Brazil 1-2 Uruguay (16 July 1950) Maracana, Rio
From its earliest days the organisation of the World Cup was always chaotic. The finals of 1950 in Brazil proved to be no exception. Moving decisively away from the straight knock-out format which has made up the 1934 and 1938 editions, this time there were to be no knock-out games at all. Instead the winners of four groups would meet in a final pool to determine the winner. There wouldn’t even be a final!
The haphazard nature of the format was made worse by the decision of numerous teams not to attend. Scotland had the option to take part but declined, as did France, Czechoslovakia and Turkey. The most notable absentees were Argentina, who still had an array of talent at their disposal, and could hardly blame the distance for their decision to refuse. Felix Loustau, Jose Manuel Moreno and Alfredo Di Stefano would all miss out on the chance to compete at a World Cup thanks to that decision.
Fortunately for South America, hosts Brazil appeared to be able replacements. Argentina had missed the 1949 Copa America due to a player’s strike, and in their absence Brazil had demolished the field. Beating Ecuador 9-1 and Bolivia 10-1 may have seemed simple feats, but a 5-1 destruction of Uruguay boded well. Their only defeat in the tournament came to Paraguay, who achieved a shock 2-1 victory, only for the Selecao to gain revenge three days later with a thumping 7-0 win.
The form of the hosts in the build up to the tournament had been slightly less positive. Mini tournaments were arranged with both Uruguay and Paraguay to prepare for the World Cup, and while Brazil edged both of those series they had not been as comfortable as the Copa America. Uruguay had recorded a 4-3 win over Brazil in Sao Paulo, before suffering two narrow reverses in Rio.
The unquestioned strength of the Brazilian line-up lay with their inside-forward trio of Ademir, Jair and Zizinho. At inside-left was Jair, a converted winger, referred to by the Italian press as un fronzoliere (slingshot man) in recognition of his dangerous shooting. The centre-forward was Ademir, a prolific goalscorer known as “the chin” in recognition of his prominent jawline. The star, unquestionably, was Zizinho. The idol of a young Pele, he epitomised what is today regarded as the Brazilian style of football, with his mazy dribbles and defence splitting throughballs.
Zizinho was injured for the hosts’ opener against Mexico, a game in which the 4-0 scoreline didn’t really do justice to the level of dominance the Selecao enjoyed. With the Maracana not fully finished ‘only’ 80,000 spectators packed in to see Ademir and Jair torment the Mexican defence, this time ably assisted by Baltazar. Mexican goalkeeper, Antonio Carbajal, was appearing in the first of a record five World Cups, but he rarely had a busier day at the office, with his goal under constant siege.
The second group game almost proved to be Brazil’s undoing as they made a series of changes, including leaving out Jair and centre-half Danilo. As a result they only scraped a draw against Switzerland who grabbed a last gasp equaliser from Jacky Fatton to put the hosts’ hopes of progression in doubt. Comprehensive victories over Switzerland and Mexico had put Yugoslavia in pole position, and with only one team progressing from the group, Brazil would need a win if they were to avoid early embarrassment.
Yugoslavia were not a team to be taken lightly. Not only had they impressed in their opening fixtures, they had also finished runners up to Sweden at the 1948 Olympics, and they could boast many of the game’s finest players. Zlatko Cajkovski was a tremendously versatile footballer, primarily a half-back but capable of operating comfortably in almost any position. Meanwhile, up front the Yugoslavs had two of Europe’s most talented forwards in Stjepan Bobek and Bernard Vukas. If Brazil underestimated them as they had the Swiss they had little chance of progression.
This time due respect was shown. Brazil recalled Jair and, though not fully fit, Zizinho was added to the line-up. The changes quickly paid dividends for Flavio Costa’s team as they took the lead after just three minutes through Ademir. Midway through the second half Zizinho settled the match as he picked the ball up from a throw in, beat a static Yugoslav defense and rifled the ball in from the six yard box. According to Eduardo Galeano the goal was an exact replica of one “Mestre Ziza” had scored moments earlier, but which had been erroneously ruled out by the referee.
In the final group stage Brazil began against Olympic champions Sweden, though this was a shadow of the side which had won gold in London. The Swedish FA did not permit the selection of foreign based players, ruling out the inclusion of Gunnar Gren, Gunnar Nordahl and Nils Liedholm (the fabled “GreNoLi” trio) who had moved to Milan. As a result the game was an utterly one-sided affair, with Brazil completing a 7-1 rout. Ademir was at his potent best, scoring four times, while Chico bagged two.
Spain, who had done for England’s hopes, were similarly dispatched with ruthless efficiency. A team with supreme wingers in the shape of Basora and Gainza, an excellent centre-forward in Zarra, and a fine goalkeeper in Ramellets, they lacked the defensive mettle to contain Brazil’s inside-forwards. Contention still exists over whether Ademir scored two, one or none in this game (most sources settling on one), but Spain were 3-0 down at half-time and a full-time score of 6-1 was a fair reflection of the run of play. This time all three of the great trio ended up on the scoresheet, with Chico also recording another brace.
Uruguay’s World Cup journey had been markedly shorter. With only 13 teams in the tournament they had been placed in a group with just one opponent, Boliva, who they demolished 8-0 to progress to the final pool. A 2-2 draw with Spain and 3-2 win over Sweden, meant they now had to beat Brazil if they were to capture a second World Cup crown.
Few locally felt there was much chance of that, but the image of Uruguay as plucky no-hopers battling against the might of Brazil is built squarely on later events. The Celeste were eight time South American champions (compared with Brazil’s three) with a faultless World Cup record. They also possessed arguably the finest inside-forward in the tournament (yes, better even than Zizinho) in Juan Alberto Schiaffino, and the world’s best right-half, Victor Rodriguez Andrade, the nephew of 1930 World Cup winner Jose Leandro Andrade. Uruguay were a team of pedigree, even if their recent results against Brazil were unfavourable.
The match was played in front of a crowd of over 200,000, the largest in history, anxiously expecting a Brazilian victory. The home side had much the better of the early exchanges with Uruguay content to keep the game tight. Defending manfully was Uruguayan skipper, Obdulio Varela, known as “El Negro Jefe” (“the black chief”) because of his command of the game. It was not until early in the second half that the long awaited Brazilian breakthrough came. Ademir and Zizinho combined to release Friaca, and the winger’s shot beat Maspoli in the Argentine goal.
As the stadium erupted one man stayed calm. Obdulio Varela took hold of the ball and refused to restart the game until a cacophony of boos and cat-calls erupted from the home crowd. The atmosphere turned from one of euphoria to one of anger, just as Varela had wanted. Minutes later Ghiggia centred for Schiaffino, and the Uruguayans were level. A draw would still see Brazil crowned as world champions, but the nervousness of the crowd was permeating through to the players. With ten minutes remaining Ghiggia was released and his cool finish past Barbosa gave Uruguay a decisive lead.
The reaction within Brazil was one of national mourning. Some fans were moved to commit suicide, such was the level of disappointment. The spectre of the defeat still hangs over Brazilian football today with question marks remaining over whether the ghosts of the Maracana can be exorcised in 2014. Uruguay meanwhile were World Champions again and the tiny speck on the map had triumphed over their enormous neighbour.