THE 1950 WORLD CUP
a.k.a. What I Was Talking About Yesterday; a.k.a. Why I Always Chuckle to Myself When I Hear People From New Zealand Say “You Don’t Know What It Was Like Before We Won!”; a.k.a. What Happened the Last Time Brazil Hosted the World Cup; a.k.a. Maracanazo; a.k.a. Maracanaço; a.k.a. The Biggest Upset in Sports History; a.k.a. The Biggest Trauma In Brazilian History; a.k.a. What The Fuck Happened?; a.k.a. NOOOOOOOOOO!!! *gross sobbing*
After a lot of thinking, much meditating, and a full day of watching the highlights and celebration parties of the 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002 World Cups, I think I’m finally strong enough to write this. There might be emotional meltdowns during the composition. Just bear with me.
First, some historical background
In 1950, football was already the biggest sport in Brazil. The national team was admired throughout the world, presenting a fast-paced, light, highly skilled and innovative style of play that led many to say we were one of the best, if not the best, team in the world.
The coveted cup, however, was proving elusive. (Does this remind you of another team, in another sport?) That was something the 1950 team was hoping to change.
Winners of the 1949 South American Championship, with a whopping 7-0 victory over Paraguay, those boys had every right to feel confident.
Singularities of the competition
The 1950 World Cup was different from its previous and future editions for many reasons:
- It was the first World Cup since 1938; the 1942 and 1946 championships were cancelled because of the WWII (this meant many European countries had some difficulties to participate, since they were still rebuilding after the war);
- Brazil was hosting (that makes it special to me, OK?);
- The Brits were coming! (after a self-imposed exile from FIFA, the Home Nations accepted an invitation to take part in the championship, being immediately lauded as favourites and claiming they would show the world how football was supposed to be played *snigger*);
- It was the first time players used numbers on the backs of their jerseys (which made identification much easier. I mention it because I thought it was interesting);
- It had a different format (elaboration to follow).
The format of the competition was often used as an excuse for Brazil’s inability to achieve the ultimate prize. Because of the knock-out stages, all it took was bad luck in one game to undo all their efforts. Brazil then proposed a different format: four groups, which would play the group stage normally. The best team of each group would qualify for the next round, forming a new group. These four teams would play against each other, gaining 2 points per victory, 1 point per tie and no points for defeat. The champion would be the team with the most points.
This format had the added advantage of more games being played, guaranteeing more revenue.
In Brazil, people were euphoric. We are always very enthusiastic on the lead up to any World Cup, but this one was special. We were sure we would win. Our team was strong, the other teams were weak. Italy, who would have been the biggest threat and who, if they won, would keep the Jules Rimet Cup in their possession, sent a symbolic team. (Most of their players had died in the Superga air disaster. Very sad, and we felt very bad about it. Still, better for us.)
There were many promotions, and nobody talked about anything else. There was still no television coverage, and the chance of watching the games at the stadium, or even just having them happen right next to us, was very exciting. We built the (then) BIGGEST MOTHERFUCKING STADIUM IN THE WORLD, Maracanã, with a nominal capacity of (then) 150,000 people, just for it.
Both England and Scotland qualified, but Scotland withdrew after finishing second in the British Home Championship. England arrived here as a favourite for the title, along with Brazil. Argentina, Ecuador and Peru also withdrew, so Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia and Paraguay qualified by default. France, India, Turkey, Belgium… Many teams ended up withdrawing, some after qualifying, which resulted in one group having only 3 and another having only 2 teams.
The first phase
Don’t worry - I would like to, but I will control myself and abstain from commenting each one of the games. Instead, I will just list the groups and which team qualified for the final round in each one.
Group one: Brazil, Yugoslavia, Switzerland and Mexico (Brazil qualified).
Group two: Spain, England, Chile, and USA (Spain qualified).
Group three: Sweden, Italy and Paraguay (Sweden qualified).
Group four: Uruguay and Bolivia (Uruguay qualified).
One thing worth mentioning at this point is that England, despite all the fuss, proved to be nothing special. They even lost 1-0 to USA, which was a semi-professional team composed of farmers and schoolteachers. (In case you’re wondering, yes, I am mentioning this to try and shift the focus slightly away from Brazil. As you can see, ours wasn’t the only upset in this competition. It was a very upsetting occasion.)
The final phase
A Brazilian show, pure and simple. Brazil crushed Sweden and Spain, 7-1 and 6-1 respectively. Uruguay, on the other hand, tied with Spain 2-2 and only barely managed to beat Sweden 3-2 in an intensely disputed game.
With this experimental format, there wasn’t supposed to be a “Final”. But, since Sweden beat Spain 3-1, Brazil and Uruguay were the only teams with a chance to win the title, which meant that, coincidentally, the last game, Brazil vs. Uruguay, on the 16th of July, would decide who would be the great winner.
The final game
At this point, I thought really hard about giving up. Just hitting “Cancel”, and pretending I never mentioned this. But no. I shall persevere.
The press and the supporters had already decided Brazil was champion. There was just NO WAY Uruguay could beat us. And we didn’t even need to win: a tie would still give us the title. Many newspapers in Brazil and other countries were already reporting our win, even before the game was played.
The only problem was, we forgot to tell the Uruguayans we had already won.
Obdulio Varela, the Uruguayan captain at the time, was forever remembered as instrumental in this game. Their coach had suggested a defensive style of play, to counteract the powerful Brazilian attack. Obdulio disagreed, saying that would lead them down the same path as Sweden and Spain. After the coach left, he gave an emotional speech that many claimed was what fueled his players.
The Maracanã stadium was filled to over-capacity: an estimate of 200,000 people, almost all of them supporting Brazil. Despite the home team’s best efforts, the first half remained scoreless. The second half started with a Brazilian goal, to the delight of the supporting crowd. Fearing the effect all the noise would have on his players, Obdulio contested the shot, claiming a fictional offside and intentionally wasting time to let the crowd spend their enthusiasm. When the game restarted, the crowd had cooled off, the Brazilian players were getting anxious and the Uruguayans were ready for battle.
Two Uruguayan goals later, the whistle went off, ending the game and crushing Brazilian dreams.
The “macacos” (monkeys) are the Brazilian team; many international teams and supporters called us that because of the great number of black players we have always had in our squad. Not very nice, I know. I think it’s disgusting too.
SHOCK. PAIN. Wailing and gnashing of teeth. A country-wide case of depression.
We were so sure we were going to win, the CBF, governing body of Brazilian football, had made 22 gold medals to give to the players (FIFA didn’t use to give medals then). Jules Rimet, president of FIFA, had prepared a speech in Portuguese and hadn’t even bothered to write one in Spanish. The presentation ceremony, to give the cup to the winning team, had all been planned around the Brazilian team, and was simply cancelled, since the entire presentation committee left. Rimet had to awkwardly call out to Obdulio in the field and give him the trophy.
The kits Brazil had wore up until then had been white with blue collars. That was considered a jinx, and summarily abandoned. The now traditional and worldwide known yellow jersey with green shorts was the kit chosen to replace it.
The group format was also abandoned, never to be picked up again.
It’s been more than 60 years, and, even with the much happier history that came afterwards, we still haven’t fully recovered. There were many people hoping Uruguay wouldn’t qualify for 2014. And every time we play against them, you can be sure 1950 will be in our minds.
This is actually a beautiful story of overcoming difficulties, with an underdog beating a strong team against all odds. I’m sure we would love it, if only it hadn’t happened against us.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna cry over a bucket of ice cream.