Uruguayan legend Alcides Ghiggia is a living piece of history. Now a sprightly 83-year-old, he will always be remembered for scoring the goal that sank the host nation in the final match of the Final Round at the 1950 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, a game that has gone down in football annals as El Maracanazo.
Sixty years on from that epoch-defining strike, the former Charrúa forward spoke exclusively to FIFA.com in South Africa, having journeyed across the Atlantic Ocean to take receipt of the prestigious FIFA Order of Merit.
After posing happily for photos with the Uruguay squad, the venerable Sr Ghiggia shared his views with us on South Africa 2010, La Celeste’s chances of success in the knockout rounds and his memories of that decisive match in 1950.
FIFA.com: Sr Ghiggia, congratulations first of all for your award. How do you feel about it?
Alcides Ghiggia: It means a lot to me, an awful lot, and I didn’t expect it at all. I don’t think too many people have received the Order of Merit and it took me by surprise. To receive a medal and a trophy at my age is very exciting and it’s hard to put into words. It’s the best form of recognition I could have and I feel complete now. It’s like I’ve come full circle.
Have you had time to watch some football on your visit here?
I’ve watched almost every game and I have to say I don’t think there is any team that really stands out from the rest. It’s all very evenly balanced with less goals than expected. There has been a big emphasis on defending and that’s why we’re seeing a strange World Cup. Strange: that’s the word I’d use to describe it.
What do you think of Uruguay’s performances so far?
What can you say? They are doing so well. They played a great game against former world champions France and earned a very good draw to start off with. Then they comfortably beat South Africa in an excellent performance and went out and did it again against Mexico. They couldn’t have done any better.
When the (Uruguay) team find themselves in a tough situation and when everything’s against them, their spirit seems to shine through. That’s what we call ‘la garra charrúa’...
That victory over South Africa seemed to provide yet more proof that Uruguay play far better away from home. Is that the way you see it?
Yes, I think that’s right. It seems to be part of the Uruguayan player’s make-up. When the team find themselves in a tough situation and when everything’s against them, their spirit seems to shine through. That’s what we call ‘la garra charrúa’ and it really comes to the fore when the going gets tough.
We just saw all the Uruguay team taking photos with you. Which of the players has surprised you the most on the pitch?
I don’t know. It’s difficult to single one out. They’ve all had a great group phase. [Diego] Forlan and [Luis] Suarez are the ones who’ve scored the goals but there’s a great midfield and a solid defence behind them. Nobody will find it easy to get past Uruguay, let me assure you of that.
Oscar Tabarez has already coached Uruguay at the FIFA World Cup™ finals. How important a role do you think he has played?
A very important one. Tabarez knows what this is all about and he couldn’t be doing a better job of running the team. I think the experience he gained back then is coming in very useful. I’ve spoken to him a lot about tactics, systems and the game in general, and I can tell you that football has really changed over the years. The players hardly have time to think, there’s a lot of pressure on them and they have to make decisions a second before they even receive the ball. There’s so much more marking too.
So just how far can Uruguay go then?
Only time will tell but I think they will go far. From what I’ve seen so far, and I have no idea how the next few games will go, there aren’t many teams who have shown their full potential yet. I think they’ll do so from now on but I still believe that Uruguay will have plenty to say as well.
The legendary Alcides Ghiggia tells his favourite Brazil 1950 stories and recalls Uruguay’s shock win over Brazil at the Maracana stadium in an extensive and exclusive interview that will soon be online in the World Champions section.