If such a thing as the Seven Wonders of the Football World existed, then Estadio Centenario would certainly be one of them. This concrete colossus in the Uruguyan capital Montevideo was created as a temple of footballing passion and national pride.
It’s an arena where La Celeste, as the national team is known, has proven to be virtually invincible. One of its noisiest stands is called Amsterdam, as a tribute to its origin.
Built in just eight months between 1929 and 1930, the Centenario was designed to host the first-ever FIFA World Cup and to commemorate the centennial of Uruguay’s first constitution. As such, it became a cauldron for a potent mix of football fervour and pure patriotism that has lifted national and local teams alike to epic performances.
La Celeste has always been a threat when playing in their home stadium, consistently beating top teams, including the top ranked Brazilians, who only only managed to win three out of the 20 matches played.
Small nation, big reputation
The whole stadium mirrors the unparalleled successes of the national team, says Samuel Yacoubian, Vice-President of CAFO, the organisation that manages the building. “Don’t forget we’re just a small nation of some 3.5 million. But our national team holds the most international titles held by a country together with Argentina.”
When I meet Mr Yacoubian in the impressive football museum underneath the stadium, he gives me his business card. It reads: Estadio Centenario - Historical Monument to World Football.
“The stadium was given that title in 1980,” he explains, “for its contribution to sport and architecture.”
“That was 50 years after our first World Cup title here at the Centenario and 30 years after our second in Brazil, in which we beat the hosts in the final, one of the biggest upsets in World Cup History.”
Amsterdam in the cradle of World Cup football
But it all started in Amsterdam, at the 1928 Olympics, where football champions Uruguay were given the honour of hosting the first World Cup. At the time, La Celeste were by far the world’s best team. Four years earlier, in Paris, the team had clinched the Olympic title too. During the World Cup, Uruguay won all its matches, and converted a 1–2 half-time deficit to a 4–2 victory against Argentina.
As a tribute to its origins, the stadium management named one stand Colombes (after the district in Paris where the Olympics Games were held) and the one opposite Amsterdam. The latter has become quite notorious as it’s home to Penarol fans, one of the noisest supporter groups in Latin America. (see below)
The stand is also high enough to offer a view of smaller stadiums nearby, so that, when Central Español and Miramar Misiones play home matches simultaneously, you can watch all three games from the top of the Amsterdam stand.
One of the rooms in the museum is dedicated entirely to the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics. It includes documents, trophies, photographic and cinematographic material, posters and newspaper articles.
“Don’t forget, Amsterdam occupies a special place in our hearts,” Mr Yacoubian says. “Which is why our stadium management has its offices below the Amsterdam stand.”