After covering the origins of the game in Part I, we unraveled the mystery behind the way Brazil plays football in Part II. In this Episode, we will go all the way back to 1950 when Brazil hosted the FIFA World Cup for the first time.
The Backdrop of 1950 FIFA World Cup
Only three editions of FIFA World Cup were possible before World War II put a stop to it for the next 12 years. With Europe in disarray and still recovering from the aftermath of the World War, the organizers looked for a host outside the continent. The only realistic contender was South America. Due to their non-participation in the World War, they were the only continent who could afford to organize a tournament of such stature. Brazil placed a bid and it was quickly accepted as no other nation had the resources to allocate to such a big tournament.
After Brazil won the bid, the country went into overdrive. With only three stadiums in the country, Brazil planned to build three more with Maracanã being their crown jewel. The construction started late in 1948, which meant Brazil had exactly two years to complete the gigantic structure. Work started at a frenetic pace with close to 1500 working simultaneously.
To test the strength of the structure, workers used to crowd the stadium and jump up and down to simulate a live crowd. Although the workers represented hardly one-hundredth of the actual crowd, till date not a serious injury has happened to anyone due to structural damage. Brazil
It was deemed as the perfect monument for the biggest sporting carnival in the world. No one would have ever imagined that one of their biggest icons, alongside the Copacabana beach, and the gigantic Christ statue will be witness to one of the biggest sporting disasters in the history of football in Brazil. It was around the same time television was first introduced in Brazil, Mexico and Cuba and needless to say, the entire world was looking up to Brazil to dispel the gloom surrounding the aftermath of the Second World War.
The unique format
The 1950 FIFA World Cup saw a format which was used only once in its entire history. Instead of knockout matches, Brazil proposed a round-robin format where every team played every other team. Initially, 16 teams were selected to participate and they were divided into four groups. Then, the top teams from the four groups would qualify for the second round where they would play each other again in a round-robin format. The group winner would be the winner of the 1950 World Cup.
Strange as it may seem, this move was used to generate maximum revenue from ticket sales on match days. Also with every team guaranteed at least three matches, the European nations got an added incentive to travel that far and compete. The countries who were banned from participation included the likes of Germany and Japan. USSR, Hungary, Czechoslovakia withdrew before qualification while Argentina, Peru and Ecuador withdrew.
Among the Asian countries, India qualified for the first time – not through normal procedures but due to withdrawal of other nations. Sadly, AIFF at that time was plagued with amateurism and they did not view the World Cup to be a competition where they should participate. Olympic Football was still the highest honor for AIFF, as they fought with FIFA over the technicality of playing barefoot. Needless to say, FIFA did not allow India to play barefoot and the nation, from that time has gotten no closer to qualification for the grandest stage of them all.
The worst sufferer in that World Cup was probably Italy, who were the defending champions. Only a year before, a plane crashed on the mountainside of Superga, wiping out the Il Grande Torino and with it almost the entire Italian national team. The country did not recover in time for the World Cup as they lost to Sweden.
The games, the carnival at Brazil
Flávio Costa replaced Ademar Pimenta at the helm of Brazil and at that time, he was known to be the best coach in Brazil. 1938 World Cup was still fresh in the minds of the Brazilian public and they were determined not to repeat that. However, even Costa succumbed to public pressure and was forced to play several local players in the match against Yugoslavia. The 1950 team of Brazil contained the cream of players from Vasco and São Paulo, and with Barbosa under the bar, Brazil had every chance to win for the first time in front of the home crowd and continue the trend of the last three World Cups. Brazil
Brazil started the World Cup in an emphatic fashion, defeating Mexico in their first match with Ademir opening the scoring. He went on to score 9 goals in the tournament but still could not stop Brazil from losing. After the victory, there was naturally a ‘wow’ factor associated with the team from Brazil. A 2-2 draw later, Brazil needed an outright victory over Yugoslavia to qualify for the final group. Rajko Mitic, the best striker at that time for Yugoslavia mysteriously hurt his head while walking up the Maracanã. With his head heavily bandaged, he took to the field but could not stop his team from going down 2-0 with Ademir once more on the score sheet. Brazil had qualified for the final group stage.
The tragic tale of Joe Gaetjens
The biggest shock of the group stages came when USA faced England. England had rejoined FIFA four years earlier and this was their first appearance in the World Cup. That team from 1950 contained the likes of Alf Ramsey, Stanley Matthews, Jackie Milburn and Stanley Mortensen – all would go on to carve their names in the history of English Football. Despite dominating possession, USA scored against the run of play through Joe Gaetjens. A Haitian by birth, Gaetjens played for the USA after coming to the country in 1940 to study accounting. Brazil Brazil Brazil
In the first half, Bahr, the USA midfielder took a shot towards goal. It was sailing harmlessly towards Bert Williams, who dived to the right to save the goal. Suddenly, Gaetjens came out of nowhere and used his head to deflect the ball past the keeper. Although the goal was considered by Gaetjens himself to be a ‘lucky deflection’, it had far-reaching consequences. England refused to accept the defeat. Back home, when the press received the news of the 0-1 defeat, they were sure that there was a misprint. The newspapers the following day carried the headline “10-1”. It was rectified much later as the English press woke up to the defeat after the team returned home.
After returning home as a hero, Gaetjens was embroiled in politics in Haiti. Rumor has it that after his return to Haiti, a rival to the Haitian dictator, Papa Doc arrested him in his very own dry cleaning store. He was taken away to Fort Demanche, dubbed as the “torture and death chamber”. Nothing was heard of him after that. It was as late as six years since the day he was arrested that the Haitian government announced him dead. Although it is widely believed that he was brutally tortured and murdered there, no evidence of that claim remains to this day.Sadly, his body was never found and so was lost USA’s hero from the 1950 World Cup. Brazil