This is the fourth in a weekly series of World Cup history lessons brought to you by our very own “Professor” Guy Bailey. He is not actually a professor; the only professor on staff is Jamie Clary. Well, sort of.
The 1950 World Cup
The venue of the 1950 World Cup was, like its predecessors, swamped in controversy from the get-go. After the war had compromised Europe, FIFA again looked to South America to revive the tournament. The 1942 and 1946 competitions had been cancelled and most governments had other, more pressing ways to spend their money than on a sporting tournament, no matter how prestigious.
Brazil came forward in 1946 and offered to host the tournament providing it take place in 1950 to give them adequate time to build the required infrastructure. This was agreed; mainly it was likely that Brazil would have been awarded the 1942 event. In fact, the 1942 bid was dusted off, 42 crossed out, 50 written in, presented to FIFA and quickly accepted. “Default! The sweetest two words in the English Language!” – Homer Simpson
Although they had a host, FIFA now had to drum up some competitors to take part so it was a World Cup, not a glorified South American Championship. Despite recent infractions, Italy was still high on FIFA’s wish list, not withstanding their closeness to the Latin peoples of the New World. After turning down several requests, Italy relented under great inference that FIFA themselves had paid for their travelling expenses.
The British nations finally woke up and reveling in their status as joint World Fighting Champions, decided to send two teams based on the results of the 1949/50 Home Internationals. England won, Scotland came second but would later withdraw as they decided that if they couldn’t be British Champions, being World Champions would be a bit pointless.
Turkey and India both withdrew after securing their places – the Indians refusing to participate in protest at FIFA’s ruling against them playing barefoot. France and Portugal were invited to replace them and France accepted before declining once they realized that they would have to play their two groups matches 3000km apart. They would come if these venues were changed but the Brazilians held fast and the 1950 tournament began with 13 teams.
The tournament was the first to have four first round groups, each with four teams with only the winners progressing to a final group of four – the winners of which would be declared World Champions. Because of the disparity of numbers, one group had only three teams and the last group, Uruguay and Boliva, was reduced to a semi-final match.
The first group saw the hosts through after stumbling to a 2-2 draw against Switzerland whilst Yugoslavia had won their first two matches against the Swiss and Mexicans. Brazil finally overcame the Slavs to reach the semis.
The second group saw England start brightly, beating Chile 2-0 whilst Spain overcame the USA, in their third consecutive appearance 3-1. Spain then beat the Chileans again by 2-0 and on June 29th, 1950, England faced the US for the first and last time in competition for 60 years. The score, I’m sure I don’t need to repeat, was 1-0 to the Americans and was the biggest sensation in World Football History. Joe Gaetjens, a Haitian by birth, did the damage in the 29th minute. The other hero of the day was goalkeeper Frank Borghi who probably felt like Davy Crockett at the Alamo, fending off wave after wave of increasingly desperate attacks. The Yanks, on this day however, held on.
The sensational news was treated as a misprint in England initially and that England had only won 1-0. Many newspapers thought this was a bigger mistake and had won 10-1 or 10-0. By the time the news had filtered through, England had also lost its first ever Home Test match, to the West Indies, so it was a black sporting summer for the home of Football and Cricket. England duly lost their last match to Spain 1-0 and began the long trip home whilst the Spanish went through, the US losing 5-2 to Chile in their last match.
The third group saw Sweden qualify ahead of reigning champions Italy and Paraguay and Uruguay won the group 4 play-off, beating Bolivia 8-0.
The first match of the final group saw Brazil wallop the dangerous Swedes 7-0 whilst Uruguay and Spain could only draw 2-2. Advantage the Hosts. This was nailed home in the second match as the Brazilians beat Spain 6-1. Two matches, two wins, 13 goals for, one against. People barely noticed that Uruguay snuck past Sweden 3-2, two goals coming in the last 15 minutes, the winner barely six minutes from time. Sweden beat Spain 2-1 to secure third and the continent settled down to watch the hosts and favorites entertain their miniscule but dogged neighbors.
Nearly 200,000 crammed into the Maracana in Rio as Englishman George Reader led the teams out on July 16th. The first half was a cagey affair and ended as it begun, 0-0. Two minutes into the second half and the expected breakthrough came as Friaca gave the hosts the lead. More goals were expected to follow but the crowd was stunned into silence when Sciaffino equalized for the Uruguayans. Brazil continued to play football if not push for the winner as a draw would guarantee them the title but the unthinkable happened with 10 minutes to go as Uruguay broke away and Ghiggia scored what proved to be the deathblow. Uruguay being the first team from outside Europe to regain the trophy, now known as the Jules Rimet Trophy after FIFA’s president.
If the England v USA result was a shock to the Europeans, this was a disaster for the Brazilians, who even coined a word for it – Maracanazo or The Maracanã Blow. It would be another 20 years before they would finally lay the ghost of Maracanazo.
Guy Bailey is a senior writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.