In the centre of Rio de Janeiro, the then capital of Brazil, the Conference Hall of Itamaraty Palace was the venue chosen for the delegations from 14 countries to attend the draw for the group stage of the fourth FIFA World Cup™.
On the afternoon of 22 May 1950, a significant proportion of a planet that was still nursing the wounds left by the Second World War turned its attentions to the silver globe that contained 12 numbered balls. Each one represented one of the teams involved in the draw. Some had come through qualification rounds, like the European, Asian and Central American nations, while others had been invited, as was the case of the South American countries.
Brazil, England, Italy and Uruguay had been nominated as seeds by the Brazilian Sports Confederation, and confirmed by FIFA’s Organising Committee, and as such would not be among the balls that would be drawn. The seeds would be placed in four different groups, which when the tournament kicked off were comprised as follows: two contained four teams, one three and a fourth group with just two teams.
The balls were numbered as follows: (1) Bolivia; (2) Chile, (3) Spain; (4) United States of America; (5) France (6) India; (7) Yugoslavia; (8) Mexico; (9) Paraguay; (10) Sweden; (11) Switzerland and (12) a team to be defined.
The 12th team vacancy was caused by the fact that Turkey, who had successfully negotiated European qualification, had dropped out of the World Cup. Portugal were invited to take their place, but also dropped out of the competition.
As well as diplomatic representatives of 14 teams – the Bolivians did not attend the draw – journalists, photographers and radio reporters were also present in the Itamaraty hall. They were all anxious to report on the fate of their teams and spoke loudly in several languages, making for a wonderfully bizarre confusion.
Silence fell when the Brazilian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Raul Fernandes, pulled the lever of the draw globe, and the first ball rolled out.
“Number seven” was shouted out loud, and the first opponents of Brazil, the seeded team in Group 1, were known. It was Yugoslavia.
Shortly afterwards, the next announcement from the minister: “Number three for Group 2.” It was Spain, who had been drawn in England’s group.
The balls continued to be taken out of the main globe until the draw was complete:
Group 1: Brazil, Yugoslavia, Mexico and Switzerland
Group 2: England, Spain, USA and Chile
Group 3: Italy, Sweden, Paraguay and India
Group 4: Uruguay, France, Bolivia and a team to be defined.
That was the result of the first group draw for a FIFA World Cup held in Brazil, which would begin one month and two days later.
The groups would subsequently be modified. After Turkey and Portugal had both dropped out, India followed suit. Their players refused to take part in the tournament because they were forbidden from playing barefoot. France also dropped out in protest of an itinerary that would have involved a journey of 3,500km between one match and the next one.