Following more than a decade of dictatorship, Brazil adopted a new democratic constitution in 1946. It was confirmed that in 1950 the country would host the fourth World Cup, the most significant international event to take place within its borders. Brazil had first expressed its intention to put on the soccer tournament in 1938.
However, World War II forced a twelve-year interruption. As a result, Brazil was the only official candidate interested in hosting the 1950 World Cup, with Europe still recuperating from the conflict.
Big Is Best
When Brazilians blow their own trumpets, they tend to use global superlatives. Size is vital since it chimes with a sense of the country’s enormousness. There is even a word for it – ‘ufanism’ – an excessive arrogance based on the potential of Brazil’s vast resources. Brazil decided to build the largest stadium globally to honor the importance of the 1950 World Cup and demonstrate the magnitude of national aspirations.
The link with nationhood was explicit. Besides being a symbol of Brazil’s sporting ambition, the Maracana stadium also represents the country’s place in the modern world.
The Maracanã was conceived as a man-made monument worthy of a place among Rio de Janeiro’s other landmarks. Rio boasts the Sugar Loaf Mountain, Copacabana Beach, and the Christ statue on Corcovado, a 700m-high granite outcrop adorned by jungle.
The new soccer stadium was as audacious and dramatic – a vast concrete ellipse capable of holding 183,000 spectators, 43,000 more than the largest at the time, Hampden Park in Glasgow, and five times the size of the next stadium in Rio, Vasco’s São Januário. Construction started in 1948.
More than 10,000 laborers worked on the project like Egyptians building a modern-day pyramid in preparation for the 1950 World Cup. Most were economic migrants – men like Isaías Ambrósio – to whom the project was the start of a new life and a new beginning for the country. The Maracanã fostered a soccer-inspired patriotism.
As the building drew close, workers would test the structure by crowding into the stands to cheer imaginary goals. The stadium was finished in record time. Brazil, the so-called country of the future, could have been excused the thought it was almost there.
According to the newspaper A Noite, Brazil has the biggest and most perfect stadium globally, demonstrating its competence in all spheres of life. Our new stage of fantastic proportions will allow us to display our prestige and sporting prowess to the entire world.’ Furthermore, the Maracanã’s location at the heart of the city, near the dividing line between the North and South Zones, emphasized soccer’s importance in the people’s hearts.
It was surrounded by some of Rio’s most traditional neighborhoods, giving it cultural weight by association. The newspaper that campaigned most aggressively for the stadium, Jornal dos Sports, said it gave Brazil a new soul, arousing the sleeping giant within. The link with nationhood was explicit. Brazil’s commitment to sports and its modern position in the world was embodied in the Maracana.
The euphoria of the fans reached its zenith against Spain. After Brazil’s third goal, the crowd started waving white handkerchiefs in the air – an ‘adios’ to the opposition.
1950 World Cup Preparations
Festival preparations were underway in the city. Posters went up in shops. In February, the Post Office released commemorative stamps and a particularly Brazilian tribute: Floats illustrating the 1950 World Cup paraded in the Rio De Janeiro carnival. In addition, Lamartine Babo, a famous composer, wrote the uplifting ‘March of the Brazilian National Team,’ a banner-waving anthem that urged: ‘Let’s cheer with faith in our hearts / Let’s cheer for Brazil to be champions.’
Of the sixteen countries expected for the FIFA World Cup 1950, only thirteen turned up. The Brazilians insisted on a format that had never existed before and would never be used again. There would be no knockout stage. Instead, the winners of four first-round groups would form a final group of four teams. Each second round country would play every other in the group, with the title going to the nation that came first.
Kicking Off The 1950 World Cup
The opening game was on June 24, 1950, at the Maracanã. Flares and fireworks lit the stadium, the military band played, and Brazil continued the party by defeating Mexico 4-0. The host country next opposition was Switzerland. The game was in São Paulo, and Flávio Costa, Brazil’s coach, replaced the midfield with three São Paulo players – a common practice to please local fans.
