saw such numbers was on May 29, 1983, as 155,253 spectators watched the final match of the Brazillian Championship where Flamengo beat Santos 3–0. No less impressive, the stadium has also seen crowds of over 100,000 more than 280 times. In its time, the Maracana Stadium has been a giant.
2. Estadio Azteca (Mexico City, Mexico)
Estadio Azteca, designed by Pedro Ramirez and Rafael Mijares, was built to provide Mexico with a flagship venue for the 1970 World Cup. The stadium was officially opened on May 29, 1966, with a friendly match between Mexico's Club América and Italian side Torino, which was witnessed by a capacity crowd of 107,494 spectators.
Estadio Azteca is the largest stadium in Mexico, though its capacity has been reduced somewhat over recent decades. Originally, seating capacity was a fairly whopping 115,000. However, to comply with safety measures in the early 2000s, capacity was reduced to around 100,000. In 2016, the number of seats dropped again to 84,000 as the stadium underwent a large refurbishment to include additional VIP facilities.
Located in Mexico City, Estadio Azteca has engraved its name in the history books as the first stadium to have hosted two FIFA World Cup Finals. Indeed, it is the only venue to have both Pele (1970) and Diego Maradona (1986), two of the world's greatest players, to lift the World Cup trophy within its grounds.
The stadium is also the ground where Maradona scored his famous "Hand of God" goal during a World Cup quarter-final match between Argentina and England on June 22, 1986. The illegal hand-ball goal should have been disqualified, but having not been seen by the referee, it was allowed. A decision that may have robbed England of their place in the final. For England supporters, the memory of this controversial event still stings. But, for the Argentinian’s who went on to win the World Cup that year, the match and the stadium are still part of one of their biggest footballing triumphs.
3. Estadio Centenario (Montevideo, Uruguay)
Estadio Centenario was built to host the World Cup in Uruguay, in the 1930s. Nearly 100 years and many football tournaments later, the Estadio Centenario is still in action and holds a very special place in people’s hearts - this was the ground of the first-ever World Cup football tournament. In fact, the building is now listed by FIFA as a historical monument of World Football - the only such building in existence.
Originally, the stadium was to host all of the 1930 inaugural World Cup matches. However, the building, due to heavy rains, wasn’t completed on time - it was ready five days after the official tournament start date. The first few matches were instead played at nearby Estadio Gran Parque Central and Estadio Pocitos stadiums.
The arena, on completion, did host every team in the competition, as well as both semi-finals and the final match of the World Cup played between Uruguay and Argentina, with Uruguay winning 4–2.
The stadium, which was designed by architect Juan Antonio Scasso and built for $1 million, is listed by FIFA as a classic football stadium. It was, in the 1930s, considered the finest football stadium ever built. Designed in four sections, it was Latin America’s first-ever reinforced concrete stadium. It was built to follow an elliptical shape of geometric continuity, with three levels of tiers within each of its four sections to hold up to 100,000 spectators. However, the initial project was modified, and the third tier was remodelled, only appearing in one section of the stadium. The capacity, therefore, dropped to about 70,000. Nonetheless, it’s design helped set a precedent for future venues.
4. Wembley Stadium (London, England)
Regarded as one of the wonders of the sporting world when it was built in the twenties, Wembley Stadium has been aptly described by Pelé as "the cathedral, the capital and heart of football". No small claim considering its significance as the most famous stadium in England, the country where the game of football we know and love today was born.
The tale of this stunning edifice can best be relayed in two parts – the old and the new.
The old Wembley, built-in 1923 for £750,000, is the arena where England defeated their major adversaries West Germany, sealing its claim to icon status. In 1966, England won 4–2 after extra time, claiming their first, and to date, their only World Cup and major international title. The jubilant crowd was made up of about 98,000 people.
The classic match was made famous by several incidents, including Geoff Hurst's hat-trick, the first-ever scored in a FIFA World Cup Final, and the controversial third goal awarded to England by referee Gottfried Dienst and linesman Tofiq Bahramov, amongst others. It is also, as of July 2018, the most-watched event ever on British television, attracting 32.3 million viewers.
The old arena was closed on October 7, 2000, and demolition began in 2002. The new stadium was opened in 2007, on the site of the former arena. The new Wembley Stadium, built for £789 million, is the largest stadium in the UK and the second-largest in Europe, with a capacity of 90,000. The new stadium is recognisable by its 134 m (440 ft) high steel arch.
The two towers of the old Wembley stadium were removed during demolition. For many, it was the end of an era. The towers were the instantly recognizable silhouette of a landmark synonymous with the game of football. The crowns of the towers, considered so iconic, are preserved at two English country estates.
5. Stade de France (Saint-Denis, France)
The Stade de France was built for the World Cup in 1998. This modern architectural masterpiece is the biggest modular stadium in the world - 25,000 of its 80,000 capacity seats are mobile. This modular component allows various seating configurations, making the stadium multifunctional and versatile enough to host an array of different events. When it was built, this was a world first.
Indeed, thanks to its innovative design, it is one of the only stadiums in the world to have hosted a football World Cup final (1998) and a rugby World Cup final (2007).
The stadium became beloved as the venue where the French national team claimed their first-ever World Cup trophy. The French were victorious as hosts of the 1998 World Cup and as winners of the tournament when they beat Brazil 3-0 in the final.
The 80,698-capacity Stade de France remains the largest stadium in France and the stadium where the French national football team plays its most important home matches.
World Cup 2022 Stadiums
For the 22nd edition of the FIFA World Cup, matches will be hosted in eight ultra-modern stadiums - Khalifa International, Al Janoub, Al Bayt, Al Rayyan, Al Thumama, Ras Abu Aboud, Education City and Lusail. Seven of those stadiums are new and just one, Khalifa International, has been extensively refurbished. The stadiums have been described by many as being some of the most visually stunning venues ever conceived. Each is equipped with the latest high-tech facilities that will enhance the experience for all participants. Each has been uniquely designed to reflect Qatar's rich culture and history. And, all have been built with comfort, accessibility, sustainability and legacy as the major priorities.
With all this and more, the stadiums of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar will surely claim their place in the history book of famous World Cup arenas.
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