On Sunday Spain and the Netherlands play in the World Cup Final. But the first post-war World Cup (World Cup 1950) took place sixty years ago in Brazil and is remembered today as the World Cup tournament without a final.
The thirteen qualifying teams were divided into four groups although, strangely, Group 4 consisted only of two teams: Uruguay, competing for the first time since their win in 1930, and fellow South Americans, Bolivia. The four group winners would compete in another group. The winner of this group would be World Champions. There would be no knock-out matches or semi-finals or final.
Brazil, perhaps for the first time, showed the world what they were capable of, beating Mexico, Yugoslavia and drawing against Switzerland to win their group with ease.
From Group 4, Uruguay thrashed Bolivia 8-0, their star striker, Juan Schiaffino, netting four, in the only tie of the group and hence qualified.
The second round
So the second round consisted of the four teams playing within a group, the group winners winning the World Cup. Brazil beat Olympic Champions Sweden 7-1, four coming from the talented Ademir, and Spain 6-1. Uruguay had beaten Sweden but dropped a point against Spain.
So by pure luck the last game, on 16 July 1950 at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro, would be the decider with Brazil, one point ahead, needing only a draw, whereas Uruguay needed to win.
A Final of sorts
Brazil, fully expecting victory in front of a home crowd of an estimated 210,000 (a record that stands to this day), took the lead early in the second half. The outcome looked certain. Schiaffino’s equalizer in the 66th minute would still not be enough for Uruguay. But then, with eleven minutes to go, the unthinkable happened and Uruguay scored a second. They held on and won. The two points were theirs, and so was the World Cup.
The Pope, Frank and I
After the game, the scorer of Uruguay’s winning goal, Alcides Ghiggia, said, “Only three people in history have managed to silence the Maracana with a single gesture: the Pope, Frank Sinatra and I.”
Brazil reeled in a state of shock, victory songs composed for the occasion remained unperformed and medals struck with the players’ names on them were never presented. Brazil had always played in white shirts with a blue neckline but after 1950 the strip was considered jinxed and they changed to the yellow shirt that is so familiar today.
Here, from YouTube, is an eight second clip of Ghiggia’s goal