'Maracanazo', Brazils national tragedy

27 April 2014 12:32

The newly-built Maracana stadium was full to bursting with 200,000 people on July 16, 1950 -- but an eerie silence reigned after Brazil lost their World Cup decider to Uruguay.

The surprise 2-1 loss, dubbed the "Maracanazo," was a huge shock and a vertitable tragedy.

The match was the denouement of a final round with Brazil, having beaten Spain, needing just a draw to take their first world title.

The visitors needed to win to claim their second crown after 1930.

Friaca opened the scoring for Brazil two minutes after the break but Schiaffino levelled on 66 minutes and Alcides Ghiggia scored the winner 11 minutes from time.

Brazil was stunned as FIFA president Jules Rimet handed the Cup to Uruguayan skipper, Obdulio Varela.

The cast comprised heroes and villains. Ghiggia, the only one of the 22 still alive, set up the equalizer and then cut inside to fire the winner.

"I only realised what impact it had years later when people started writing books about the subject, when people started asking me about it," he told AFP.

Along with Ghiggia and Juan Schiaffino, Varela, his side's "grand captain," is the other main Uruguayan hero.

Varela used the over-optimistic pre-match euphoria of the hosts to motivate his side.

Barbosa, the Brazilian goalkeeper, was accused of giving Ghiggia too clear a sight of goal.

Shortly before he died, Barbosa complained he was the only Brazilian to have endured a true life sentence -- under Brazilian legislation those given life jail terms serve a maximum 30 years.

Left back Bigode, beaten twice by Ghiggia en route to the two goals, was also scapegoated by the press.

"I thought of killing myself -- that was the best (option) for me," he said in Teixeira Helder's book "Maracanazo."

"Then, I told myself that even dead, the people would still have continued to hate me."

- Lingering images-

The story lives on in the images and gestures which have survived on film and survived for posterity.

Ghiggia's 40-metre (yard) dash towards goal has weighed on Brazil's collective memory.

Playback after playback, there is Barbosa, coming off his line in anticipation of the cross which had preceded the first goal.

Instead, Ghiggia cuts in and fires home.

Brazil star Zizinho had warned his teammates: "The Uruguayans lace their boots with their own veins!"

But Ghiggia was even more eloquent with a comment that found the mark.

"Only three people have reduced the Maracana to silence: Frank Sinatra, the pope -- and me."

Other Brazilians found other words to express their dismay.

"It was perhaps the biggest tragedy in the contemporary history of Brazil," says anthropologist Roberto Da Matta.

"It happened just as Brazil wanted to take its place as a nation destined for great things."

As Europe struggled to rise from the debris of World War II, Brazil saw its moment to host the first post-conflict World Cup, build the largest stadium and win the competition.

But defeat dented national pride.

Coach Flavio Costa decided to transfer the squad's base camp to Sao Januario, a noisy district, and to open it up to fans, journalists -- and politicians, harbouring political ambitions of his own.

Then there was the media hype.

O Mundo daily published a photo on match day captioned "these are the world champions!"

Brazilians were aghast afterwards - but were there suicides afterwards?

"I think the alleged suicides are an urban myth," Geneton Moraes Neto, author of "Dossie 50," told AFP.

Brazil would go on to lift the trophy a record five titles before hosting another Cup.

Current coach Luiz Felipe Scolari says the players who suffered the 1950 loss are "the precursors of the five titles."

Defeat brought almost a "decade of silence," ending in 1958 when Pele, who vowed to become a player after seeing his own father cry in 1950, lifted the Cup in Sweden.

"When (English referee George) Reader blew the final whistle the Maracana was the setting for a huge wake," wrote journalist Mario Filho.

Since his death in 1966 the stadium also bears the name of the dogged Maracana campaigner.

Source: AFP