The construction of Maracanã was criticized for the expense and for the chosen location of the stadium. The competition for the design and construction was opened by the municipality of Rio de Janeiro in 1947, with the construction contract awarded to engineer Humberto Menescal, and the architectural contract awarded to seven Brazilian architects, Michael Feldman, Waldir Ramos, Raphael Galvão, Oscar Valdetaro, Orlando Azevedo, Pedro Paulo Bernardes Bastos, and Antônio Dias Carneiro.
The first cornerstone was laid at the site of the stadium on 2 August 1948. A work force of 1,500 constructed the stadium, with an additional 2,000 working in the final months. Despite the stadium having come into use in 1950, the construction was only fully completed in 1965.
The opening match of the stadium took place on 16 June 1950. Rio de Janeiro All-Stars beat São Paulo All-Stars 3–1. While the major part of the stadium was finished, it still looked like a construction site it lacked toilet facilities and a press box.
Brazilian officials claimed it could seat over 200,000 people. Despite the stadium’s unfinished state, FIFA allowed matches to be played at the venue.