Brazilian Blushes: The Maracanazo Story of the 1950 World Cup

Brazil 1950 World Cup

This Throwback Thursday article was originally featured on Tale of Two Halves in May 2018.

Brazil are the only country in football history to play in every single World Cup tournament, from its inception back in 1930, to the upcoming showcase in Russia this summer. They have won the competition a record five times, and some of the players to have graced the pitch for O Seleçãoare nothing short of legendary. Cafu, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldinho, Zico,
Rivaldo, Ronaldo, and of course, Pele. Despite all these star players and all the success that the team has enjoyed over the past century, there have been one or two rather embarrassing moments too. Everyone remembers the infamous 7-1 mauling by Germany in 2014, there is also that time that they failed to get out of the groups in 1966, but the worst embarrassment suffered by Brazil at the FIFA World Cup occurred in 1950. Five World Cups is astonishing, but it should have been six!

The World Cup in 1950 was a very different affair to what it is today. For a start, only 13 nations participated. After the early success of the FIFA World Cup, there was a 12-year absence of the tournament due to World War II causing chaos and upheaval around the globe. Five years after the devastation and horror finally ended, the tournament was hosted by Brazil. The 1950 tournament very nearly didn’t take place at all. FIFA wanted to help return some normality to the world, but Europe lay in ruins after WWII and very few countries were in a position to host an international football tournament – any funds held by European governments were needed to be put towards more practical uses.

Despite the efforts of FIFA to try and instil some normality back to the world, they had a tough go of things. Nowadays teams are clamouring to be included in the World Cup, with an expansion to 48 teams on the horizon, but nearly 70 years ago, the tournament’s 16 slots couldn’t even be filled. Germany and Japan were banned by FIFA for the 1950 tournament, for their abhorrent actions in recent years, while many of the Communist Bloc countries, including Hungary and 1938 finalists Czechoslovakia refused to take part in qualifying for the World Cup. Argentina refused to take part on account of a dispute with the Brazilian Football Confederation, while Ecuador and Peru also declined to participate. For the very first time, Britain, the inventors of the beautiful game, began the process of qualification. England and Scotland came first and second, both qualifying, though Scotland declined to travel, stating that they did not believe finishing second entitled them to a place in the finals. Turkey and India withdrew, citing the expense of travelling was not justified by their inexperienced teams. France were invited late on to boost the numbers, but after initially accepting, declined shortly after.

After a turbulent couple of years of qualifying and the drama of teams dropping out, accepting charitable offers to aid their participation then withdrawing again, the stage was set. The 13 teams going to Brazil were finalised, though the odd numbers meant that the groups were truncated somewhat. Brazil, Mexico, Switzerland and Yugoslavia made up Group A, with Spain, Chile, the USA and debutants England making up Group B. Group C featured reigning champions Italy, as well as Sweden and Paraguay, and Group D was made up of only two teams, former champions Uruguay and fellow South Americans Bolivia.

To appease the European teams who were concerned at having to fly all the way across the Atlantic to South America, the tournament reverted back to the original format of a group, dropping the initial knockout phase to guarantee the sides multiple games. To make matters even more interesting, this was the first – and only – World Cup where there was not a one-off final, but rather the four group winners all qualified for a final group to decide the winner. By chance, the final group game ended up deciding the group, so to all intents and purposes, there was a final. But more on that later…

The tournament got underway in controversial fashion. The action on the field was legitimate, Brazil kicked off the tournament with an emphatic 4-0 win against Mexico, an Ademir brace bookending goals from Jair and Baltazar. The controversy occurred off the field. It wasn’t as damning as in 2002 when Roy Keane was unceremoniously sent home after a fallout with his manager, Mick McCarthy, nor did it have the ramifications of Togo threatening to strike in 2006 due to bonus disputes with FIFA and the Togolese Football Federation, nor the bizarre squad mutiny of France 2010. No, the controversy here was that the Maracanã stadium was not even finished, yet the match against Mexico still took place here. Spectators reported after the game at having to navigate their way over muddy puddles and round large bags of cement just left lying on the ground. High winds blew a metal panel off the roof and thankfully, somehow, nobody was hurt.

The groups were awash with interesting storylines. England, tipped to do well in Brazil due to being the “inventors of football” won their first-ever World Cup tie, beating Chile 2-0, then, four days later, lost to the USA in what was known as “The miracle of Belo Horizonte”. Even back in their debut tournament, the England side showed their affinity with
embarrassing losses. Two times champions Italy lost to Sweden, though due to the war, 12 years had passed since their last win, therefore the tagline of reigning champions suffer defeat did feel a tad harsh. In Group D, with only two participants, Uruguay obliterated Bolivia 8-0, a scoreline which equalled the joint record victory margin, set in 1938 by Sweden against Cuba.

