Brazil hosted the FIFA World Cup in 1950, a tournament which started an unbroken run of mega events, showcasing the best in football every four years. 1950 was a glorious time to be a Brazilian, and all that the people in Brazil wanted was a victory in front of the home crowd inside their shrine of football – Maracanã. Everything was going as planned, but like fate has it, every happy story does not have a happy ending. After covering the inauguration of the World Cup in Brazil, we take a look into the final of the 1950 FIFA World Cup and its aftermath.
Brazil started the 1950 World Cup in ominous fashion – slaying every opponent in front of them. Their exuberant displays highlighted their class and their crazily individualistic performances became the talk of the nation. Zizinho, Barbosa, Bigode, Ademir – names of these players spread far and wide as their dominating displays shocked opponents. Introducing a new format which was used only once in the World Cup history, four teams qualified for the final group – Brazil, Uruguay, Sweden and Spain. From then on, it became a two-horse race.
Uruguay stuttered in their approach to the opening two games, as they clawed their way back in both times against Spain and then Sweden. Interestingly, Ghiggia was on target for Uruguay in every single match. Elsewhere, Brazil were having fun. After defeating Sweden 7-1, they pumped six goals past a hapless Spain; 13 goals scored, only two conceded. It all came down to the last match of the group stage – a stand-off between Brazil and Uruguay which was going to determine the winner of the 1950 World Cup. Brazil Brazil Brazil Brazil Brazil
It was a pure coincidence that the final was going to take place in Maracanã. Brazil only needed a draw to lift the cup whereas Uruguay had to win outright as they had an inferior goal-difference. The final saw many records made and more broken and the first one was the referee. George Reader, who was officiating that day, was the oldest match official at 53 years of age. Expecting a victory of Brazil, people thronged the Maracanã in huge numbers. Although official records put the record at around 173,000, the actual numbers soared higher than 210,000. Again, a record which is yet to be broken.
Before the match, the papers everywhere carried news of a Brazilian victory. So certain were the Mayor of a victory that in the preceding evening, he announced – “Tomorrow we will beat Uruguay”. Winners medals were already made with the name of Brazilian players on them. Songs were written of a victory even before the match had taken place. There was so much optimism surrounding the match that it almost became nauseating for the Uruguay players to focus. Their captain, Obdulio Varela bought a whole bundle of the evening newspapers carrying news of Brazil’s impending victory.
He took the papers into the locker room and then ordered every player to urinate on the papers. This was Varela’s way of leadership. As a story goes, the Uruguay coach had asked the team to play a defensive match to counter the attacking nature of the Brazilians. Varela would have nothing of it. After the coach left the locker room following his pre-match talk, he took the onus to inspire his team-mates. His ideology was if that if Uruguay were to defend, they were going to lose anyway. So it’s better to go out fighting rather than cave under the opposition.
His speech had an immediate effect his team-mates. As was expected, Brazil scored the first goal through Friaça in the first half. The Maracanã erupted in an explosion of joyous cries and celebrations. As Reader cleared the pitch invasion and restarted the match, Brazil went on the defensive, although slightly. Now, it was the turn for Uruguay to strike back. Having their backs on the wall can push a team to miraculous heights, and Uruguay were a perfect example of it.
However, the match was not bereft of drama. Varela took it upon himself to stop the Brazilian attacks, although he majorly played as a central midfielder. Rumour has it that he slapped Bigode, Brazil’s left-half. Whether this is true or not has been lost in the pages of history, but one thing is for sure – that incident turned the psychological advantage in favour of Uruguay. The first goal came soon after, as Schiaffino shot past Barbosa from a Ghiggia assist. A hush descended at the Maracanã. Brazil were not used to being scored against in such a fashion, in such a counter-attacking move.
And then came the Coup de grâce. Ghiggia dribbled past Bigode for the second time in the match and entered the penalty area. Heartbeats raced as the Maracanã waited for a fumbled shot, and then a superb save. Alas, none of them happened. Ghiggia’s shot found its way past Barbosa and as the ball nestled in the back of the net, Maracanã went silent. A deathly silence descended at the Maracanã, one which unnerved the players on the pitch even more. In “The World Cup In An Hour”, Rupert Colley describes the immediate shock of the crowd. It was then that Ghiggia made his now-famous comment -
Only three people in history have managed to silence the Maracanã with a single gesture: the Pope, Frank Sinatra and I
Although there were still 11 minutes left to play, Brazil never really recovered from that shock. This was a side that they have beaten so comprehensively and yet they have lost the final. How? This question still bothers Brazilians to this day. No one really knows why they lost or how. Only the soul-crushing expression of defeat is accompanied whenever one mentions the 1950 World Cup final in Brazil.
Brazil had lost their first World Cup final. We uncover exactly how unnerving it was for them in the next episode.
Footnote: Both Ghiggia and Schiaffino went to play for AC Milan and won the Scudetto. Schiaffino also played the 1958 European Cup against Real Madrid, where Di Stéfano led Madrid to their first-ever European Cup treble. Ghiggia played for Milan for the first time at the age of 35, and even though he played only 4 matches, the team still went on to lift the title.