History invariably remembers the winners. Just occasionally, however, it is the losers rather than the victors who earn their place in the collective memory. There is no finer footballing example of this than Brazil’s stunning 2-1 defeat to Uruguay in the final game of the 1950 FIFA World Cup™.
Though the wholly unexpected win gave the Uruguayans their second world crown, their triumph was completely overshadowed by the profound effect the loss would have on the host nation, a loss they greeted with a deafening and disbelieving silence. FIFA.com tells the story of the deciding game of Brazil 1950, an unexpected and shocking defeat that left a nation too stunned for words.
Though delighted at winning the title for a second time and keeping their unbeaten FIFA World Cup record intact, the victorious Uruguayans felt as if they had accidentally stumbled across a funeral wake, such was the grief and desolation that met the final whistle.
“I have never seen people as sad as the Brazilians were after that defeat. It made you shudder,” recalled Alcides Ghiggia, the scorer of Uruguay’s winning goal that fateful July day. “Only three people have ever silenced 200,000 people at the Maracana with a single gesture: Frank Sinatra, Pope John Paul II, and I.”
A foregone conclusion
It is impossible to understand the significance of a defeat that has since become known the world over as the Maracanazo without looking beyond events on the field of play that day. The disaster is even the subject of a book, “Anatomia de uma Derrota” (Anatomy of a Defeat), written by Paulo Perdigao in 1986, and had such an impact on the country that its self-esteem suffered as a result. Dejected at letting slip a trophy that seemed theirs for the taking, Brazilians began to question their status as a nation of the future and the status of football as the finest expression of its talent and creativity.
The hosts went into the game needing only a draw to come top of the final four-team group and become world champions for the first time. Yet, having already beaten section rivals Sweden 7-1 and Spain 6-1, the Brazilians had nothing but victory on their mind, especially as the Uruguayans had only edged out the Swedes 3-2 and had drawn 2-2 with the Spaniards.
The sense of triumphant expectation was summed up by midfielder Zizinho: “The day before the game I signed more than two thousand autographs with the words ‘Brazil, champions of the world’.” That complacency was later identified by national team coach Flavio Costa as a crucial factor in their demise. “Destiny laughed in our faces. The fans, the press and the officials all thought the Cup was ours, and that’s what did it.”
That belief that all Brazil had to do to win was turn up was one shared by the thousands upon thousands of fans who crammed into the Maracana.
Initially, their confidence seemed well placed. In the opening three minutes of the game Ademir and Jair forced Uruguayan goalkeeper Roque Maspoli into action with a brace of shots, repeating the dominance that A Seleção had enjoyed in their previous five games in the tournament. Nevertheless, the Uruguayans also had their chances in the first half, the best of them coming after 38 minutes when Oscar Miguez’s long-range shot struck the post.
As Maspoli later explained, that close shave probably worked in Uruguay’s favour: “We scored our goals at just the right time. If we’d gone ahead in the first half, Brazil would have had the half-time interval to calm down and change their tactics and ignore the crowd in the second half.”
Even though the home favourites had 17 chances in the opening 45 minutes to their opponents’ six, the first half ended goalless. “It was a tight game and the Uruguayans were playing very defensively,” said Brazil coach Costa. “There was no sign of the counter-attacks they would hit us with in the second half.”
Brazil’s dominance was finally rewarded just 78 seconds after the restart. Receiving a pass from the advancing Zizinho, Ademir crossed for Friaca to head in what 52 million Brazilians believed would be the goal that gave them the title. “The fans had got used to us winning easily and they were convinced that it was the start of another big win,” continued Costa. “That goal should have calmed us down but it had the opposite effect because the crowd started to celebrate.”
The dream turns sour
One man who seemed unmoved by the commotion around him was Celeste captain Obdulio Varela, as team-mate Miguez explained: “For about a minute Obdulio was just shouting at everyone: at the referee, the linesmen, the Brazilians and at us. He was clutching the ball the whole time and when I went to get it off him to restart the game he shouted, ‘Either we win here or die trying'. It was an order.”
And it was one that was promptly obeyed. Twenty minutes after falling behind, the Uruguayans pulled level, Ghiggia getting the better of Bigode in their umpteenth battle of the afternoon and cutting the ball back from the by-line for Juan Schiaffino to prod it home. “There was total silence,” recalled Maspoli. “I knew there and then that the Brazilians were terrified of losing.”
Though a draw was enough for them, the Brazilians continued to attack. It was the only way they knew how to play and had yielded rich rewards for them throughout the tournament. Their fate, however, had already been sealed, as Costa later explained: “It wasn’t the second goal that beat us, but the first.”
That second goal, just 11 minutes from time, came from a now-familiar source, with Ghiggia once again getting the better of Bigode and bearing down on goal. “Schiaffino was running down the middle again and was expecting me to pull it back for him, just like the first goal,” recalled Ghiggia. “Barbosa thought it was going to be a repeat of the previous move too and came off his line to try and cut out the cross. That’s when I saw the chance to shoot straight at goal.”
Setting the seal on a seemingly impossible comeback, Ghiggia squeezed his shot between the post and Barbosa, who would forever be blamed for Brazil’s defeat. “It was my way of taking my place in Brazilian history,” the unfairly maligned custodian said years afterwards.
The day before the game I signed more than two thousand autographs with the words ‘Brazil, champions of the world.’
“The maximum sentence in this country is 30 years,” he added in an interview in 1994, six years before his death. “I’m not a criminal but I’ve already served ten years more than that, and I think I’ve earned the right to rest easy at night.”
As the stunned crowd looked on, Brazil continued to attack. But when English referee George Reader finally brought the game to an end, an inescapable sense of disbelief and sadness took hold of the Maracana. Not even the victorious Uruguayans were immune to the unfolding tragedy.
“I was crying more than the Brazilians,” recalled Schiaffino. “It made me very sad to see them suffering like that. When we were waiting to receive the cup out on the pitch I felt like running off to the dressing rooms. We all felt very emotional.”
Jules Rimet, the FIFA President at the time, devoted part of his book The Wonderful Story of the World Cup to the dramatic denouement. “Just a few minutes from the end, with the score still at 1-1, I left my seat in the president’s box and, with the microphones at the ready, went down to the dressing rooms, the deafening shouts of the crowd ringing in my ears ... I walked towards the pitch and at the end of the tunnel that jubilation had given way to a desolate silence. There was no guard of honour, no national anthem and no ceremony. There I was alone, in the middle of the crowd, being pushed here, there and everywhere, with the Trophy under my arm. I eventually found the Uruguayan captain and, virtually out of sight of everyone, I handed him the Cup.”
That chaotic presentation was the final act not just of a courageous and brilliant victory, but also of a disastrous and eternal defeat, memories of which still impinge on the Brazilian consciousness despite five subsequent world titles and their domination of the global game.
Uruguay 2-1 Brazil
Data: 16 July 1950
Venue: Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Referees: George Reader (ENG); Arthur Ellis (ENG) e George Mitchell (SCO)
Roque Maspoli, Oscar Míguez, Juan Schiaffino, Ruben Moran, Eusebio Tejera, Victor Rodríguez Andrade, Matías Gonzalez, Obdulio Varela, Alcides Ghiggia, Julio Perez, Schubert Gambetta
Head coach: Juan Lopez
Barbosa, Augusto, Juvenal, Bauer, Danilo Alvim, Bigode, Friaca, Zizinho, Ademir, Jair, Chico
Head coach: Flavio Costa
Goals: Friaça 47’, Schiaffino 66’ & Ghiggia 79’