1950 FIFA World Cup - Fantastical, extraordinary in Brazil

Tears filled the newly built Maracana, the stadium that was supposed to give Brazil a home World Cup win. It was natural for Brazil to win it on this turf. The players, crying, holding on to each other, lying with their faces buried in the ground, would never play for their country again. Some were to be forced into early retirement by the barrel of abuse that was to come from the supporters who had already produced a celebration song. The newly named Jules Rimet trophy was Uruguay's, and Jules Rimet himself had no idea what he was to do. His speech had been prepared, his speech congratulating Brazil on their home victory, his speech that was written in Portuguese. Uruguay had completed a brilliant comeback and had won their second World Cup, their second World Cup out of just 4 that had taken place, they had beaten the footballing kings.

The Brazilian crave for a World Cup win

The 1950 World Cup was chosen to be held in Brazil due to the recent outburst of support for the sport in the South American country. Despite it being the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery, it was the country that transformed the slaves the most. In the first few decades in the 1900s, the black slaves were seen as the reason for Brazil's failure to develop as a country. However, while one of the most ferocious wars in the history of the World was raging across the World, destroying Western civilization, the Brazilian slaves had transformed themselves into star footballers, destroying other teams with a simply incredible level of skill and control. The football was beautiful and by the 1930's the country was proud of their racial mix as the blacks played some of the most incredible football ever to be seen. Brazil were proud of how football had brought unity across the country. So while most of Europe were in turmoil following a second world war, Brazil was listed as the only candidate to host the 4th World Cup, they were the South American champions after all.

The Brazilians craved to be taken seriously in the World, not only in football terms, but as a country united as a whole. They built the World-famous Maracana as they tried to demonstrate the level they cared about football, how they were the biggest footballing nation, not the English who despite not competing in a World Cup yet assumed they were the World’s best. Brazil's first World Cup is now seen as a horror story.

The event was to be later compared to the then recent atomic bombing of Hiroshima by Brazilian playwright, Nelson Rodrigues;

"Everywhere has its irremediable national catastrophe, something like a Hiroshima, Our catastrophe, our Hiroshima, was the defeat to Uruguay in 1950."

The first World Cup after the war had just 13 teams, one time Yugoslavia kicked off with only 10 men and this World Cup created the World Cup exit, demonstrated by Scotland, India and France in 1950. 88 goals were scored in just 22 games, entertaining people like never before as Brazil and Uruguay ripped teams apart at will.

The 1950 World Cup was extraordinary in the dictionary definition of the adjective; 'very unusual or remarkable'. To the modern day football fan the competition for the Jules Rimet Trophy (as it was named in honour of Jules Rimet's 25th anniversary as FIFA president) in 1950 is simply fantastical, almost alien, but so exotic and enticing that is still engages the modern day football fan. It may be the only story that grandfathers tell that actually makes their grandchildren feel like they want to have lived through the day of no mobile phones or Technicolour televisions.

World Cup absence

On the black & white television sets in 1950, 3 large football nations did not appear. Germany, winner of 3 World Cups, winner of the World Cup that followed the 1950 tournament in Switzerland, were barred due to their condemnable actions in the Second World War. France decided that they would refuse to play in the competition because the organisers in Brazil (In those days the country had the final say, not FIFA) refused to reschedule matches for France that were 3000km away from each other in quick succession. Along with France and Germany, Hungary were missing. In the 1950's, Hungary were in a Golden Era. The Hungarians revolutionised football, with a dynamic quartet consisting of the two strikers, Ferenc Puskas, Sandor Kocsis, the attacking half-back Jozsef Bozsik and the withdrawn striker Nandor Hidegkuti they engrossed fans from across the world with their new exciting style of football. In 1938, they lost 4-2 in the World Cup Final to Italy. They didn't feature in the 1950 World Cup, but afterwards went on an incredible streak, losing just one game from May 1950 to February 1956. That one game was the 1954 World Cup Final, where they lost 3-2 to West Germany despite beating them in the group stage and then leading 2-0 in the Final. The Germans later christened the match 'The Miracle of Bern' because of the incredible comeback that crushed the Golden Team built around the legendary Puskas. With Germany, Hungary and France all not competing, surely that was enough. But no, as well as these three were Japan for their part with Germany in the war, and then quite incredibly, India, the team who had won nothing in its history, qualified. However, the All India Football Federation (India's version of the FA) decided they would not be going to the competition because FIFA had forbidden them from playing barefoot. India's reason wasn't the most controversial story of a pull-out though, Scotland's decision to not accept FIFA's invitation to the World Cup was irregular to say the least....

