In the first part, we uncovered the final match of the 1950 World Cup played out between hosts Brazil and Uruguay.
Tragedy struck Brazil when they lost the 1950 World Cup final to neighbours Uruguay. Till that day, they had never lost a final. In fact, they had never been to a final. 1950 was the time when the introduction of television in Brazil marked the beginning of live matches being telecast. Even with the introduction of live television, majority of Brazilians still depended on radio for any news.
It almost goes without saying that other than the 210,000 inside the Maracanã, the rest of the people of Brazil and Uruguay were glued to their radio sets on that day. Luiz Mendes, who was on national radio duty that day, was so shocked when Uruguay scored the second goal that he almost became hysterical on national radio. On the other side of the border, Ary Barroso was covering the match via radio commentary for Brazil. In “Encyclopedia of Contemporary Latin American and Carribean Cultures“, D. Balderston narrates how Ary Barroso swore off broadcasting forever describing this as a “national tragedy”.
But was it a tragedy? Yes, a loss in the finals does always hurt, but why were the Brazilians so upset? In fact, the Brazilians had every reason to be upset and heartbroken over the loss. Being a part of South America, they had never seen or been to any war with country, forget World Wars. They had minor political skirmishes, but then again those were frivolous attempts by greedy politicians who wanted power more than anything. No, till that time Brazil never had a moment where the nation united under a theme.
The 1950 World Cup gave the country its identity, made them a household name worldwide and for the first time, players from South America moved to Europe to play football professionally. Football was the way of life in Brazil and it was something the nation was an expert at. The tragic loss in the finals engulfed the nation and for days the gloom continued. No one would say, but scoring a winning goal in Maracanã is still the dream of every player who has been born and brought up in Brazil.
It is their theatre of dreams – their identity to the outside world. Ironically it was the same place that the nation saw its first tragedy. As people left the Maracanã, a pin-drop silence could be felt across the stadium. An interesting event unfolded that day, one which involved Jules Rimet. Days before the match, when a Brazilian victory was predicted, nay demanded, he had memorized an entire victory speech in Portuguese directed towards the Brazilians. However, after the match, he was at a loss of words after the final whistle. The Brazilian Football Federation were so dismayed that they left Maracanã as soon as the match ended. This led to an embarrassing situation as Rimet had to search the Uruguay team for Varela after walking all alone into the pitch.
There has been much reasoning over why Brazil lost the match, but one of them is quite disturbing. Black players had made their way into the national team after the initial roadblocks were removed at the club level. But still, Brazil were a country made mostly up of white people. Brazil’s keeper, Barbosa was the voted as the best keeper in the 1950 World Cup. Both Barbosa and Bigode, the player at the heart of much-talked about slap were blacks. And that became an uncomfortable talking point after the finals. Brazil
Another fact which was pointed out by Zizinho was the formation in which Brazil played that day. Those were the days of Herbert Chapman-inspired WM formation which was followed by almost every team on the planet. Brazil took to WM much later. According to Zizinho, a team playing WM can easily win against another team playing WM, as was seen in the matches against Spain and Sweden. However, Uruguay played a different version of WM where they had a man much deeper than the last defender, a precursor to the modern sweeper. However, no matter how much analysis is done of the formation, that they lost at Maracanã remains an indelible fact in their otherwise glorious history. Till this day, people in Brazil talk about the loss more than any of the five World Cup victories.
Barbosa was made the scapegoat of the loss to Uruguay. It was suggested that a black keeper can never win any glory for Brazil. It’s an uncomfortable fact, but one which has hounded Brazil till early 2000. Every player who played that final for Brazil suffered, but Barbosa suffered the most. Till his dying day, it was made sure that he never forgot that match. Although it was never made public, Barbosa featured only once after that fateful final which later the Uruguayans came to call as Maracanazo.
Barbosa retired soon after that. Rumour has it that when he was travelling, a lady once pointed him out to his son and said “Look son, this is the man who made Brazil cry”; completely ignoring the fact that the loss was not at all Barbosa’s fault. He became delirious soon after that. Barbosa once invited his friends for a party at his home in Rio. It was a barbeque party. As the guests arrived they could sense a strange smell coming from his house. As they went closer, they saw Barbosa burning wood – it was not ordinary wood, he was burning the goal-posts from that day in Maracanã. The white paint was the cause behind the strange smell.
As the years went on, Barbosa was never forgotten to the Brazilian public. So much so, Brazil had their first black keeper after Barbosa in the form of Dida in 1999. Before that it was rumoured that a black keeper can never win for Brazil. Oddly though, when Brazil won the World Cup in 2002, Dida was in the squad but he was never played in any of the matches. Barbosa is a constant reminder of the racist history of Brazilian football. In 1993, the president of the Brazilian Football Confederation, Ricardo Teixeira, did not allow him to be commentator during the broadcast of one of Brazil’s international matches. He was also turned away from a Brazil training session on one occasion out of fear of his being a jinx for the team by none other than Mario Zagallo.
Barbosa became almost penniless in his last years, and it was only after his wife’s death from bone marrow cancer in 1997 that Vasco da Gama helped him out. Barbosa died in 2000, penniless and with a broken heart. Till his last day, he was heard saying –
I’m not guilty. There were 11 of us.