Brazil’s Maracana Stadium is a sport complex located in the ancient city of Rio de Janeiro. Named after the Rio Maracanã, a now canalised river in the city, the stadium was opened in 1950 to host the FIFA World Cup, in which the Samba Boys were beaten 2–1 by Uruguay in the final game. After its 2010-13 renovation, the rebuilt stadium currently seats 78,838 spectators, making it the largest stadium in Brazil and the second in South America, after Estadio Monumental in Peru.
However, thousands of kilometres away from the South American coastal city, lies another ‘Maracana Stadium’ in the heart of Ajegunle, Lagos State, an area reputed for churning out countless stars in various spheres of life, especially football and music. It was in this suburb of the Lagos city that young Jude Odion Ighalo honed his skills with the round leather ball. He shared the suburb with Olympiacos forward, Brown Aide Ideye, who used to live close to Odion’s Idi Street residence.
“Ajegunle is where my journey began and I’m proud of that. My first team, Olodi Warriors, used to play on a grass pitch known locally as the ‘Maracana’ but it was really a big, wide-open field. I come from the ghetto where there was no 24-hour electricity, no good water, bad roads and the neighbourhood was tough,” Ighalo said as he explained the tough path to his football career. “We used to kick old cans, plastic bottles, sometimes even oranges, around the streets on bare feet,”
Ighalo added, noting that, aside from non-availability of footballs, the activities of a local gang, popularly known as ‘Omila Boys’, constantly attracted the attention of the Police and other law enforcement agencies to the ‘Maracana’ and the ghetto neighbourhood. He said, “In one corner, there were boys selling marijuana and they were always being chased by the Police when they cut across the pitch. We would hit the floor when we heard the ‘pop, pop, pop’ of gunfire and then continue training. “It’s part of life, but bullets don’t always know who the footballers are and who the bad guys are.” Since leaving his family at 17 for the Lyn