RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The man who made Maracana Stadium his own paid tribute on Monday to the sparkling World Cup goal by Lionel Messi that graced the iconic venue.
A day after the Argentine scored in the cathedral of Brazilian football, Zico applauded the strike on the 64th anniversary of the first match at Maracana.
"Maracana did deserve a goal like he scored," Zico said of the stadium built for the 1950 World Cup.
A statue of the former Brazil and Flamengo great stands in Maracana to mark his 333 goals there.
Zico recalled the original Maracana holding 177,000 fans including him when Flamengo played city rival Fluminense in 1963.
"I was only 10 years old," Zico said through a translator at the stadium. "When we came out on the sixth floor ... you see the colors of black and red, and green. It was a great joy for me."
He also remembered that one year earlier he saw the great Garrincha score a hat trick in Maracana for Botafogo.
"My history started there," Zico said. "I didn't imagine I would make history as an athlete."
Today, the three-time World Cup player — representing Brazil from 1974-82 without ever winning a title — has the same affection for the revamped venue.
"It's more comfortable, a lot safer, more beautiful, more cozy," Zico said of the 75,000-capacity stadium which will stage the final on July 13.
Barely completed for the last World Cup, Maracana first hosted football on June 16, 1950 when a representative team of Sao Paulo beat Rio de Janeiro.
When Brazil opened the tournament eight days later, an official attendance of just 81,649 saw a 4-0 win over Mexico.
There were 173,850 — and many more unofficially — on July 16 when Uruguay beat Brazil 2-1 to win the World Cup and traumatize the host nation.
Maracana was finally upgraded to host football and the opening ceremony of the 2007 Pan-American Games. It was further renovated just in time for the Confederations Cup last year.
Zico acknowledged Monday that "of course, I miss the past," but was unsentimental about the Maracana's decline until the past decade.
"For a long, long time Maracana was not seating 90,000," he pointed out. "In the 2000s we were having finals in Maracana with 15,000 people. It was suffering with structural problems and Maracana needed a change."
"I would like to see Maracana filled all the time but you need to see teams and players to make it full," Zico said.
Teams like Argentina, with its victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina, and players like Messi gave Maracana's seven-match World Cup program a good start.