Scotland's refusal

In the 1920's the British quartet of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland had split from FIFA due to an altercation over the suitability of facing teams whom they had faced in the Great War. Hence, in the trio of World Cups in advance of World War II, no British team featured, they sat at home scoffing scones and sipping tea. FIFA were of course dismayed at this, they wanted the home nations in the biggest competition in the world, so when 1950 came around, FIFA were so desperate to reignite the partnership between the British sides and itself and gave them a tantalising offer. They invited the winner of the British Home Championship to the World Cup, meaning all 4 British teams would avoid qualification rounds. Later, noticing that a few top teams would already be missing from the tournament, they invited the runners up in the British Home Championship. With pride in his mind, secretary of the Scottish Football Association (SFA), George Graham - not to be confused with former Arsenal manager, George Graham, who despite his grand football knowledge was not fit to lead the SFA at the tender age of 6 - declined the kind invitation to the runners up, exclaiming that Scotland would only accept the invitation should they victor over England, Northern Ireland and Wales and win the British Home Championship. The final game of the Home Championship was to be Scotland - England. By the time it came around, England had racked up a 9-2 victory against Ireland (who were a single team in 1950, splitting into two different sides after their game against Wales in the British Home Championship) and a 4-1 victory against Wales. Meanwhile, Scotland had beaten Ireland 8-2 and Wales 2-0. For England, there were no nerves inside Hampden Park on April 15th 1950, they would be going to the World Cup whatever the result. For Scotland, on the contrary, if they were to travel to Brazil, they required a victory. After an even first half and a nervy start to the second half, Chelsea's Roy Bentley powered past Rangers' Woodburn before smashing it into the back of the net, despite Cowan getting a hand to it. As the final whistle blew, the anger was clear to see in the Scots' faces. Billy Wright rushed up to his Scotland counterpart and encouraged him to appeal to George Graham and the SFA to withdraw their previous statement and accept FIFA's invitation. The SFA stood by what they had said and 'kindly' declined FIFA's invitation. FIFA offered Scotland's place to France and others but everyone they offered it to rejected it on various different grounds. To this day, after all the heartbreak of goal difference eliminating them from World Cup's on numerous occasions, it still remains one of the biggest controversies in Scottish football history and the one decision that breaks the Scots' hearts.

The England team arrive for their first World Cup, which they expected to win easily.
The USA team of amateurs who humiliated 'the King of Football'.

England's humiliation

Uruguay beating Brazil their enemy’s back yard is the most famous game on Brazil’s ground, but another famous one, was England’s 10-1 victory over the USA. That’s what the papers thought anyway, when the BBC revealed the score was 0-1 on the news, the public in England assumed it was a fault on the system, that the 1 had disappeared by accident. The papers then re enforced this by printing 10-1 and the English public were delirious. When the BBC later confirmed it had in fact been 1-0, the fans of the team had been greeted by Brazilian press as ‘the Kings of Football’. The English were fully expecting to take the Jules Rimet trophy off of Italy, who had won at the last World Cup, 12 years previously. The USA on the other hand, were a bunch of amateurs, literally. Just like the San Marino team of today, they were postmen and the sorts.

Goalscorer, Joe Gaetjens, is carried off the field in celebration.