Brazil stumbled to a disappointing draw against Switzerland, who themselves had been dispatched 3-0 by Yugoslavia in their opening game. Despite Brazil’s goal-fest against Mexico, the hosts slumped to a draw against the European opposition. Despite opening the scoring early on, they were pegged back, retaking the lead through a Baltazar strike after the half-hour mark. They looked to be heading for their second straight win until a Jacques Fatton equalised for Switzerland, scoring his second game of the goal in the 88th minute.

This draw against the Swiss meant that Brazil’s final group match against Yugoslavia, who had two wins from two, was a must-win affair. In truly bizarre circumstances, the Yugoslavian forward Rajko Mitić cut his head on a bit of concrete. This meant that he required stitches and subsequently missed the opening five minutes. This was long before the days of substitutes, and he was too valuable a player to miss the full game. Yugoslavia had to start the match a man down and conceded a minute before Mitić returned to the action.

The top team in the four groups all progressed to a final group. To those wondering, two points were awarded for a win back in the day, rather than the three points that are awarded today. Groups A-D finished as such.

Group A

Win Draw Loss + Points
Brazil 2 1 0 8 2 5
Yugoslavia 2 0 1 7 3 4
Switzerland 1 1 1 4 6 3
Mexico 0 0 3 2 10 0

Group B

Win Draw Loss + Points
Spain 3 0 0 6 1 6
England 1 0 2 2 2 2
Chile 1 0 2 5 6 2
USA 1 0 2 4 8 2

Group C

Win Draw Loss + Points
Sweden 1 1 0 5 4 3
Italy 1 0 1 4 3 2
Paraguay 0 1 1 2 4 1

Group D

Win Draw Loss + Points
Uruguay 1 0 0 8 0 2
Bolivia 0 0 1 0 8 0


Brazil, Spain, Sweden and Uruguay made up the final group. The matches were played on the 9th, 13th and 16th of July, with the four teams playing fixtures at the same time.

In the first round of fixtures, Brazil crushed Sweden 7-1, their star striker Ademir scoring four of the goals. In the days other game, Uruguay rescued a late draw against Spain. Having taken the lead in the first half, Spain scored two in quick succession to take the lead before Obdulio Varela earned the Uruguayans a point. Uruguay beat Sweden 3-2 in their next game. Having conceded in the opening five minutes, Uruguay levelled on 39 minutes, before surrendering the lead just a minute later. Once again Uruguay left it late, equalising on 77 minutes before taking the lead with five minutes to go. This proved a vital win, with Óscar Miguez scoring the two late goals to put Uruguay on three points, giving them a glimmer of hope going into their final game. Hope was what Uruguay needed, as Brazil were in frightening form. They put 6 past Spain, conceding a late consolation goal to win 6-1.

Going into the final round of fixtures, the stage was set for a final, by chance. The group was supposed to be a fairer way of selecting a winner, compared to a one-off final, but the fixture list happened to create a final showdown between Brazil and Uruguay. Brazil were top with four points, having scored 13 goals and conceding only two. Uruguay had three
points, having scored five and conceded four, twice leaving it late to seal their results. The “final” wasn’t even billed as a contest, it was a formality, just another game to play to formalise Brazil’s World Cup final.

At the bottom of the table, Sweden played Spain another all-or-nothing affair. Both sides had been humbled by Brazil, and both had let wins against Uruguay slip out of their hands late on, though Spain had at least held on to a point. Sweden ran out 3-1 winners, winning the effective 3rd place play-off. This made them the kings of Europe, an impressive feat given that two-time champions Italy were in the tournament, and their initial group!

The final kicked off on the 16th of July, 1950, and proved to be arguably the worst defeat in Brazil’s history. The semi-final 7-1 defeat to Germany in 2014 ran it close, but in 2014 they were a poor side crawling their way through the tournament, though in 1950 the team were crushing every team in their path. They had scored 21 goals in their previous five
matches and were a fearsome opponent to Uruguay, who, after a demolishing 8-0 lead against Bolivia, appeared to be scraping through the final group. It was estimated that around 200,000 people crammed into the Maracanã that day, and the fans knew that a draw would be enough to crown Brazil champions.

