Uruguay had many heroes the day they stunned the host nation to win the 1950 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ in front of a disbelieving Maracana, among them goalkeeper Roque Gaston Maspoli. Though some of his team-mates took a greater share of the limelight, Maspoli’s contribution to that achievement and to Uruguayan football in general cannot be underestimated.
In paying tribute to the great custodian, FIFA.com looks back at a career that had many other highlights aside from the Maracanazo.
Nacional product, Penarol star
Maspoli was born in Montevideo on 12 October 1917, “the same day that Columbus discovered America”, as he often remarked. Though he was a Penarol-supporting defender as a boy, he learned his football in the youth ranks at Nacional, making his goalkeeping debut in the reserve team at the age of 16. After six seasons with El Bolso and two more with Liverpool of Montevideo, where he made his first division debut, Maspoli moved to Penarol, where he became an idol.
In 1944, three years after his arrival at the club, he won the first of his six Uruguayan league winners’ medals with El Manya. He played his first game for Uruguay the following year, during which he helped Penarol to another league crown, their last until 1949, when he formed part of the fabled team known as La Máquina (The Machine).
Though he started that season on the bench and only came into the side towards the end of the campaign to replace the injured Flavio Pereyra Nattero, his performances alongside the likes of Obdulio Varela, Alcides Ghiggia and Juan Alberto Schiaffino earned him a place as Uruguay’s first-choice goalkeeper at the 1950 FIFA World Cup Brazil.
Though he stood 6'0" tall and weighed 90 kg, his reflexes and anticipation made him a fine shotstopper, although he was sometimes vulnerable in the air. “Even so, whenever I came off my line I always stuck my hand above the forward’s head to stop him jumping properly. The refs never blew up for that,” he later admitted. His vision and his outgoing character were two of his finest qualities, however, as his team-mates and the players that played under him could vouch for.
A crowning achievement
The pinnacle of his career came at Brazil 1950. After thrashing Bolivia in their opening game, the Uruguayans kicked off the final four-team group with a draw against Spain before earning a narrow 3-2 defeat of Sweden, results that left them needing to beat the tournament hosts in the final match to win the Jules Rimet Trophy.
“There were 200,000 people at the Maracana and it was a real inferno,” recalled Maspoli of that fateful July day. “Then they took the lead and nobody thought we had a chance, except us that is.”
Though Maspoli was powerless to prevent Friaca putting from the Brazilians ahead from close range three minutes into the second half, the Uruguayans did not wilt under the pressure. “They couldn’t get the second and as time passed the crowd went quieter and quieter and the Brazilians began to doubt. Schiaffino’s equaliser killed them, but I thought to myself: ‘We won’t have time to beat them’. But then came Ghiggia’s goal and they couldn’t come back from that.”
Although the whole of Brazil blamed goalkeeper Barbosa for the decisive goal, Maspoli always defended his counterpart: “Ghiggia’s shots were hard to stop because he used to put swerve on them. From what I could see, Barbosa came off his line to cut out a cross because there were other players coming up in support. When you consider the way Ghiggia always hit the ball, the goal was more down to his skill than a mistake by the keeper.” Such comments led the Brazilian player and coach Tele Santana to describe Maspoli as a “footballing gentleman”.
Maspoli followed that stunning triumph by winning the league with Penarol in 1951 and again two years later, and it came as no surprise to see him between the posts again at the 1954 World Cup Switzerland. After winning their two group games without conceding a goal, Uruguay downed England 4-2 in the quarter-finals before suffering their first ever World Cup loss in a semi-final against Hungary that many would describe as 'The Game of the Century', the Magyars prevailing 4-2 after extra time. A 3-1 reverse then followed in the match for third place against Austria, leaving Maspoli and Co without a medal.
On his return he won his last league crown with Los Aurinegros, and in the middle of 1955, at the age of 38 and hampered by an expanding waistline, he retired from the game to take over as caretaker coach at Penarol with Obdulio Varela.
Life in the hotseat
In 1964, almost a decade on from that fleeting introduction to the world of coaching, Maspoli took over at his beloved Penarol once more, guiding them to the championship that year and repeating the feat 12 months later. His charges would top those achievements in 1966, when they won the Copa Libertadores and the Intercontinental Cup, beating a Real Madrid side containing the likes of Pirri and Francisco Gento.
“What an amazing person,” said the Paraguayan Juan Vicente, who played libero in that ground-breaking team. “He spoke to you like a father and you could feel the warmth in him. He always kept the dressing room happy.”
Maspoli left the club in 1967, after securing another league title, though he would return on no fewer than five occasions, winning further championships in 1985 and 1986. It was right at the end of that second triumphant campaign, after a goalless play-off final against eternal rivals Nacional, that he served further notice of his gift for leadership, instructing the 18-year-old Gustavo Matosas to take the winning penalty kick in the shootout.
Maspoli did not just win titles in Uruguay, however. His successful coaching career also included championship success in Peru, with Deportes Lima in 1973, and in Ecuador, with Barcelona in 1987.
He also enjoyed two separate spells in charge of Uruguay, the first between 1979 and 1982, and which included victory in the 1981 Mini World Cup held in Montevideo to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the inaugural FIFA World Cup. The competition featured teams of the calibre of Argentina, Brazil, West Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, although disappointment followed when La Celeste failed to reach Spain 1982. As fate would have it, one of the players responsible for Uruguay’s demise in the qualifiers was Peru’s Julio Cesar Uribe, whom Maspoli had refused to promote to the first team when in charge of Sporting Cristal in 1977.
Maspoli’s second stint with the national team came in 1997, when he stepped in for the last five games of the qualifying competition for France 1998, although the seven points his team would collect were not enough to take them to the tournament. After preparing the ground for his successor, former Argentina international Daniel Passarella, he bade farewell to the game for good in the middle of 1998.
On 10 February 2004 he was admitted to hospital after suffering heart problems and died 12 days later. He was 86, having dedicated 64 of those years to the game of football, a game that will always remember him as El gran portero de Uruguay – Uruguay’s Goalkeeping Great.
Did You Know?
Maspoli played in eight FIFA World Cup matches in all: three at Brazil 1950 and five at Switzerland 1954. Uruguay won five of those games, drew one and lost the other two, Maspoli conceding 11 goals in the process (1.375 per game).
As well as being a Penarol fan, Maspoli was also a supporter of Club Atletico Capurro, who merged with Olimpia FC in 1932 to form Club Atletico River Plate. That same year, River took on Penarol in the very first match of Uruguay’s professional era.
Maspoli always rated Schubert Gambetta the best player in the side that beat the hosts in the final match of Brazil 1950, even though he only appeared in the last two games of the competition.
Maspoli began his coaching career in 1955, shortly after hanging up his gloves with Penarol. It was a brief experience, with the keeper taking over at the club on a caretaker basis with Obdulio Varela, the captain of Uruguay’s famous 1950 FIFA World Cup-winning team.
Roque Maspoli stands fifth on the list of Uruguay’s most-capped goalkeepers, with 38 appearances to his name. Topping the list is Rodolfo Rodriguez (78 caps), followed by Fabian Carini (74), Cayetano Saporitti (50) and Fernando Alvez (40).