By 90Min
February 22, 2018

You had to be Brazilian to truly understand the quote in one of Rio de Janeiro’s bestselling sports newspapers on 9 July 2014, and not just because it was written in Portuguese.

In the wake of Brazil’s crushing 7-1 defeat to Germany which eliminated them from their home World Cup, nobody could quite find the words to summarise the magnitude of the defeat. But 'Lance!' came closest. They compared the result to Brazil’s previous greatest humiliation, saying: “the Maracanazo means nothing now”.

That sentence is enough to send shivers down the spine of every Brazilian football fan. It had never crossed anyone’s mind that the Maracanazo would ever be eclipsed. How can you even begin to make comparisons with the most shocking result in World Cup history?

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Back in 1950, Brazil still played in white, Pelé was a few months short of his 10th birthday, and they had zero World Cups to their name. However, that was seemingly about to change. On home turf, the Samba stars were obliterating every team in their path.

They won their group at a canter, allowing them to progress to a second group – FIFA having decided, in their infinite wisdom, to dispense with the knockout format. Brazil made short work of it anyway, winning 7-1 against Sweden and 6-1 against Spain to put themselves in pole position.

This was the only FIFA World Cup which didn’t have a final, but as luck would have it the final game turned out to be the decisive one. While Sweden and Spain played for third place in São Paulo, Brazil and Uruguay met at the Maracana. Brazil needed a solitary point to lift the Jules Rimet trophy for the first time.

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To say that the host nation were confident is an understatement. A special samba, named ‘Brazil the Victors’, had already been rehearsed in preparation for the Selecao’s inevitable triumph. “Brasil Campeao 1950!” yelled O Mundo on the morning of the match, apparently oblivious to the fact that there was still a game to be played.

The hubris reached maximum levels in the local government offices, with Rio mayor Angelo Mendes de Moraes lauding the Brazilian team: "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!"

Uruguay’s tournament had been very strange. Their three-team group was reduced to two after France pulled out at the eleventh hour. They beat Bolivia 8-0, and were straight through to the final pool.

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While Brazil ran riot, Uruguay struggled enormously. They drew 2-2 with Spain, before edging past Sweden 3-2. Only an 85th minute winner in that game kept their fading hopes alive going into the final showdown.

La Celeste still believed though. The invincible aura of 1930 may have faded, but the invincible record had not. Having declined to compete in 1934 and 1938, they remained unbeaten at World Cup tournaments. And they also possessed some of the most talented players in world football.

Obdulio Varela was the team’s captain – a passionate, tireless terrier of a midfielder whose very presence intimated the Brazilians. Juan Alberto Schiaffino was an inside forward with a deadly eye for a pass and a deadlier eye for goal. And Alcides Ghiggia was a diminutive winger with a turn of pace to match the best of them. The trio played their club football together with Peñarol, and any team with this sort of talent could not be taken lightly.

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In the first-half, Brazil did everything but score. They had 17 efforts on goal, five of which fell to Ademir, the prolific striker who won the golden boot with eight goals at the tournament. Omar Miguez struck the woodwork for Uruguay though – a reminder to all those counting their chickens that they were still not hatched yet.

Five minutes after the break, Brazil finally had their goal. Ademir was involved, releasing Friaça down the right-hand side. The São Paulo striker struck a low effort towards the bottom corner and Uruguay keeper Roque Máspoli was finally beaten.

The Maracana erupted with joy. Varela was all-too aware of the momentum that the goal and the noise could give Brazil, therefore, he decided to start a prolonged argument with English referee George Reader about Friaça being offside. Friaça wasn’t offside, and Varela knew it, but by the time the game restarted, the adrenaline and decibel levels had fallen significantly.

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It was a cunning bit of gamesmanship, and despite Brazil’s continued dominance they couldn’t find the goal that would have sealed it. Midway through the second half, Varela led a Uruguay attack. He found Ghiggia, who skinned Brazil's left-back Bigode before whipping in a dangerous cross which Schiaffino met first time. The ball whistled into the roof of the net.

Where there had been joy for Brazil, now there was doubt, and it transferred from the fans to the players. Ghiggia had the beating of Bigode every time, Perez crunched into every tackle, and Schiaffino was running rings around the defenders who had let him slip for the equaliser. The trophy was still heading to Brazil, but they were not playing like world champions.

The winning goal that once seemed impossible had now become inevitable, and with ten minutes left the nightmare came true. Perez and Ghiggia exchanged passes before Perez released his team-mate down the right flank. With Bigode trailing in his wake, Ghiggia closed in on Moacyr Barbosa before lashing a shot into the bottom corner of the net.

“Only three people have silenced the Maracana,” Ghiggia would later joke. “The Pope, Frank Sinatra, and me.” As Brazil trooped off at the end, Uruguay’s giddy heroes hugged referee Reader. Varela was allowed to hold the trophy, but not lift it, lest he start a riot. For Uruguay, nothing would ever eclipse this. For Brazil, this was the greatest humiliation. And it would remain so for 64 years.

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