Remembering Brazil’s other World Cup debacle, 66 years later | football | Hindustan Times
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Remembering Brazil’s other World Cup debacle, 66 years later

in the 1950 World Cup, Brazil had steamrollered through the group stages, barring a 2-2 draw against Switzerland, and in the four-team final round beat Sweden 7-1 and Spain 6-1. In the final, however, with home fans watching, they let Uruguay score the winner and win the Cup

football Updated: Jul 16, 2016 20:16 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
The Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, hosted one of the most significant loss in Brazil’s football history.
The Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, hosted one of the most significant loss in Brazil’s football history.(Getty Images)

Guess what Moacyr Barbosa did to the goalposts between which, on July 16, 1950, his life changed in one fell swoop? Vilified as the man who made Brazil cry for letting slip at the near post Alcides Ghiggia’s shot that gave Uruguay a 2-1 win and the World Cup must have felt like being burnt at the stake so it fits that the goalie used them as fuel for barbeque fire. “The steak I cooked that day was the best ever steak I tasted,” he is quoted as saying by Layth Yousif in ‘The Tormented Soul of Moacry Barbosa.’

No one could predict that in the next 52 years, Brazil would win five World Cup titles and keep the Jules Rimet Trophy but nothing softened the blow for the goalie who is said to be the predecessor of the sweeper-keeper and had helped Brazil win the 1949 Copa America. It may be a coincidence but the next time a black goalie played for Brazil in the World Cup was in 2006 when Dida became the first choice. 

Then Brazil assistant-coach Mario Zagallo had barred Barbosa from visiting the team ahead of the 1994 World Cup. “Under Brazilian law, the maximum sentence is 30 years. But my imprisonment has been 50 years,” said Barbosa not long before his death in 2000. 

‘Our Hiroshima’ 

It simply didn’t matter that no Brazil team had come this far before. The Brazilian playwright, journalist and novelist described ‘Maracanazo’ as “our catastrophe, our Hiroshima,” according to Jonathan Wilson in ‘Inverting The Pyramid’. Wilson also quotes Pablo Peridigao as saying in his ‘Anatomy of a Defeat’ that it was “the Waterloo of the tropics…it is a fabulous myth that has been preserved and even grown in the public imagination.” 

Brazil had steamrollered through the group stages barring a 2-2 draw against Switzerland and in the four-team final round beat Sweden 7-1 and Spain 6-1. Uruguay had labored to a 2-2 draw against Spain, skipper and central midfielder Obdulio Varela netting a late equaliser and had twice come from behind to beat Sweden. 

So, it seemed all Brazil had to do was fetch up at the Maracana which that day may have held over 200,000 people. So intimidating was the atmosphere, Wilson wrote, that Uruguay’s Julio Perez wet himself during the anthems. 

 “My mother was five when, foisted on my grandfather’s shoulder, she went to the Maracana that afternoon (a Sunday). My grandfather slipped and my mother was hurt. So she was inside an ambulance with her sister during the game while my grandfather watched it from the stands,” said Raul Antonio Mattoso Augusto, one of the directors of the Augusto’s Paysandu Hotel in Flamengo, Rio de Janeiro. It was the hotel where Uruguay had stayed before the final and partied after it but more of that later. 

In what turned out to be a colossal case of misjudgment, the newspaper O Mundo had carried a picture of the team headlined ‘These are the world champions’. Going with the mood, the state governor Angelo Mendes de Moraes called the team conquerors. Before kick-off, the Brazilian players were also given gold watches. A samba too had been created to mark the impending victory. 

Yes, Brazil had 17 shots on goal in the first half but --- this is important—Uruguay had kept the score 0-0 at half-time. And it was Uruguay who had come closest to scoring in the first half by hitting the post once. 

Varela anyway was said to be more than displeased by such a show of confidence. Yes, they had lost 1-5 to Brazil in the 1949 Copa but this would be different. Between the Copa clash and this, Uruguay had met Brazil thrice and won once. In inside forward Juan Alberto Schiaffino, winger Ghiggia and Varela, Uruguay had three world class players. Pride pricked Varela got copies of ‘O Mundo’ and got teammates to pee on them, according to one story. 

Brazil coach Flavio Costa, it seemed, was the only one who was concerned. “The Uruguayan team has always disturbed the slumber of Brazilian footballers. I am afraid my players will take to the field on Sunday as though they already had the championship shield sown on their jerseys,” he is quoted as saying by Wilson. 

Barbosa, according to his teammate at Vasco Carlos Alberto Cavalhiero had changed the way Brazilian goalies played. Not bad going for someone who wanted to be a centre-forward but agreed to his brother-in-law’s plea to stand fill in for the first-choice goalie who hadn’t turned up for a match. Till Barbosa, shot-stoppers in Brazil would stay inside the six-yard box. “…he dominated the whole area…He was a trailblazer,” said Cavalhiero. 

Trailblazer turns villain 

But Barbosa was helpless when Schiaffino neutralised Friaca’s goal in the 66th minute. Brazil had scored in the 47th minute and needing only a draw to win the World Cup, almost felt the trophy was theirs. Ghiggia had wrong-footed Bigode on the left side of Brazil’s defence earlier but this time he crossed to Schiaffino who beat centre-back Juvenal and bulged the roof of the net. 

Brazil still had hope but it was Uruguay who were growing in confidence. And just like they did in the Copa the year before when they had lost 1-2 to Paraguay forcing a re-match, it seemed Brazil were choking. In the 79th minute, Perez intercepted a Danilo pass and set a move going that would go down in the annals of football history. The ball again reached Ghiggia and by now, Bigode was struggling to cope with him. Perhaps remembering that Ghiggia had crossed for the first goal --- Schiaffino was there this time too – Barbosa had moved slightly towards him. And couldn’t get down in time to stop the shot at the near post. 

Bigode too was black as was Juvenal and three were apportioned most of the blame. It didn’t matter that the formation Brazil used left too much space between Danilo in midfield and Bigode the left back. Space that Ghiggia exploited. Subsequently, Brazil changed from three defenders and three attackers to 4-2-4 but rather than blame the formation, it was easier to find fault with the players. 

“Only three people have, with just one motion, silenced the Maracana: Frank Sinatra, Pope John Paul 2 and me,” is how Ghiggia would later describe the moment. 

When HT visited Brazil for the 2014 World Cup, Usma Soares was an employee at the Paysandu hotel from the time of the ‘Maracanazo’. “I remember Soares telling me…that that they left the restaurant in a mess after dinner, throwing food everywhere and looking delightfully drunk on copious amounts of champagne,” said Augusto. Before that Varela and mates would roam around the neighbourhood unnoticed, said Agusto. Ghiggia was described by Soares to Agusto as a prankster while Varela was the strong, silent type, said 

“They had planned to stay near Estadio Sao Januaro (now Vasco’s home ground and Rio’s biggest stadium before the Maracana) but didn’t like the hotel there,” said Agusto. Uruguay occupied the sixth and seventh floors of the hotel but Ghiggia stayed in room 303. In one of the bay windows in the lobby they displayed the World Cup trophy. There is a framed wall-hanging by the art deco doorway: a photograph with captions in English, Spanish and Portuguese as the only obvious evidence of the part the hotel played in football history that turned 66 on Saturday.