England controlled the opening stages of the game, not only controlled but it was the biggest 0-0 thrashing for a long time. They had 6 shots in the first 12 minutes. Harry Keogh who played in the match said: “If you put it in to current day stats, back then, it was 85% or 90% England.” He also said ‘We thought they were the best team in the World, we all did”. But on 37 minutes, Walter Barr’s shot from outside the box scraped the outstretched head of Joe Gaetjen. He didn’t head the ball, it slips off the side of his head, changing direction, over the sprawling keeper. The US team were thinking ‘if we can hold on to half time’. None of them expected the score would finish 1-0. England dominated but US keeper, Frank Borghi, put in the performance of his life and kept them in it. Keogh says the US were even more surprised than the English were. The New York Times assumed it was a hoax, as they said so on their front page. The USA would go on to lose their final game, and not qualify for the World Cup for another 40 years, but they left with a bang.

The misplaced iron girder

‘And Yugoslavia are down to ten men!’ When you hear a piece of commentary like that you usually assume a man has been sent off for dangerous play or something alike. However, when Yugoslavia were down to ten men against Brazil, they hadn’t even begun the match yet. As he departed the dressing room for one of the biggest games in Yugoslavia’s World Cup run, against the hosts Brazil, he was expecting he would have to work his socks off. But, as Rijko Mitic wondered out, hyping himself up, he struck his head on an iron girder, causing a large gash in his head. Emergency! You may think emergency, but the referee certainly didn’t think so, he was adamant that kick-off could not be delayed and Yugoslavia were forced to start with ten men.

Delirious to devastated

5 World Cups, hundreds of magical moments, but one sticks in the minds of Brazil's football crazy population. Brazil's failure to beat their 'meager neighbours' doesn't fail to leave their memory.

When the British introduced the Brazilians to football in 1894, no one could foresee that it would turn into a key part of their culture. No one could foresee that it would become the nation's favourite pastime, not only a pastime but a life, a religion. But it did, and Brazil wanted to demonstrate that the Brazilian way was the best way, a victory would vindicate the Brazilian way, the unique heritage it had. As Brazil get ready to host their second World Cup, Brazilians will not be raring to discuss the nightmare of 1950.

Brazil’s confidence was unbridled despite the difference between Uruguay’s esteemed history and their poor history. Uruguay had triumphed twice in the Olympic games, winning in 1924 and 1928, 2 years later they won in the first ever World Cup. With all this in mind, Brazil had every right to believe the trophy was theirs. Everyone had informed them so. Brazilian newspaper, O Mundo, albeit a second-tier newspaper, was still widely read, featured a picture on its front page of the Seleçao (as the Brazilian national team is known), with the caption, “These are the World Champions”.

As the players walked out, the Mayor of Rio spoke over the loudspeaker, “You, players, who in less than a few hours will be hailed as champions by millions of your compatriots!"

34 years and 4 days after the first Brazil-Uruguay match, Jules Rimet was re-reading his congratulatory speech for Brazil, written in Portuguese, in anticipation of their victory later that day. Jules Rimet hadn’t made a bad bet that the trophy named after himself would be Brazils. They had been sweeping past teams with ease. They had beaten Sweden 7-1 and Spain 6-1 just days earlier. It seemed right that Brazil should win on their own turf, in their own stadium, in front of 200,000 fans that had turned up to the final match of the World Cup, and it was unfathomable that Uruguay would be victorious.

Kick-off was scheduled for 3PM, the stands were full by 11AM. Millions of fans had swarmed the northern areas of Rio De Janeiro, surrounding the Estadio Mario Filho, also known as the Maracana. Long before anyone took to the field, the 200,000 that had been let in, well over the stated 173,000, were having ‘Carnival’. Drums, hand flares, all sorts had been snuck in. The 280 Uruguay fans who had made the short trip to Brazil wouldn’t make a dent in the noise that day according to Roberto Muylaert who attended the game as a 15-year old before writing a biography of Brazil goalkeeper, Barbosa.

