Just outside the Maracana Stadium’s main entrance, the debate rages on - Who is the greatest football player of all time? Over here is Argentinian Daniel Gonzalez, wearing Diego Maradona’s 1986 World Cup uniform and a wig with his trademark black curls and performing the midfielder’s waltzing warm-up routine.
Nearby is rival Marcio Pereira da Silva, dressed in Pele’s No. 10 Brazil jersey and juggling a ball with his knees and shoulders. In the run-up to Thursday’s World Cup opener, the two street artists have been competing head-to-head for the pocket change of fans from around the world, who flock to Brazil’s Temple of Soccer, below the statue of 1958 captain Hilderaldo Bellini lifting above his head the first of the country’s five championship trophies.
“Maradona and Pele are making peace,” Silva said with a smile, stretching his arm around Gonzalez in front of a small crowd that included Mexican soccer fans in tall sombreros, well-dressed street preachers and a sunburnt cyclist who pedaled 3,500 kilometers from Argentina. “The fight is over. Now it’s time to party.”
The 35-year-old Gonzalez travelled by bus from his hometown of Las Toninas, a beach resort south of Buenos Aires where he works as a leather artisan, to attend the tournament. On a good day, he said he’s able to take in 100 reais ($45), enough to pay for his food and lodging at a local hostel.
While he hopes to get inside the Maracana to see Argentina play, his biggest ambition is to meet his idol, the real Maradona, who is in Rio providing commentary for Venezuela’s Telesur network.
Silva, 50, says he began entertaining tourists with his freestyle juggling skills after an attempt at a professional playing career failed.
“I wasn’t lucky. I had an injury. I tried very hard, but it didn’t happen, so I started coaching kids and doing acrobatics,” he said.