Brazil started the much with an electric pace, throwing everything they had at Uruguay. Uruguay coach Juan Lopez had adopted a tight man-to-man defensive set-up, frustrating the Brazilians, successfully thwarting many attacks. Despite the strong defensive play from Uruguay, they conceded minutes after halftime. Friaça scored the opening goal, his only-ever goal for Brazil, to send the country into a frenzy of celebrations. This surely was going to open the floodgates…

Most sides would have crumbled at having gone a goal down to Brazil in the final, but Uruguay were resilient. They had been behind in both other games in the group, so were unfazed at this setback. Alcides Ghiggia dribbled into the box on the 66th minute and teed the ball up to Juan Schiaffino the level the score. This result was still favourable to Brazil, though the team looked somewhat shocked at having been scored against. This wasn’t in the nature of opposition teams to fight back. The crowd grew subdued and the Brazilian players showed frustration. Some players appeared to time waste and the natural swagger had gone. With little over ten minutes to go, Uruguay launched a counterattack. Ghiggia played a one-two with his teammate, usurping the defenders, then outfoxed the Brazilian goalkeeper, Moacir Barbosa, by faking a pass to his teammate Schiaffino. Instead of passing, Ghiggia blasted his shot towards goal. Barbosa managed to get a hand to the shot, but the contact wasn’t enough to prevent the shot from hitting the back of the net. Brazil sent a barrage of shots towards goal in the closing minutes but failed to find the equaliser that would have won them the World Cup.

When English referee George Reader blew the final whistle, many of the Uruguayan players wept on the field. Some admitted after the game that they almost felt bad. They had ruined the party for Brazil, who by their own admission deserved to win after the style and swagger that they showed throughout the tournament. The stadium was eerily silent. The trophy ceremony was almost rushed out of embarrassment and worry that a riot would occur. The game was nicknamed Maracanazo (Maracanã disaster), and it was apt. With all due respect to Uruguay, they didn’t so much win the World Cup, rather Brazil lost it. The 7-1 loss in 2014 was embarrassing, but they lost to a far superior team, having ridden their luck to the semi-final. In the Maracanazo, the world assumed Brazil would be crowned champions. It was a disaster that they lost. It was shameful.

The final group table is as follows:

Win Draw Loss + Points
Uruguay 2 1 0 7 5 5
Brazil 2 0 1 14 4 4
Sweden 1 0 2 6 11 2
Spain 0 1 2 4 11 1


After the dust had settled and the game was over, a number of permutations evolved. Football evolved as a game. This Uruguayan defensive masterclass showed that attacking football wasn’t necessarily the way forward. Rather than outscoring opponents, the ability to shut them out proved vital. Defensive football was now a viable option for teams capable of following structures.

A further outcome of the 1950 World Cup was that the identity of the Brazilian football team would change. In their history, they wore a white shirt with blue trim. They rebranded and changed in the following years, adopting their famous yellow and blue attire in 1954. The white shirt was ditched as it was considered cursed, to those of a superstitious persuasion in the Brazilian hierarchy.

The final outcome of the final is by far and away the saddest one. Brazil goalkeeper Moacir Barbosa was made the scapegoat of the game for his error in Ghiggia’s winning goal. Whilst being his fault, there were 11 men playing for Brazil, scoring only one goal. There was blame attached to a multitude of players, yet Barbosa got the worst of it. He came out years later claiming that it was only because he was black that he was so harshly treated, and that a white player wouldn’t have suffered such abuse. In 1963 he was gifted the goalposts from that 1950 final, whereby he burned them in his garden as some form of exorcism ritual, but to no avail. He was still treated horribly. In 1994 he reported that he had been refused access to a training centre by the Brazilian FA, still holding the grudge against him. He cited that the maximum penalty for a criminal is 30 years in Brazil, yet he suffered every single one of his 50 years after the final, until his death in 2000.

I am willing to bet that the majority of you reading this article have no strong memory of the 1950 World Cup, it did take place 68 years ago! But just because the tournament occurred long ago does not deter from the excitement that the tournament produced. The 1950 World Cup was certainly an unusual event, in the years following WWII. Teams were barred from the tournament, teams qualified and bailed from the competition. Bolivia only played one game! In all, 22 games were played in Brazil. 88 goals were scored, an extraordinary average of four per game. Ademir finished as the tournament’s top scorer, bagging eight. One factor that does seem to have been forgotten about in the passing years is that Uruguay played two less games than Brazil. Did tiredness factor in to the final game? Was six games in three weeks compared to Uruguay’s four simply the deciding factor? It is, of course, impossible to tell. And it in no way is meant to detract from the
magnitude of Uruguay’s victory, but it must be mentioned. Brazil dominated nearly every stat in that final, but ultimately they couldn’t quite navigate their way to the trophy. Littered amongst the seemingly endless list of achievements attained by Brazil over the decades, the Maracanazo still haunts the nation, they suffered the ultimate embarrassment to their South American rivals. Brazil lost the World Cup.