By Inayat Ramdas
Brazil. Beaches. Samba. Carnival. Futbol.
The South American country is host to the World Cup for the second time in 64 years since 1950. And it has a lot on stake this time around.
While Spain may be the reigning champion, Brazil remains the one to beat.
Although Brazil is a football loving country, the World Cup in the past two years, has faced a lot of dissent from the locals who have been protesting against rising inflation, corruption, failed economic policies and unemployment.
And just like this year will be remembered by the Brazilians for reasons much controversial, so is 1950.
The year that Brazil saw its singular most devastating loss that haunts Brazilians to this very day.
Brazil is known to have won the most number of World Cup titles (in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002), more than any other nation. A team known for churning out star players like Pelé, Didi, Carlos Alberto Torres, Ronaldinho and Kaká over the decades. But they are still haunted by a single loss, that of 1950 when the World Cup was played on home ground.
1950 was a special year for football. The World Cup which began in 1930, was being held for just the fourth time, after being cancelled post 1938 due to World War II. And since most of the world was still reeling under the effects of the War, Brazil easily won the bid to host the event. Rio de Janeiro’s Estádio do Maracanã or the Maracanã stadium, where the Opening Ceremony was held a few days ago, was the biggest stadium in the world back then.
But problems soon set in for the host country, with rumours that construction work at the stadiums remained pending; many teams backed out, citing heavy expenses. Brazil was accused of receiving monetary gains when they managed to do away with the standard single elimination stage. The format which replaced the single-elimination stage involved teams to be divided into groups of four with the group winners advancing to the finals, where each would play against all the other three. This format featured thirty games instead of the earlier sixteen which in turn meant a lot more revenue for the host country.
It also meant that Brazil would come to regret this decision.
That year Uruguay, then considered to be an underdog (although the South American country won the inaugural 1930 FIFA World Cup), made its first World Cup appearance since 1930. beat Bolivia 8-0 in the group stage from where it went on to tie against Spain (2-2) and win by just one goal over Sweden (3-2). Brazil meanwhile sailed through the tournaments, beating every team that came its way. Both the countries were now pitted against each other in the final round.
People were jubilant. Many were even confident of Brazil winning that newspapers had begun heralding the win before the match had even started.
And on July 16th, 1950 their fate was about to be sealed. Excited crowds had gathered to watch the two countries play the finals at the Maracanã stadium that day. A sizeable number, cheering for the host country, whose victory they could almost taste.
Initially, all was going as expected; Brazil scored a goal during the 47th minute. In the 66th minute Uruguay scored a goal but that did not worry the Brazilians who could do with just a tie to win the championship.
But the 79th minute changed the entire game around when Uruguayan midfielder, Alcides Ghiggia kicked the ball past the Brazilian goalkeeper, Moacir Barbosa who was known to be one the best of his kind, often playing with his bare hands to get a feel of the ball.
Uruguay had won. Brazil was left shocked.
This defeat came to be known as Maracanazo, or “the Maracana blow”.
It made a tremendous impact on die-hard Brazil fans. Reports claim that after the match, one fan committed suicide and three others died of heart attacks.
In fact everyone was left so dumbfounded that the FIFA even presented the trophy to Uruguay without a ceremony since no one had dreamed that they would win.
The Brazilian team did not participate in matches for two years after that fateful day. They even adopted yellow and green jerseys, discarding their white ones, the ones they had worn during that match.
But it was the goalkeeper Barbosa who suffered the most. Brazilians accused him endlessly of being responsible for the defeat. Humiliated and hated, he receded into darkness until his death in 2000. Barbosa had become a part of the Brazilian folklore. And just before his death he said in an interview, “The maximum punishment in Brazil is 30 years imprisonment, but I have been paying, for something I am not even responsible for, by now, for 50 years.”
Brazilians to this day mourn the Maracanazo; each generation is brought up with the tale of Brazil’s loss.
And this summer presents an opportunity for the Brazilians to redeem themselves from this painful memory as they play, once again, in the Estádio do Maracanã. It is not a distant dream for the hosts who won the FIFA Confederations Cup at the Maracanã in 2013, becoming a favourite team once again. And with strong and favourite players like Neymar Jr. who has made a total of five goals in the three matches the country has played in this World Cup, Brazil has a strong chance of winning.
For a nation that has made football its religion, Brazil has their work cut out for them. But the goal is not unattainable.
Inayat is a journalist and a photographer based in New Delhi. She is a History graduate from St. Stephen’s College, New Delhi.She interned at the Times of India, briefly. Inayat loves writing on travel, culture and human interest issues. When not working, she can be found with a book on the sofa. Feel free to email her at [email protected] and tweet to her on Twitter @inayatramdas.