As Brazil prepare to host their second World Cup there is also a feeling that they have a ghost to lay after 64 years. It was 1950 and the competition was coming to a climax . The Brazilian people believed they were about to be crowned world champions for the first time. In the previous three tournaments the home side had triumphed twice, including Uruguay 20 years earlier.
The Brazilian press were convinced. Before the game the São Paulo's Gazeta Esportiva newspaper proclaimed: "Tomorrow we will beat Uruguay!" Rio's O Mundo printed a photo of the Brazilian squad accompanied by the caption "These are the world champions."
This wasn’t a final. Brazil was meeting Uruguay in the last group game. The group winners having played a second group round to decide the winner. Brazil only needed a draw to secure the trophy. Uruguay would have to win, but that wasn’t considered possible. Reports very on just how many people were in the Maracana stadium in Rio that day vary, most are 200,000 or higher.
The first half ended goalless. The second half started in the best possible way for the home team as they took the lead through Friaca. Then in the 66th minute Schiaffino equalised from a cross from the right by Ghiggia. The crowd was stunned, but they still needed just a draw to be champions. Alcides Ghiggia the only surviving player from that game was known as a skillful and speedy winger. He recently described what happened next.
"I took the ball on the right, I dribbled past Bigode [the Brazilian left-back] and entered the box. The goalkeeper [Moacyr Barbosa] thought I was going to cross it, like with the first goal, so he left a gap between himself and the near post. I just had a second so I shot low between the keeper and the post." He continued "There was complete silence. The crowd was frozen still . It was like they weren't even breathing," he recalls. "They couldn't even raise their voices to cheer on Brazil. That was when I realised they weren't going to do it and that we'd won."
The BBC archives state ‘Defeat was too much for the Brazilian officials and they forgot to present the trophy to the winners, leaving Jules Rimet himself to seek out the Uruguayan captain and belatedly do the honours.’
The Brazilians at that time wore white shirts with blue trimmings. These were considered cursed and they were never worn again. Pele, the greatest player of his generation recalls "The first World Cup I remember was in the 1950 when I was 9 or 10 years old. My father was a soccer player, and there was a big party, and when Brazil lost to Uruguay, I saw my father crying."
During the competition he had been described by La Gazzetta dello Sport as "a Leonardo da Vinci, creating works of art with his feet on the immense canvas of the Maracana pitch."
Even the Uruguarians seemed to know the part they were suppose to play in the story. Zizith’s counterpart Obdulio Varela heard their coach Juan Lopez advise them to defend for their lives and try to keep the score down to respectable levels. Varela then stood up and told his team-mates "the coach is a good man but today, he is wrong." He finished his own team talk by saying "Boys, outsiders don't play. Let the show begin."
Barbosa, the Brazilian goalkeeper, never got over the defeat and his career never recovered. He played once more for the national team and he claimed that his team mates shunned him. When he attempted to visit the Brazilian squad ahead of the 1994 World Cup, he was barred from entering. He told reporters at the time "In Brazil, the maximum penalty for a crime is 30 years. I've spent 44 years paying for a crime I didn't even commit." Barbosa passed away in 2000 still with the ingratitude of the Brazilian people."
Ghiggia, the scorer of the winning goal described himself once "sometimes I feel like I am Brazil's ghost. I'm always there in their memories." Although he claims he has never met with any anger from the Brazilian people "They are always very affectionate towards me. Despite all that happened, people in Brazil still recognise me, they still come to talk to me about it. Recently, I was in Bahia for the World Cup draw and everyone treated me well."
Ghiggia feels Barbosa received more than his share of the blame "I spoke to him years after the World Cup. I told him football is 11 against 11. Goalkeepers are always under-appreciated. You can play well the whole match, but you let in a goal and they blame you. My marker didn't stop me, why didn't they blame him?”
As for Ghiggia, he is still a national hero in Uruguay and was the guest of honour recently at a home international to the delight of the crowd. He scored in each of the four matches he played in that World Cup "I remember the happiness that we felt. That's what I remember the most. The satisfaction of beating the whole world." He also remembers that after the game "We looked for the team treasurer but we couldn't find him, so we had a whip round among the players and bought some sandwiches and a beer. Then we went to the dormitory to celebrate." We will hear what happened to Ghiggia next later in the series.
Meanwhile in a little over a month’s time, despite having five titles to their name, Brazil may finally win the trophy on their home soil and maybe have finally laid to rest the ghosts of 1950.
Top image - The winning goal.
See also - Flying Down to Rio, flights two and three.
Thanks - FIFA, BBC, Daily Telegraph, Planet World Cup, ESPN.
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