The 1950 World Cup: A Brazilian Tragedy

World Cup 1930 - 1950 : Chapter 2

Words By: Sam Parker
June 7, 2017

From the moment FIFA awarded hosting responsibilities of the 1950 World Cup to Brazil, preparations began on how victory would be celebrated. The formalities of being crowned world champions were just that, a formality, and the games leading up to the final would be the ideal warm up to kick start a golden era of Brazilian football.
Brazil had reached the final of the 1950 World Cup with relative ease, thrashing Sweden and Spain 7-1 and 6-1 respectively. The Samba band stood proudly on the sidelines of the Maracana, ready to play its newest song, aptly named Brasil Os Vencedores – or Brazil the Winners – to the ecstatic crowd. National media had produced the special editions in preparation, healines labeling the 1950 Brazil side as Champions of the World.

The 1950 World Cup was a personal, national priority for Brazilians. For fans, it would serve as an opportunity to showcase and celebrate Brazil. For the government, the intention was unity. Brazil was a troubled country and the government realised this represented a real chance to place Brazil in the international shop window. For a world still coming to terms from the horrific events between 1939 and 1945, the 1950 World Cup was more important than the football on show, it allowed many countries to momentarily escape the harsh reality of rebuilding. As far as the Brazilian public were concerned, other international sides had been invited solely to make up the numbers.

Yet, July 16th, 1950, in front of an estimated 200,000 fans at Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, all feelings of hope, excitement and above all else, expectation, would pretty quickly turn to anguish. All expectations of triumph would turn to tragedy.

The Maracana had been constructed specifically for the 1950 World Cup with a simple objective to build a stadium that would be a testament to the on field achievements and success of the 1950 Brazil side. Despite expected delays, work wouldn’t actually be completed until 1965, the Maracana opened it’s doors a week before the beginning of the tournament to host a friendly between Sao Paulo and Rio. Scaffolding remained dotted around the stadium and remnants of continued building work would be visible for many years to come, yet the Maracana was deemed ready. The Brazilian people had their very own Colosseum, and it was to be Uruguay who were to be publicly slayed for the viewing pleasure of the masses.

Attempting to sum up the sheer scale of the task that awaited Uruguay, winger and goalscorer Alcides Ghiggia quoted “It was a fantastic atmosphere. Their supporters were jumping with joy as if they’d already won the World Cup, everyone was saying they’d thrash us three or four nil. I tried not to look at the crowd and just get on with the match”. Yet despite Ghiggia playing a pivotal role in the tragedy of 1950, the scorn and anger of Brazilians would not focus on the Uruguayan as their scapegoat.

Anticipation as the match began was at fever pitch, an estimated 200,000 fans were in attendance which, at the time,  equated roughly to just under 5% of the entire Brazilian population, and whilst Brazil dominated the first half, the crowd were made to wait until the 47th minute for a Brazilian breakthrough from striker, Friaca.

That goal was confirmation enough for those attending that victory was a formality. The party could begin.

In the 66th minute, Uruguayan winger, Juan Schiaffino equalised. Frustrating for the Brazilians fans, but due to the format of early World Cup competitions, and previous results, a draw would have been enough to crown Brazil champions. This was of course, until Alcides Ghiggia fired his name into the history books and condemned one man to a lifetime of vilification.  In the 79th minute, Ghiggia silenced a nation. His piercing right foot acting as a dagger through the hearts of Brazil. The Maracana was stunned.

The final 11 minutes would not bring an equaliser. The silent, funeral like atmosphere proving little inspiration to the 11 men on the field.

As the final whistle blew, a nation wept. Players cried with grief, stunned, unable to move from the pitch. Tournament organisers, so confident of a Brazilian victory had no preparations in place for a Uruguayan triumph. A sheepish looking FIFA president Jules Rimet ran on to the pitch and hurriedly handed over the trophy to a Uruguayan player. The already made 22 gold medals, meant for Brazil were discarded, never to be seen again, and the already composed song “Brasil Os Vencedores” was never performed.

Bars and restaurants closed. Newspaper headlines were hurriedly edited to capture the mood of the nation. National paper O Mundo Sportivo ran with the headline “Drama, Tragedy and Farce”. Brazilian football legend Pele would refer to the Maracanazo, roughly translated as the Great Maracana Blow, as the first time he ever saw his father cry. A antion mourned. This was a public showing of the power of football, and the overwhelming grief it had caused.
The devastation was for all to see. Yet, Alcides Ghiggia’s winner would serve as a life sentence for Brazilian goalkeeper Moacyr Barbosa.

The footage of the now infamous goal is grainy at best, you see Ghiggia cutting in from the left before firing an inconspicuous shot at Barbosa in Brazil’s goal. It’s hard to pass comment, or claim that Barbosa should have done better, Uruguays first goal was as a result of a Ghiggia cross and it is to be believed that Barbosa was expecting the same. Yet it isn’t hard to describe this one incident as the exact moment that defined Moacyr Barbosa. By failing to stop Ghiggia, Barbosa’s place in history was confirmed.

Ghiggia would go on to say “Only three people have silenced the Maracana….Sinatra, Pope John-Paul II and me”.

He was never forgiven. He played only once more for Brazil despite being labelled, by many watching journalists, as comfortably the best goalkeeper in the tournament. He, along with Brazil’s other black players were made scapegoats and suffered frequent racial abuse. The hope and expectation of the Brazilian government to use this tournament to bring the Brazilian nation together had failed.

In 1993, Barbosa tried to visit Brazil’s training camp, only to be denied entry fearing it would bring the team bad luck. Barbosa, crushed by this, insisted until his dying day that “In Brazil, the most you get for any crime is 30 years. For 50 years I’ve been paying for a crime I did not commit. Even a criminal when he has paid his debt is forgiven. But I have never been forgiven”. He would go on to say “I’m not guilty. There were 11 of us”.

In an ironic twist, after he retired from club football, Barbosa would take a job at the Maracana, and after inviting friends over for a BBQ, he would go on to use the old Maracana goalposts as logs for the fire pit, stating “The steak I cooked that day was the best steak I have ever tasted”.

Sportsmen make mistakes, and fans overreact. Unfortunately the overreaction of the Brazilian fans was Barbosa’s life sentence. Representing his country at the sport he loved would go on to personally destroy him.

In 2000, Moacyr Barbosa died of heart failure, aged 79.

The 1950 World Cup was destined to be a glorious celebration of Brazil. The tragedy of the defeat to Uruguay would take years for the country to recover from. Unfortunately for Moacyr Barbosa, he wouldn’t be granted the same opportunity for forgiveness. His place in history was set.

Moacyr Barbosa: The man who made all of Brazil cry.

Series: World Cup 1930 - 1950

History Of The World Cup | Tactics Explained | 1930-1950 The 1950 World Cup: A Brazilian Tragedy History Of The World Cup | Brazil 1950 World Cup Classic Goals | Alcides Ghiggia
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