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Greatest Underdog Stories – Uruguay become world champions at the Maracana


There have rarely been encounters with as foregone conclusions as the 1950 World Cup final – at least that’s what the Brazilians thought. But then what happened on that fateful 16th July at the Maracana has become the stuff of legends for Uruguayans and a nightmare for Brazilians – not just for those who were alive to witness the events but also the generations that have followed.

The fourth edition of the FIFA World Cup was hosted by Brazil in 1950. And it was also the edition that happened after a gap of 12 years due to the World War II that followed the 1938 World Cup in France. There was much anticipation in Brazil as the citizens of the host nation were convinced that their team would be crowned the world champions.

And the events leading to the final were following the script. The format of the tournament was such that there was no final or semi-finals. The teams were placed in four groups and followed round robin pattern. The top teams from each group at the end of the first round qualified for final round. The teams in the final round then played against each other, and the one on top in points tally would be crowned the world champion.

As the events in the final round turned out, the final game of the final round effectively became the decisive match. Brazil were at an advantage as they merely needed a draw to pip Uruguay to the Jules Rimet trophy, whereas the Uruguayans needed to win in order to ensure that they became world champions for a second time.

There was a massive build up to the final game due to be played on 16th July at the iconic Maracana. The Brazilian newspaper ‘O Mundo’ famously printed an early edition on the day of the final containing a photograph of the Brazilian team with the caption “These are the world champions”.

The story goes that Uruguay’s fearless skipper Obdulio Varela bought as many editions of the paper he could find, laid them on the bathroom floor and got his team to urinate on them!

Another story recalls Juan Lopez, the coach of the Uruguayan team telling his players that their only chance against Brazil was to play defensively, but after Lopez left the room Varela told his teammates ‘Juan is a good man, but if we do defend ourselves then we will suffer the same fate of Sweden and Spain’ (they both lost by a large margin against Brazil), and then saidthe game is played on the pitch, when you come out to the pitch, don’t look to the crowd, those on the outside are of wood’.

Massive crowd had gathered at the Maracana for the final. Some estimate the number to be close to 200,000.

And much to the delight of the assembled public, Friaca put the hosts in front in the 47th minute. However, Juan Schiaffino brought the scores level in the 66th minute. And when Alcides Ghiggia put one past a hapless Moacir Barbosa 11 minutes from the final whistle, the Maracana was stunned into silence as the shoulders of the Brazilian players dropped.

Here’s the video highlights in potato quality. Although we are thankful to the uploader KINGofSOCCERhistory for posting this vintage clip. 

The game still remains deeply ingrained in the Brazilian psyche and is termed the “Maracanazo” – the Maracana blow.

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