Unfortunately, it was an embarrassing 2-2 draw and meant that Brazil had to defeat Yugoslavia in Rio De Janeiro to qualify. Helped, perhaps, by the fact that Yugoslavia’s main player, Rajko Mitic, had injured himself on the stairs walking on to the pitch and his head was wrapped in bandages, Brazil won 2-0.
Uruguay, Sweden, and Spain joined Brazil as group-winners. Lots were drawn that established the order of Brazil’s adversaries: Sweden, Spain, and then Uruguay. Strictly speaking, the Uruguay game was not the World Cup final. It was merely both countries’ last game of the final round – even though the results of the previous matches conspired, with unforeseen drama, to make it the decisive match of the championship.
Gazeta Esportiva’s front-page headline on Saturday, July 15 read: ‘We’ll beat Uruguay tomorrow!”’
Brazil’s first two games in the 1950 World Cup earned them an aura of invincibility. Sweden was demolished 7-1 and the Spanish 6-1. Brazil played happy, exciting soccer that left journalists searching for superlatives. A report in Milan’s Gazetta Dello Sport described Zizinho as Leonardo da Vinci ‘creating works of art with his feet in the big canvas of the Maracanã pitch’.
The cumulative euphoria of the Brazilian fans reached its zenith during the game against Spain. After Brazil’s third goal, the crowd started waving white handkerchiefs in the air – an ‘adios’ to the opposition – remembered as one of the most potent images of the tournament. Then, in the second half, fans started shouting ‘olé,’ upon which a group began to sing ‘Bullfights in Madrid,’ a famous carnival march.
The official supporters’ brass band kicked off with the music, and the entire stadium joined in. ‘The spectacle, which one would have supposed to be merely footballistic, transformed into one of the largest demonstrations of collective singing ever known: it was like the chorus of the fans was a counterpoint to the Brazilians’ game,’ wrote Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello in their history of Brazilian music, The Song in Time.
1950 World Cup Final
When they went into the FIFA World Cup final, no one doubted that Brazil would fail to be champions of the world.
On paper, they were the easy favorites. Even though Uruguay had beaten Bolivia 8-0 in the first round, they were struggling in the final group. Uruguay drew 2-2 with Spain and only overcame Sweden 3-2 after scoring two goals in the last fourteen minutes. The results meant that a draw was good enough for Brazil to win the title.
For the final, 173,850 entered with a paid ticket – a soccer world record for a sporting event, even excluding the journalists, officials, and guests who pushed the figure to about 200,000.
Brazil Versus Uruguay
The past form suggested a Brazil victory. Whereas Brazil had played no European national team since 1938, it had faced Uruguay seventeen times in the same period, winning eight, losing five, and drawing four. Two months before the 1950 World Cup final, the teams played three times in Rio De Janeiro.
Uruguay won the first and Brazil won the other two. Brazil’s confidence was so contagious that the victory was predicted and confirmed in the press before the day of the final. Gazeta Esportiva’s front-page headline of Saturday, July 15, was: ‘Tomorrow we will beat Uruguay!’ A picture of the Brazilian players appeared in the early edition of O Mundo with the words: “These are the world champions.”
The build-up to the climax was reflected by the steadily increasing size of the Maracanã crowds. Figures showed the World Cup opening game was attended by 81,649 paying spectators, which grew to 142,429 against Yugoslavia and 152,772 against Spain. For the final 173,850 entered with a paid ticket – a world record for a sporting event, even excluding the journalists, officials, and guests who pushed the actual figure to about 200,000.
Shortly before the match, Rio’s mayor, Angelo Mendes de Moraes raised the stakes further. “You, players, who will by the end of the day be hailed as champions by millions of your compatriots!” he exclaimed with ardor. No one in the entire hemisphere can compete with you! You who will overcome any other competitor! You, whom I already salute as victors!’
