Your team is chosen for you as a birthright and from that moment forward you support those “colors” like a badge of honor. In many cases, you actually tattoo that badge of honor to your arm, back or chest to prove your devotion.
On game day you forge through crowded city sidewalks as grown men spill out onto the streets as they position themselves in view of the old boxy bar televisions.
Screeches and cheers echo off high-rises and across neighborhoods with every change in momentum.
This is the influence and importance of football (soccer, futbol, futebol, joga bonito) in Rio de Janeiro and across Brazil.
I had the opportunity to watch my first football match in Rio de Janeiro this past weekend at Maracana Stadium as my adopted team, Fluminense squared off against Botafogo.
While the match didn’t work out in our favor, I learned a lot about football in Rio de Janeiro that I think visitors would find useful.
Here is a brief overview about football in Rio de Janeiro that will help you travel deeper in Brazil.
Rio de Janeiro’s Futebol Championship used to be played in two cups: Gunabara’s Cup and Rio’s Cup, which took place from January through May. The champions from each cup have a two-game playoff to determine Rio de Janeiro’s champion team.
This year however, they’ve changed the format to just one tournament (same time) called the Carioca Cup (Campeonato Carioca), which determines the champion of Rio de Janeiro.
All 26 Brazilian states have their own style of state tournament that take place at the same time and games are usually played on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays across the country.
From May through December, the Brazilian Championship takes place, where top teams from different states compete to determine a national champion.
Top finishers in the national tournament earn berths in the next year’s Libertadores Cup and South American Cup, two continental tournaments that run concurrently with parts of the state and national seasons.
There isn’t a big offseason for the best teams apart from a short breather between late December and early January.
There are four big major players in Rio de Janeiro Football; Flamengo, Fluminense, Botafogo and Vasco.
Flamengo has the largest number of fans in Brazil (and the world) and is considered the team of “the people.” No matter who’s team you favor, everyone seems to respect (or fear) the Flamengo crowd.
*It is said that when Flamengo makes it to the championship the crime rate goes up in the city so that their fans can pay for the tickets.
While their archrival; Fluminense is considered the “millionaires” team.
As you can see from the video that the stadium wasn’t packed as you would expect, and that has a lot to do with importance of games and ticket prices.
Botafogo is currently playing in the Libertadores tournament, which determines the champion of South America, so to them, the Carioca tournament isn’t as important. They rest their starters and don’t bring all their fans.
A similar situation happened a few weeks ago for the “Fla Flu” clasico, where Flamengo (also playing in Libertadores) raised the ticket prices to the highest in history (R$100) because they didn’t care about attendance and wanted to discourage fans from attending (hence devaluing the match).
Another major political aspect is the torcida organizada (Barra Brava). Like Argentina and many other countries around the world, they are an organized group of fans that dictate many of the clubs moves.
Read more about the Barra Brava here.
Fluminense, Flamego and Botafago always play at Maracana (home of the 2014 FIFA World Cup) and when they play each other there’s no home and away team. Vasco is the only one of the big guns in Rio who plays in their own stadium (São Januário).
Rio football tickets can usually be purchased at the stadium on game day, unless it is a major game like a clasico, championship or Libertador match.
For these games, you can buy the tickets at the stadium a few days before or at one of the team’s designated ticket offices (i.e. Rio Sul grocery store sells tickets).
They are usually cheaper than getting them through your hostel or hotel if are okay with taking public transportation (very safe and easy in Rio) to the games.
Despite all the stories you hear, Brazilian football matches are relatively safe inside the stadium if you use commonsense.
Fans are divided with barbwire fences and heavy security and you can reduce your risk by sitting closer to midfield.
Don’t wear or bring anything valuable and don’t sit too close to any ledges (in case of goal or riot stampede).
The most “dangerous” aspect of the experience is actually outside the stadium. Stick with the crowds and don’t hang around too long after the games if the area is unfamiliar.
The number one thing you can do to stay safe at the games (or anywhere for that matter) is go with a local who knows what you should and shouldn’t do.
Like This? Watch “How to Survive a Futbol Match in Buenos Aires” now.