World Cup football resumed after a forced break of 12 years. The host was Brazil & many fancied them
as favorites to keep the trophy. But Uruguay shocked a record crowd at the Maracana in the decisive
match in which the Samba boys only needed a draw. Let us have a look at what actually happened in
‘the Maracanazo’.
Brazil had prepared the magnificent 200,000-capacity Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro for the event
but the magnitude of the stadium was matched by that of the disappointment in the final. This World
Cup had an unique format. Teams were divided into four groups and the group winners went through to
a final pool, with the pool winner taking the title without playing an actual final. But it so happened that
the last match of the world cup did end up proving decisive. The host nation had thrashed Sweden 7-1
and Spain 6-1 in early matches but stumbled in the decider – a match they needed only to draw against
Uruguay to win the title. Before a world record crowd at the Maracana, Albino Cardosa Friaca put Brazil
ahead two minutes after half-time, but goals by tournament top scorer Juan Schiaffino and Alcides
Ghiggia maintained Uruguay’s unbeaten record and crowned them world champions for the second
time. A crowd officially estimated at 174,000 – but likely to be around 200,000 – was silenced, stunned.
The nation was left in shock.
On 16 July 1950 the Uruguayan team walked out in front of about 200,000 Brazilian fans at the
Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. Brazil was so confident of winning the tournament that a samba
band stood on the sidelines of the pitch, ready to play a new song called Brazil the Winners. Local
newspapers had already printed special editions proclaiming the hosts "Champions of the World". For
Brazil, winning the 1950 World Cup was a national priority. The government hoped that football would
unite the country and mark it out as an emerging international power. As the centrepiece, Brazil had
built the Maracana, a huge new concrete stadium designed to be the biggest in the world. About a tenth
of the population of Rio de Janeiro crammed inside for the final game of the tournament. The Maracana
bounced with anticipation and expectation. The early edition of O Mundo newspaper screamed “Brasil
Campeao 1950!” A celebratory samba, Brazil The Victors, had been composed, the house band ready to
strike it up the minute Brazil had made it three out of three in the Pool. The mayor of Rio got in first with
a paean to Costa’s XI: “You, players, who in less than a few hours will be hailed as champions by millions
of compatriots! You who have no rivals in the entire hemisphere! You who will overcome any other
competitor! You, who I already salute as victors!” An official world-record crowd of 173,850 – but in
truth closer in number to 210,000 – spent the time leading up to kick off in full party mode. Brasil! Brasil!
Brasil! There were approximately 100 Uruguayans in attendance.
Brazil remained on top throughout the first half. They had 17 efforts on goal, Ademir with five of them,
the best being a thumping header from Chico’s cross which Uruguayan keeper Roque Maspoli, his back
arched, tipped over the bar in spectacular style. But Brazil couldn’t score. And the half wasn’t quite the
one-way traffic it has been often since painted as. Ghiggia caused a fair bit of trouble down the right,
where the left-back was just about holding his own. Meanwhile, for all Brazil’s dominance, it was
Uruguay who actually came closest to scoring, when Omar Miguez hit the post with a shot eight minutes
before the break. Brazil came out for the second half in a similar manner as they did the first, Zizinho

firing straight at Maspoli. And within two minutes of the restart, they were finally ahead. Ademir, in the
middle of the park, spotted Friaca making good down the inside-right channel, and released him with a
reverse pass. Rodriguez Andrade tried to muscle in over Friaca’s left shoulder, but he didn’t get there in
time. Friaca bobbled a not wholly convincing shot towards the bottom-left corner. Maspoli arguably
should have got a hand to it, the ball crossing his body, but for once the keeper – who had been in
astonishing form during the first half – was found wanting. Brazil, a goal up when a draw would do, could
touch the trophy. The Maracana erupted. Varela, very cutely, engaged the linesman in vociferous
debate. Ostensibly he was demanding an offside flag, but it would later become clear that he was simply
playing for time, letting the 200,000-plus crowd scream themselves out, in order to take a little heat out
of the situation. Not that he was of a mind to sit back and wait for things to happen, mind you. Uruguay
now needed two goals if they were to win the World Cup, and there wasn’t too much time to waste. It
was therefore appropriate for Varela to announce his strident manifesto. “Let them shout,” he told his
teammate Rodriguez Andrade before Uruguay restarted the match. “In five minutes the stadium will
seem like a graveyard, and then only one voice will be heard. Mine!”
Varela, now with fewer defensive duties, stepped up to augment the attack. On 66 minutes, he slid a
pass to the right for Ghiggia, who turned Bigode inside out and tore past the lumbering defender on the
outside, before whipping a ball to the near post, where Schiaffino stepped ahead of Juvenal to roof the
ball home past goalkeeper Moacyr Barbosa. The Maracana didn’t quite fall silent – yet – but for the first
time doubts were creeping in and the atmosphere became oppressively muted. Bigode, who had just
about kept up with Ghiggia in the first half before being cuffed by Varela, was now a shell of a man. And
on 79 minutes he crumbled, as the visitors delivered the killer blow. Brazil were attempting a rare sortie
upfield – they had not had a shot at goal since Schiaffino’s equaliser, an astonishing shift in momentum
given the stats of the opening period – but Danilo’s searching pass for Jair was intercepted by Julio Perez.
After one-twoing with Miguez, Perez then sashayed to the right, where he executed another one-two,
this time with Ghiggia on the halfway line, before slipping a pass down the flank for the winger to chase.
Ghiggia had been given the spring on the leaden-footed Bigode, and drifted inside and into the area,
homing in on Barbosa. The keeper was in two minds. Should he close Ghiggia down? Thing was,
Schiaffino was hovering in the middle. The indecision was fatal. Ghiggia cracked a shot low towards the
near post, the ball flying into the bottom-right corner, Barbosa unable to drop to the floor in time to
smother. The Maracana fell silent, at least 200,000 jaws agape, swinging sadly in the breeze.
At the final whistle, many Brazilian fans wept inconsolably. On the pitch, there were also tears. While
the Brazilian players cried with grief, the Uruguayans wept with a mixture of joy and disbelief as they did
a lap of honour of the stadium. After the defeat, many bars and restaurants in Rio de Janeiro closed for
the rest of the day because nobody in the city, renowned for its carnival atmosphere, was in the mood
to go out. The newspapers quickly changed their headlines to report on what O Mundo Sportivo called
in a headline "Drama, Tragedy and Farce". The match became known as the Maracanazo, which roughly
translates as the great Maracana blow, and would haunt Brazilians for decades to come. Brazilian
football legend Pele, who listened at home on the radio, always remembers that it was the first time he
saw his father cry. Brazil have gone on to win the World Cup five times after that, but the ‘Maracanazo’

still brings back haunting memories for them. Uruguay on the other hand, added a second world cup to
their cabinet. And their victory in the lion’s den forever became a part of their sports folklore.