It won’t be wrong to say that Brazil and football are synonymous. Football is the most popular sport on the planet and is a passion in most of the countries, yet Brazil stands out. For the Brazilians, it is a religion.
The country has won the World Cup five times, more than any other nation. For them, any other finish is a national disaster.
The 2014 World Cup will kick off in Brazil in less than three weeks. This will be the second time the soccer superpower will be hosting the game’s showpiece event. The first they hosted was in 1950.
That was a much-awaited affair as because of the Second World War the event hadn’t been held in 1942 and 1946.
In the previous three editions, Brazil’s best show was a third position in 1938. All this made them more determined — only the first place would do.
The tournament was played under a new format. In the first phase, the 16 teams were divided in four groups. The winner of each would play in round robin format to determine the winner. This meant there was no single final match — it was the only instance in the World Cup history. Money was the main reason. The Brazilians had invested a lot in building the infrastructure. They desired a good return. Hence, they made the FIFA agree to this format so as to have almost twice the number of matches as compared to the last two World Cups which were played as straight knockout tournaments.
Late withdrawals left only 13 countries in the field.
The four group winners came equally from the two continents who have totally dominated the podium finishes at the World Cup till date. The South Americans, Brazil and Uruguay, were joined by Spain and Sweden. The winner of this four-team group would be crowned the World Champions.
The hosts made their intentions clear in an emphatic manner. The Brazilians dismissed the European challenge with impunity. Sweden were routed 7-1 and Spain were given a 6-1 thrashing.
Their tiny neighbours Uruguay had struggled against the two European sides. La Celeste (The Sky Blue) managed a 2-2 draw against Spain and then came from behind to prevail upon Sweden 3-2 with the winner coming only in the 85th minute.
Hence the last match of the round robin of the 1950 World Cup between Brazil and Uruguay was a virtual final though Brazil only needed a draw to claim the Jules Rimet trophy.
In fact, even before the final match, a Brazilian victory had been taken as a foregone conclusion. A Brazilian newspaper had printed a photo of the team with the caption, “These are the World Champions.”
Millions of Brazilians desired and tried to be in the Maracana, the world’s biggest stadium, purpose — built for the 1950 World Cup itself.
Official figures tell 174,000 spectators as per the stadium’s capacity but more than 200,000 jam-packed to see their country lift the most coveted trophy in the world of sports — the biggest ever crowd for any international match.
Before the kickoff, the mayor of Rio greeted the Brazilian squad over the loudspeaker. “You players, who in less than a few hours, will be hailed as champions by millions of your compatriots. You, who I already salute as victors!”
Even Jules Rimet, the president of FIFA and the founder of the World Cup, had prepared a congratulatory speech for Brazil.
In his jacket, he had a speech in honour of the Brazilian champions, written in Portuguese (Brazil’s national language).
The match started.
The Uruguayans, the winners of the inaugural World Cup in 1930, had a formidable side but the form book made the hosts big favourites.
The first half ended without a goal being scored. Brazil were still virtually ahead as even a draw was sufficient for them.
Within two minutes of the restart, the joy of the whole Brazil knew no bounds as Friaca, after side stepping two defenders, put the hosts ahead.
Now Uruguayans had a wall to climb. But the nation of just two million fought back gallantly against South America’s biggest nation — Brazil’s population at the time was more than 50 million. In the 66th minute, Ghiggia after a wonderful run along the right flank passed to Schiaffino who equalised with a first time drive to the top corner. The party went on hold.
But as the minutes ticked, the crowd came back into life. The match apparently marched towards a draw. Only 11 minutes separated Brazil from being the World Champions. At this moment Ghiggia again blazed down the right channel. Barbosa, the Brazilian goal keeper anticipated him to send in a cross as before and hence didn’t cover his near post. Ghiggia didn’t cross but drilled the ball to the left post to make it 2-1.
Despite waves of Brazilian attacks, it stayed the same and Uruguay were the world champions. The Maracana was silenced. Rimet was so confused that even the official ceremony of the cup could not be executed.
He didn’t make any speech and barely approached the Uruguayan captain, had a brief handshake and gave, almost furtively, the trophy.
An entire nation was in shock. One Brazilian fan committed suicide and three others died of heart attack.
The Brazilian national team determined that their white and blue kit was jinxed, so they changed to the yellow, green, and blue kits they wear now.
Till today, the football mad Brazil hasn’t come out of that grief. The term Maracanazo has become a slang word in the Latin American football culture. It usually refers to the victory of an underdog playing in the Maracana stadium either against the Brazilian national team or against the four popular teams in the city: Flamengo, Fluminese, Vasco da Gama, and Botafoga.
The ‘tragedy’ has been translated into books and movies with titles like “Anatomy of a Defeat”. Novels went to the extent of reimagining the match, even asking ‘What if Borbosa had stopped Ghiggia?’
Brazil has gone on to win the World Cup five times but the 1950 scar is still there. Maracana will host this year’s final. A Brazilian victory on July 13 would perhaps finally heal the wound.