MEXICO — A legendary football stadium, symbol of pride for Mexican fans, a gathering ground every fortnight for all walks of life: this is Estadio Azteca. A behemoth that will play host to an unprecedented third World Cup in 2026. Over the past 50 years it has been home to some of the greatest national and global sporting events.
Designed by architects Pedro Ramirez Vazquez and Rafael Mijares, the stadium was brought to life on communal land in the suburb of Santa Ursula Coapa. Construction started in August 1962 and was completed in 1966. It took more than 800 workers, seven million hours of labour, 100 tonnes of concrete and 8,000 thousand tonnes of steel rods to erect the structure.
The title “Estadio Azteca” was given by Antonio Vazques and was also voted best name by the fans. The stadium eventually opened its doors to the public on May 29, 1966. The first event to be held at the stadium was a friendly match between local Club America and Italian side Torino. 105,000 spectators filled the stands to celebrate the first goal which was scored by Arlindo Dos Santos within the first 10 minutes.
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A RICH HISTORY
Over the past five decades, millions of fans have witnessed extraordinary achievements at this venue. The stadium hosted World Cup finals in 1970 and 1986 and crowned two of the greatest footballers of all times: Pele and Maradona.
In 1970, “The King” claimed his third World Cup title with Brazil alongside Rivelino, Tostao, Gerson and Jairzinho, while 16 years later Maradona would make headlines for Argentina with his ‘”Hand of God” goal as well as the famed ‘”Goal of the Century” in the same match against England.
Some of the greatest moments in Estadio Azteca include ‘”the Match of the Century” between Italy and Germany, featuring Franz Beckenbauer with a strapped arm who made it through to the semifinals.
The Mexico national team have also seen their heroes lift trophies and create unforgettable moments. Manuel Negrete scored the best goal of 1986 with his ‘scissor-kick from the penalty spot; the team were victorious in the 1999 Confederations Cup, as well as the Gold Cup of the same year, and the under-17 team won the U17 World Cup in 2011. In addition, it was home to matches played at the 1968 Olympic Games.
It is currently the home ground of Club America, but has also been home to other clubs in the past, such as Cruz Azul, Necaxa, Atletico Espanol and Atlante. It has played host to 33 Mexican football finals, which have included some of the best matches witnessed by football fans in the stadium. The most recent of these was at the 2014 Clausura championships where Aguilas was victorious over Tigres.
A NAME CHANGE
In 1997, the stadium’s name was changed to “Guillermo Canedo,” a posthumous homage to the president of Club America and CONCACAF.
However, the original “Estadio Azteca” was very much ingrained and fans struggled to adopt the new name. So the preference of Televisa — the owners of the stadium — was shortlived, the public insisted on calling it Estadio Azteca and soon after the stadium got its original name back.
IMPACT OUTSIDE SOCCER
The Azteca is not only an inspiration to the sporting world, it has also been an inspiration to artists. Andres Calamaro was amazed and surprised by the structure and composed the song “Estadio Azteca” with these words: “When I was a boy and I met the Estadio Azteca, I was stupefied, I felt small in the presence of the giant, when I was older the same happened again…”
This inspiration was also felt by Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, who broke the attendance record in 1993 when 600,000 people came to watch his “Dangerous” world tour over the course of five days.
American football has also left its mark. After multiple preseason matches in Mexico City, Estadio Azteca eventually opened its doors on Oct. 2, 2005 to an encounter between the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals. This was the first regular season NFL league match in history that was played outside of the United States and attracted a record crowd of 103,467.
Eleven years later an encounter between Houston Texans and Raiders was the first “Monday Night Football” match to be played in a foreign country in the history of the league, and the second regular season league match to be played in Mexico. 76,743 people attended the game.
In 2017, the third regular season league match was played in the Azteca when Patriots beat Raiders — the first time an NFL title holder had played in Mexico. The Azteca has also been host to other American football matches, such as the American Bowl in 1994, 1997, 1998 and 2000. The first of these matches attracted 112,000 spectators who came to see the Dallas Cowboys take on the Houston Oilers. But the greatest event to be hosted by the stadium took place on Feb. 20, 1993. The legendary Mexican boxer Julio Cesar Chavez beat Greg Haugen from the United States in front of a record crowd of 132,274.
The Azteca has been remodelled on various occasions. In theory, the stadium has a capacity of 105,000. However, this was increased to 115,000 for the 1986 World Cup in order to accommodate national and international press boxes and television — an increased number of seats, a protective barrier, security gates and a FIFA gallery for 400 visitors.
The stadium was upgraded once again in 1999 for the visit of Pope John Paul II. Two huge screens were erected overhead, making them the biggest screens in the world at the time.
In 2006, the stadium’s capacity was decreased to 105,000 when individual seats were placed in the “Special Lower” section.
And, in order to meet the requirements of the Liga Bancomer, chairs were placed in each section which further reduced the stadium’s capacity to 95,000.
The NFL also required some renovations to be done, which included additional suites in the Upper and Lower areas. The league also required an upgrade to the media boxes before it would return to the stadium. After all these changes the legendary stadium currently has a capacity of 87,000.