Top Ten World Football (aka Soccer) Cities
|¡GOL!: Rudimentary goalpost on Rio de Janeiro’s Ipanema Beach (Hola Images/Getty)|
This summer, the world's eyes will be fixed on South Africa for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the first time the quadrennial football/soccer event has been hosted on the African continent. And that's a lot of eyesan estimated 1.5 billion people tuned in to watch the final game of the 2006 tournamenta testament to the global appeal of the "beautiful game." To celebrate this year's running of the event, we give you the ten best soccer cities, where the game is part of the city's cultural DNA.
10. Munich, Germany
Although the German capital, Berlin, hosted the 2006 World Cup Final between Italy and France, the southern German city of Munich is the country's true soccer powerhouse. FC Bayern Munich, which currently plays at the new 70,000-seat Allianz Arena in Munich's northern outskirts, has won 21 domestic league titles and a famous string of three consecutive European Cups in the 1970s. In 2009, Forbes.com valued it as the fourth-richest soccer club in the world, with annual revenues in excess of $465 million. Munich also holds a sadder place in soccer aficionados' hearts as the place where a number of the prodigiously talented Manchester United team, "Busby's Babes," died in a freak air crash in 1958.
9. Mexico City, Mexico
Soccer history runs deep in Mexico City, as does the well of local passionespecially if you happen to be American. The Mexican national team plays out of the fearsome 105,000-capacity Estadio Azteca in the south of the city, a cauldron of noise that literally sucks the air out of opposition players' lungs on account of its 7,200-foot altitude. It's where Diego Maradona scored his infamous "Hand of God" goal for Argentina against England during the 1986 World Cup quarter-finals, plus is a venue where the U.S. national team is yet to win a game after ten attempts to date (the team has also not won a game in all venues around Mexico City in 20 attempts!). Brazilian great Pelé also played his last international game at the Estadio Azteca during the 1970 World Cup Final against Italy (which Brazil won 4-1).
8. Glasgow, Scotland
The Scottish city of Glasgow, the country's biggest, is home to one of the fiercest footballing rivalries in the world: the "Old Firm" standoff between Glasgow Celtic and Glasgow Rangers. Today, the teams trade honors as champions of the Scottish Premier League, with no team from outside Glasgow having picked up the pennant since 1985. While this might be a testament to the dwindling quality of the game in Scotland, matches at either of these teams home stadiums is a unique, impassioned, and culturally enlightening experience. Several other teams with loyal local followings, like Motherwell and St. Mirren, play in the Greater Glasgow area if you can't score tickets to one of the Old Firm games (Rangers play at Ibrox by the Clyde on the west side of town; Celtic play at Celtic Park in the East End). The Scottish national team also plays home games at Hampden Park, host to regular cup games throughout the season as well as other concerts and events.
7. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Football, soccer, the "beautiful game" whatever you call it, the sport officially got its start in England in the mid-1800s, though it can trace its roots to games played in one form or another as far back as ancient Greece and China. These days, however, Brazil can rightly lay claim to being the spiritual home of the game. The national team is a five-time winner of the World Cup, an unmatched record stretching back to the country's first victory in 1958 (Sweden) and most recently in 2002 (KoreaJapan). You can see future stars of the game from the beaches to the favelas of Rio, though it's at the iconic Maracanã (officially the Estadio Jornalista Mario Filho) where you'll witness Brazilians' love of the game in all its colorful, samba-infused glory. Built for the 1950 Brazil World Cup, the stadium is said to have hosted almost 200,000 spectators during the final tussle of that tournament between Uruguay and Brazil (which Uruguay won). A municipally owned ground, the Maracanã regularly hosts matches involving Rio's four biggest teamsBotafogo, Flamengo, Fluminense, and Vasco. In dire need of an upgrade, the famous bowl will get a major facelift in time for the 2014 World Cup Finals, which are being hosted by Brazil for the second time.
6. Rome, Italy
In a city filled with gladiatorial mystique and the impressive shell of the ancient Coliseum, it should come as no surprise that one of soccer's most enduring city rivalries plays itself out in northwest Rome's 72,698-capacity Stadio Olimpicoshared home ground for the city's two biggest clubs, Lazio and AS Roma. Beyond the high skill and never-say-die commitment on the pitch, the stadium's off-pitch history is equally fascinating: originally the Stadio del Cipressi, it was built as part of a grand scheme to honor Il Duce called Foro Mussolini (Mussolini Forum), renamed Foro Italico after World War II; it picked up its Olimpico tag for host duties during the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. Today, AS Roma edge the crosstown rivalry after Lazio ruled the Eternal City roost for a good part of the 1990s.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication