As James Rodriguez buried the second goal for Colombia there will have been an echoing of exhaling across Brazil from fans of the Selecao. This expression of relief more than joy would have had nothing to do with any solidarity amongst teams wearing yellow shirts. As the Colombians overcame a tepid Uruguay performance, any prospect of a repeat of the darkest day in Brazilian football’s history vanished. Brazil will now face the team fronted by Rodriguez, rather than the ghosts of their haunted past.
It will come as no surprise to anyone that there’s a football museum in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The building houses the glories of Brazilian football, the great players the World Cup triumphs, and one particular dark history.
Hidden away in a darkened room is the tale of the ‘Maracanazo.’ In a country so devoted to the beautiful game there’s a morbid fascination about 1950, the last time Brazil hosted the World Cup and July 16 – the day that Uruguay broke the hearts of a nation.
Enter the room, and the flickering images of an age-old newsreel retell the story of how anticipated joy turned to defeat. As the end arrives, a suitably mournful voice declares with finality: “2-1 Uruguay. The heart of Brazil stops.” Recently, Brazilian legend Pele told an Australian news group that he vividly remembers the day as the first time he had seen his father cry.
Although Brazil will face Colombia at the Estádio Castelão, Fortaleza, rather than at the Maracana, the painful history scorched into the soul of Brazilian football would still have been laid bare had the ‘Celesete’ shirted Uruguayans faced them across the field in a World Cup, as they did 64 years ago.
The first post-war World Cup tournament bore little relation to the modern mega-events of today. Due to Cold War passions, only 13 teams turned up in Brazil and the tournament comprised of a series of league games that culminated in a final mini-league to decide the eventual champions.
As football often has a way of transpiring however, it turned out that the final match was Brazil against Uruguay. Due to the results of previous games, a draw would be sufficient to see Brazil take the crown, while nothing less than a victory would do for Uruguay. The hosts had been in sparkling form throughout the tournament. Indeed, their previous two games alone had seen theSelecao net no less than thirteen goals. A reported crowd of some 200,000 souls, about 10 per cent of Rio de Janeiro’s total population packed the rafters of the new Maracana stadium prepared to anoint the new champions of the world.
Aware of the significance of the potential event, the BBC recently conducted an interview with Alcides Ghiggia, a winger who played for Uruguay on the that fateful day and who will forever be cast as the villain in the minds of Brazilians. Through misty eyes, he recalled how when he walked out for the match, the atmosphere was electric. Brazil had only tiny insignificant Uruguay to face. It was more like a coronation than a contest. “Their supporters were jumping with joy as if they’d already won the World Cup,” Ghiggia recounted.
Victory for the hosts was as much required as it was expected. In the post-war environment, the Brazilian government were committed to using football as the force to unite the country and propel it into the front rank of powers in the new world order.
As the game started Brazil quickly assumed their apparently pre-ordained role and took control, attacking the Uruguayans in a series of flowing movements, as confidence rolled down from the terraces in the vast bowl of a stadium. Play went on and the pattern persisted. Chances came and went as the Selecao poured forwards. Still however the first goal wouldn’t arrive. Half-time came and passed, and then two minutes into the second half, the goal that had been promised for so long, arrived.
Zizinho and Ademmir combined cleverly to create a chance that was neatly despatched by Friaca. The Rio-born player, who had also helped the Brazilians to triumph in the Copa America the year before, would surely have thought that his name would be heralded throughout the country for evermore. The man who had made Brazil world champions would surely be dining out on the moment for a long time to come. Sadly for both Friaca and Brazil as a whole, it was not to be.
Ghiggia recalled how the goal had an unexpected effect on the game. After a rallying call by the Uruguayan captain, the underdogs, now with nothing to lose went onto the offensive. Brazil, after waiting so long for their goal, suddenly had something to protect, and began to look vulnerable. It was a nervous fear that transmitted itself to the crowd, and echoed back to the players.
With less than 25 minutes to play, Ghiggia beat his marker, and crossed for Juan Alberto Schiaffino to notch the equaliser. A draw would still make Brazil champions, but now Uruguay had their own sense of destiny. The vulnerability that Brazil had been showing grew even more; then came the fateful moment.
As the clock ticked towards the 80th minute, Ghiggia cut past Bigode and as Brazilian keeper Barbosa moved across to cover the expected shot to the far post, the winger whipped it inside the near one instead. The Brazilian dream was punctured and the stadium feel deathly quiet. The coronation had suddenly turned into a wake. In his BBC interview, Ghiggia remarked that only three people have silenced the Maracana – “Frank Sinatra, the Pope and me.” Unsurprisingly, he recalls the moment as his greatest goal.
Ten short minutes afterwards, the referee blew for full time. In the words of the hidden voice from the museum, it was “2-1 Uruguay. The heart of Brazil stops.” People openly wept in the stadium and the streets of the carnival city were silenced. The Maracanazo had delivered its blow.
(This All Blue Daze article was originally produced for the ‘offsiderulepodcast’ website.