Despite the fact that eight of the games were held in the newly built Maracana stadium, the average attendance of nearly 61,000 per game set a record that would not be broken until 1994. Maracana matches excluded, the average attendance was still an impressive 37,500. The Brazilian people really took to staging the World Cup finals.
Who Won The World Cup In 1950
Final Result: Brazil 1 Uruguay 2
Brazil National Team: Moacir Barbosa, Augusto, Juvenal, Bauer, Danilo, Bigode, Friaça, Zizinho, Ademir de Menezes, Jair da Rosa Pinto, Chico.
Uruguay National Team: Roque Máspoli, Matias Gonzalez, Eusebio Tejera, Schubert Gambetta, Obdulio Varela, Victor Rodrigue Andrade, Alcides Gigghia, Julio Pérez, Oscar Míguez, Juan Alberto Schiaffino.
Goals: Friaça 46, Juan Alberto Schiaffino 66, Alcides Gigghia 79.
There are national catastrophes akin to Hiroshima in every country. We had our Hiroshima in 1950 when Uruguay defeated us. – Nelson Rodrigues
The 1950 World Cup final match has been discussed, analyzed, and interpreted so many times by so many people and for so long that it has ceased to be a game of soccer and is instead a weave of mythical narratives.
Before the game against Spain, the Brazilian national team had transferred its base from an out-of-town hotel to São Januário stadium in the middle of the city. The new location was full of visitors, especially politicians campaigning for the October elections. Players remember spending the morning of the game shaking hands and signing autographs. The bus that took the players to the Maracanã had a minor collision. Augusto bumped his forehead.
Uruguay is referred to as the Celeste, the Sky-Blues, the color of their shirts. In Spanish and Portuguese, the word has the double meaning ‘heavenly.’ The suggestion of divinity is invoked to explain how such a small nation squashed in between the giants of Argentina and Brazil – has such a glorious sporting history:
Uruguay won the soccer gold medal in the 1924 and 1928 Olympics and the first World Cup final in 1930. Uruguayans are described as fearless defenders of their legacy, protected by the charisma of their sacred soccer jerseys.
Obdulio Varela, Uruguay’s thirty-three-year-old captain, embodied Uruguay’s courage in 1950. Obdulio, son of a Spaniard and a black woman, commanded the team from the center of the midfield. Celeste was feeling the pressure. Julio Pérez wet himself during the national anthem. ‘I am not ashamed of this,’ he said.
How To Silence A Crowd
The first half was goalless in the 1950 World Cup final match. But in the twenty-eighth minute, something happened that changed the panorama of the game. Obdulio hit Bigode, Brazil’s left half. The punch – denied afterward by both players as being more than a sporting tap – nevertheless entered the game’s folklore, turning the psychological advantage in Uruguay’s favor.
Pope John Paul II, Frank Sinatra, and I are the only three to have silenced the Maracana stadium with just one motion.
If you ask a Brazilian his dream, the answer will probably be to score a goal in a World Cup Final at a packed Maracanã. Only one man has ever achieved this. One minute into the second half, Friaça, receiving from Ademir, ran into the box and shot to Máspoli’s right. GOOOOL, do Brasil!
The comeback started in the sixty-sixth minute. Varela to Gigghia. He dribbled past Bigode. He raced down the right wing and lifted the ball to the mouth of the goal. Juan Alberto Schiaffino intercepted, shot cleanly past Barbosa, and scored. A deathly silence descended on the Maracanã.
Even so, with the scores at 1-1, Brazil was still on course for a Brazilian Football Confederation victory. Until 4.33 p.m., Gighia dribbled past Bigode again and entered the penalty box. Gigghia shot to the near post immediately rather than crossing as he had done for Uruguay’s first goal. The angle was tight. Barbosa didn’t see it coming. He dived to his left, but it wasn’t in time.
