- Ladislao Mazurkiewicz helped Uruguay reach semi-finals in 1970
- Voted the tournament’s top keeper by the media
- He starred against the USSR in the quarter-finals 50 years ago today
Type the name Ladislao Mazurkiewicz into any internet search engine and one moment from his career will immediately leap out.
It is not the athletic catch captured in this image, nor any of the innumerable superb saves that made him one of the foremost goalkeepers of his generation. Instead, you will see videos and articles about the moment when this beloved Uruguayan became the ‘victim’ of Pele’s most outrageous trick. He, after all, was the stranded keeper in the greatest goal that almost was: the legendary ‘Pele runaround’.
“It is always important to remember he didn’t score,” a laughing Mazurkiewicz would later recall. “I did enough to put him off,” he would add with a wink.
The Uruguay legend, who died in 2013, was always gracious when the incident was mentioned, and quick to laud Pele and Brazil’s class of 1970 as “the best team ever”. But given all he achieved in that tournament and throughout a wonderful career, Mazurkiewicz could easily have objected to the prominence it received in the telling of his story.
What is often forgotten is that the media voted him Mexico 1970’s best goalkeeper – and for good reason. Mazurkiewicz, who had starred for his country at the 1966 edition and would go on to impress again in 1974, was outstanding in Uruguay's march to the semi-finals.
Legend had it that, as a child, he would stand in front of a glazed garage door and challenge his friends to attempt to score past him. According to those stories, he never once had to pay for broken a window.
Mazurkiewicz, whose father hailed from Poland, showcased those skills – and that defiance – when Uruguay took on the USSR in the 1970 quarter-finals. The Soviets were a force to be reckoned with throughout that era and had been tipped for big things in Mexico. But they simply could not find a way past La Celeste’s man in black.
That allowed the South Americans, who were without star midfielder Pedro Rocha – injured earlier in the tournament – to snatch the most dramatic of 1-0 victories with a 117th-minute winner from Victor Esparrago. "I was crying, laughing, singing,” Mazurkiewicz said of that famous win. “We played 120 minutes in 35-degree heat, and we had feared beforehand that the European teams would be physically better than us. But that day we were even stronger than the Soviet Union.”
Uruguay were into the last four and their star keeper had conceded just once en route. They even took the lead against Brazil in their semi-final before being overwhelmed by that magical, irresistible Seleção side.
But Mazurkiewicz’s contribution was not forgotten. When a farewell match was staged for Lev Yashin the following year, the Soviet icon invited him to take part. More significantly, Yashin ended the match by handing the Uruguayan his gloves and telling Mazurkiewicz that he was his rightful successor. In that era, no higher compliment to a goalkeeper could be paid.
Did you know?
Mazurkiewicz was one of the players who appeared in the first-ever World Cup sticker album, as displayed at the FIFA Football Museum. Since 1970, Panini have produced one for every edition.