After a goalless first half where Uruguay's half-backs, Obdulio Varela and Victor Andrade admirably held off Brazil's potent strike force, Friaca put Brazil in front on the 47th minute. The celebrations, which had begun outside before the game, started to get in full flow. All Brazil needed was a draw and they were leading with less than a half to go, so far they had conceded just 4 goals in 6 games, scoring 21. Now they had their 22 second goal.

Slowly, Uruguay started to get into the game, Varela began making his trademark runs forward, rocketing down the flank like a bullet, working well with the front-man, Juan Schiaffino. On the right-wing, Alcides Ghiggia was producing magic. Just like the stadium, Uruguay weren’t finished, it would take another 14 years for the stadium to be finished, it took Uruguay 19 minutes, Ghiggia ripped Bigode apart, he faked right, faked left, burst straight forward and whipped in a cross to Juan Schiaffino and he put it past the helpless Barbosa. Under varied circumstances, the goal would have been a disaster but if they could hold on for just 24 minutes they would still be World Champions.

13 minutes later, Ghiggia, who was later to be nicknamed El Fantasma (The Ghost) by the Brazilians, was producing magic again, but this time he didn't look for the pass. He slipped past the full-back Bigode and wrong-footed Barbosa before sliding it home. The Maracana was silenced. The majority of 210,000 people, were dead silent. Then the devastation hit, but not fully. 11 minutes later and it had hit fully and the tears were flowing. 22 gold medals engraved with the Brazil players' names were sitting in the stadium, glinting in the light, and the trophy glinting in the light was Uruguay's.

The extent of devastation was demonstrated constantly in different events following the final whistle. One fan committed suicide, while three others suffered and died from heart attacks. Uruguay weren't given an award ceremony as the Brazilian organisers were too distraught to stay on the pitch, and nobody had thought to prepare a speech congratulating Uruguay. Outside the stadium, where two hours ago parties were going on, fans knocked down a statue of Angelo Mendes de Moraes, Mayor of Rio, who was blamed for the premature celebrations. Brazilian coach, Flavio Costa was forced to leave the stadium disguised as a Nanny. Newspapers refused to acknowledge that Brazil had been defeated. Paulo Perdigão, a Brazilian author, once said:

"It continues to be the most famous goal in the history of Brazilian football… because none other transcended its status as sporting fact... converting itself into a historic moment in the life of a nation,"

Anthropologist Roberto DaMatta said the result was a national tragedy, "because it happened collectively and brought a united vision of the loss of a historic opportunity. Because it happened at the beginning of a decade in which Brazil was looking to assert itself as a nation with a great future. The result was a tireless search for explanations of, and blame for, the shameful defeat".

The defeat also affected Brazilian football as a whole, the team did not play another match for 2 years. Furthermore, they didn't play in the Maracana for a further 2 years. The players who featured in that World Cup didn't play for the national side again or went into early retirement. The most notable change, however, was the change from white shirts worn in the match on July 16th 1950, to yellow and green.

The match, which was later nicknamed 'the Marcanazo' - the disaster of the Maracana - is seen as a national tragedy. The Brazilians had wanted victory, not only because of sport, but to show their peers they were to be taken seriously, and the 'Maracanazo' deeply impacted the confidence that the Brazilian people had, had.

"Losing to Uruguay in 1950 not only impacted on Brazilian football. It impacted on the country's self-esteem" said Brazilian Minister of Sport, Aldo Rebelo.

The country was effectively paralysed for the following years.

As well as being in a constant state of shock and disgust, the country moved backwards. Football had been the one thing that unified the nation. When goalkeeper, Moacir Barbosa, became the scapegoat for letting the two goals in, not only was the criticism horrible, it began to be racist. The one thing that had unified the whites and blacks after hundreds of years of racism had caused the country to backtrack.

The only way the Brazilians will ever get over the horror of July 16th 1950, the 'Marcanazo', it to win in July this year, at the Maracana.

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