New Maracana lures Samba kings back to old venue

RIO DE JANEIRO - Brazil will return to Maracana Stadium after seven years to begin qualifying for the 2010 World Cup.

RIO DE JANEIRO - Brazil will return to Maracana Stadium after seven years to begin qualifying for the 2010 World Cup.

Brazil hasn't played at its biggest and most famous soccer venue since 2000, when striker Romario netted a hat trick in a 5-0 rout of Bolivia in the 2002 World Cup qualifying tournament.

The stadium was closed for nearly nine months last year for renovations ahead of this year's Pan American Games. It is expected to host the competition's opening and closing ceremonies.

Brazil did not play any of its qualifying matches for the 2006 World Cup at Maracana, which has been completely modernised and is likely to host matches for the 2014 Cup if Brazil wins its bid to stage the event.

Maracana will host Brazil's first home match in the South American qualifying tournament for the 2010 Cup in October or September, against opponents yet to be determined, said Ricardo Teixeira, president of the Brazilian Soccer Confederation.

"Date and opponent will be announced within two months," Teixeira told the GloboEsporte website.

The stadium hosted the final of the 1950 World Cup, when Uruguay stunned Brazil 2-1 in a match known as the "Maracanazo", and it was the stage for Pele's 1000th career goal - a 77th-minute penalty kick in Santos' 2-1 win over Vasco on November 19 1969.

Nearly 200 000 people were at the stadium for the 1950 Cup final, but its capacity was brought down to less than 100 000 in recent years because of new security regulations.-Sapa-AP Sapa-AP

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