Radio Globo’s Luiz Mendes announced automatically and firmly, “GOOOOL do Uruguay.”. He repeated, asking in disbelief: ‘Gol do Uruguay?’ Then, finally, he answered himself: ‘Gol do Uruguay!’ He repeated the exact three words six times, each time with entirely different intonations – in varying degrees of surprise, resignation, and shock.
Everyone in the stadium reacted in silence to Gigghia’s goal. Joáo Máximo, the author of Brazilian sports, observed that the goal, albeit a simple one, had the effect of dividing Brazilian life into two distinct phases: before and after. Newspapers reported that three supporters died of excitement in Uruguay after hearing the unexpected outcome of the improbable win on the radio. At his Rio De Janeiro home, a fifty-eight-year-old man collapsed.
The Fateful Goal
‘When the players needed the Maracanã most, the Maracanã was silent. You can’t entrust yourself to a soccer stadium – that’s the lesson that sunk in after 1950 World Cup,’ wrote the songwriter Chico Buarque.
Film footage exists of the Fateful Goal. The adjective ‘fatídico,’ fateful, has been copyrighted by 1950. In his soccer dictionary, Haroldo Maranháo gives Fateful Final its own entry. The camera is behind the Fateful Posts, slightly to the left. Gigghia approaches. When his left foot steps on the line of the box, a cloud of white dust rises. At first, the camera continues following the ball but later loses it.
Looking for the soccer ball, the camera moves back to the post, presupposing that the Gigghia had not scored, only to go back on itself and find it in the far corner. Barbosa slowly stands up. His posture is heavy, crestfallen.
Uruguay, Italy, England, West Germany, Argentina, and France have all won World Cups in their own countries. Brazil remains the only world champions never to have won as the host country.
To Roberto Muylaert, Barbosa’s biographer, the black-and-white film is Brazil’s Zapruder footage. Gigghia’s left foot and President Kennedy’s assassination share the same drama…the same movement, rhythm, the same inevitable trajectory…They even have clouds of dust – one from a gun, one from Gigghia’s left foot.
“It remains the most famous goal in Brazilian soccer history because none other has transcended its status as a sporting fact.. .converting itself into a historic moment in a nation’s life.” writes Paulo Perdigáo in Anatomy of a Defeat.
The Saddest Day In Brazilian Soccer
Second place in the 1950 World Cup was Brazil’s best result, yet it felt like a failure. The country never countenanced anything but victory.
The loss was unthinkable. On a concrete step, I watched the sun obliquely on the field, listening to the silence of the crowd, a silence that was not even broken by the sobs of collective orphaning,’ grieved the novelist Carlos Heitor Cony.
On July 16, 1950, survivors thought they would never be able to be happy again. What happened on that day deserves a collective memorial, like the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. From these things, nations are built from a people drenched in grief.
Brazilians have a predisposition for colorful melodrama. On this occasion, their histrionics were, if not excusable, at least understandable. In only one World Cup final match – before or since – has a clear favorite played at home lost to an underdog.
Uruguay, Italy, England, West Germany, Argentina, and France have all won FIFA World Cups in their own countries. Brazil remains the only world champion never to have won as hosts.
Other circumstances help explain the intense emotional impact of the result. First, it was before the age of television. Second, almost ten percent of Rio’s population was in the Maracanã. Thirdly, the match was an intimate and exclusive experience.
Finally, there is no better way to upset the most significant number of Brazilians without causing any deaths than by building the largest stadium in the world, filling it to overflowing, and then losing, minutes before the end, to a neighbor that you recently defeated in a sport that is considered to best represent the nation.
As the crowds left the Maracanã, only one act of violence was recorded: the granite bust of mayor Angelo Mendes de Moraes he who ‘saluted the victors‘ – was knocked over.
Rhett is an Australian-born, globe trotter who is a UEFA ‘A’ Licence Soccer Coach. With his family, he has traveled and coached soccer in more than 30 countries, while attending World Cups, European Championships, and some of the biggest local derbies in the world!