History of the World Cup: 1950 – Uruguay shocks Brazil in Rio

Uruguay's Alcides Ghiggia Ghiggia scores against Brazil in the 1950 World Cup final. (AP)

The modern era of the World Cup was born in 1950 as Uruguay reclaimed soccer’s greatest prize for the first time in 20 years after beating Brazil in Rio, sending the country into a state of national mourning.


With Europe still recovering from the aftermath of World War II, FIFA began its search to find a host for the World Cup. The planned tournaments of 1942 and 1946 were both wiped out by the conflict and FIFA, anxious to get the ball rolling again, began to formulate plans for the World Cup’s return in 1949 after the Allies vanquished the Axis Powers.

Most of Europe was still in ruins and soccer’s world governing body found it difficult to find a country that would host the event during a time when all available resources were being put towards reconstruction efforts. Other nations even declined to participate in the competition, and it looked as though the World Cup would not even take place.

Finally, at a FIFA congress on July 25, 1946 in Luxembourg, Brazil offered to host the event, provided the tournament take place in 1950. As the only nation to table a formal bid, Brazil was granted the honour of staging the fourth World Cup.

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In total, 13 nations played in the tournament that sported a unique format. The teams were divided into four pools with the winner of each advancing to a round-robin final. Brazil, Spain, Sweden and Uruguay advanced to the final group where the country that finished on top would be crowned world champion. Technically, the 1950 tournament is the only World Cup not to have a “real” final, but the last match did determine the winner and is usually referred to, although erroneously, as the final.


The final was a showdown between Brazil and Uruguay at Rio’s Maracana stadium on July 16. Having thrashed their previous two opponents by a combined score of 13-2 and buoyed by the home crowd (official attendance figures peg the crowd at 174,000, while some historians say it was over 200,000) at the Maracana, the invincible Brazilians were virtually assured of victory. What’s more, Uruguay tied Spain in its first game of the final round and trailed Brazil by a point. All the Brazilians had to do was earn a draw against Uruguay, and they would win the World Cup.

With the entire soccer-mad country of Brazil against them, Uruguay was pinned back in its half of the field for most of the opening 45 minutes. Two minutes into the second half, Brazil finally picked the lock on Uruguay’s defence. Ademir and Zizinho combined to draw Uruguay out of position and Ademir fed an on-rushing Friaca who blasted the ball past goalkeeper Gaston Maspoli.

But the game turned in the 66th minute when Obdulio Varela rolled the ball to Alcides Ghiggia in the Brazilian half. Ghiggia skipped down the right flank and beat the Brazilian defender Bigode before crossing to an unmarked Juan Schiaffino in the middle. Schiaffino took a few strides before tucking the ball past Brazilian goalkeeper Moacir Barbosa. 1-1.

The Brazilians had the life knocked out of them and Uruguay confidently pressed forward in search of the winner. It came in the 79th minute when Ghiggia played a 1-2 pass with Julio Perez, beat Bigode one more time and scored at the near post. The final whistle blew 11 minutes later as the stunned and silent Maracana crowd broke into tears.


Number of participating teams: 13
Top scorer: Brazil’s Ademir (9 goals)
Number of games: 22
Total goals scored: 88
Average goals per game: 4.00
Highest scoring game: Uruguay’s 8-0 win over Bolivia on July 2
Total attendance: 1,337,000
Average attendance: 60,733


Juan Schiaffino. The legendary forward finished the tournament with five goals, behind only Brazil’s Ademir, who scored nine. Schiaffino scored four times against Bolivia, but his biggest goal came when he netted the equalizer in the final against Brazil as he led Uruguay to its second World Cup title.


Uruguay’s 2-1 victory over Brazil in the “final.” Though the United States’ 1-0 win against England ranks as the biggest upset in World Cup history, Uruguay defied heavy odds and fought back to defeat the heavily-favoured Brazilians in an exciting finale at the Maracana.


To this day, Brazilians bitterly remember the loss to Uruguay and blame one man: goalkeeper Moacir Barbosa. Uruguay’s Alcides Ghiggia caught Barbosa out of position on the winning goal, as he was expecting a cross into the middle of the pitch — not a shot on net. Barbosa quickly became the scapegoat and was considered a “jinx” in Brazil for the remainder of his life before passing away in 2000. He was 79.


The greatest upset in World Cup history took place on June 29th in Belo Horizonte when England, who previously mocked the idea of the World Cup and never doubted that it was the best soccer nation in the world, fell 1-0 to the U.S in the first round. The result was so improbable — the Americans were 500-1 underdogs to win the World Cup — that when word reached back to England, people thought it was a misprint in the newspapers.


Italy, the two-time defending champions, fielded a weakened team due to the Superga air disaster on May 4, 1949. On that day, a plane carrying the great Torino team, winners of four straight Italian league titles and considered one of the best clubs of the first-half century, crashed into the Superga hills near Turin, killing everyone on board. In total, 18 players died, eight of whom were regulars for the Italian national team at the time, including Valentino Mazzola, the legendary forward and one of Italy’s greatest players ever.


Although they were heralded for coming to FIFA’s rescue, the Brazilian soccer federation was hardly sportsmanlike in its organization of the competition. While Brazil played five of its six games in Rio de Janeiro (its humid and muggy climate being a disadvantage for visiting teams), other nations were forced to trudge across the vast expanse of the huge country. France pulled out when they discovered the distances involved they would have to travel: the French were slated to play one game in Porto Alegre and the next 2,000 miles away in Recife.


Several countries withdrew from the World Cup for a variety of reasons. Argentina said “no” because of an ongoing feud with the Brazilian soccer federation. Scotland and Turkey both qualified but later pulled out, the Scots because they finished second to England at the British Home Championship (they vowed only to make the trip to Brazil as British champions). France was offered Turkey’s spot and originally accepted before reneging on their promise once they saw their laborious travel schedule. Austria felt its team was too young, Germany was frozen out by FIFA as a consequence of the war, and Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Russia all opted out for political reasons.


Dr. Ottorino Barassi, the Italian vice-president of FIFA, hid the World Cup trophy in a shoebox under his bed throughout World War II so it would not fall into the hands of the occupying troops.


India qualified for the World Cup but withdrew because FIFA would not allow the team to play barefoot.


• The average attendance of 60,733 per game in Brazil set a new World Cup record that lasted until the 1994 World Cup (68,991) in the U.S.

• Apart from 1958 in Sweden, the 1950 tournament was the only World Cup in which the host nation reached the final and failed to win.

• Joseph Gaetjens, the goal-scoring hero for the U.S. against England, returned to his native Haiti in 1954. A decade later, he was arrested by the country’s secret police and is believed to have been killed — like thousands of other Haitians — by the death squad.

• Uruguay’s Alcide Ghiggia scored in every match (four games) that he appeared in at the 1950 World Cup, including the final. The only other players to do that were Just Fontaine of France in 1958 and Brazil’s Jairzinho in 1970 — they both scored in all six games they played.

• Goalkeeper Antonio Carbajal appeared in his first of five consecutive World Cups for Mexico in 1950. Only two other players have played in five tournaments: German legend Lothar Matthaus (1982-98) and Italy’s Gianluigi Buffon (1998, 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014).

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