Diana is from California but grew up in Iraq, within a culture in which it was frowned upon for females to play football. This has led her to write about issues within the game that are culturally rooted with the aim to voice these to a wider audience. For inspirational writing and for work on the cultural side of football, please read Diana's brilliant work.
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It was the first World Cup after it was cancelled in 1942 and 1946 due to WWII. The Italians were champions of the previous two Cups held in Italy and France, respectively. FIFA were keen on having the tournament on South American soil, therefore, the first World Cup since the war was to be held in Brazil.
Several issues affected many countries from competing, for example Germany were still occupied and sanctioned, Japan not eligible for qualification, Argentina were still in disputes with the Brazilian Football Confederation, the only Asian representative India pulled out before the tournament because FIFA wouldn’t allow them to play with bare feet. If you thought EURO 2016 had an odd format, think again, this was a very strange tournament.
How odd exactly? Well, it came down to the first round with two groups of four teams, a group of three teams, and a group of two teams. Then the winners of each group would be placed into a final group of four teams to decide the World Champion on points. Yeah, okay.
The reason for that final group and lack of a true, well…World Cup final came down to financial reasons. Surprisingly, FIFA was against the format. Brazil spent a lot of money on new stadiums and wanted more matches to be played and threatened to withdraw as hosts unless the World Cup went on according to this structure, FIFA had no choice but to appease.
After a draw with Switzerland and two wins against Mexico and Yugoslavia, Brazil won Group 1 and were favorites to be crowned champions heading to the final group. Over in Group 2, Spain won the group after beating England, Chile and USA. Group 3 saw Sweden win their group with a win over Italy and a draw against Paraguay. The format of Group 4 made reaching the final group extremely easy for Uruguay as France pulled out of the tournament at the last possible moment. Leaving well, only two teams to battle for the last spot in the final group. Uruguay were headed to the final group after demolishing Bolivia 8-0.
As expected, Brazil were electrifying. Winning 7-1 against Sweden and 6-1 against Spain, they only needed a draw to become World Champions for the first time. Meanwhile Uruguay drew 2-2 with Spain and edged a 3-2 win against Sweden. Brazil was so confident of winning the tournament that newspapers had already printed special editions proclaiming the hosts “Champions of the World”. If you asked any Brazilian at that time they would tell you that they were going to become champions no doubt about it.
The stage was set, Estádio do Maracanã was designed and built to be the biggest in the world. Although, it was barely finished on time – entire sections were not built yet and there were reports of cement still drying when the tournament kicked off – fitting for such occasion. 16 July 1950 was going to be a date of celebration for Brazil and Brazilians. Winning the 1950 World Cup was a national priority for Brazil and the government hoped that football would unite the country and mark Brazil as an international power.
In a crammed Maracanã that saw a record of more than 200,000 people in attendance to watch the final – the largest crowd ever at any sporting event. The home crowd were 90 minutes away from becoming World Champions. A Samba band was on the sidelines of the pitch ready to play a new song called “Brazil the Winners”, millions and millions of shirts with the words “Campeões do Mundo” were distributed to fans, the whole country expected to be crowned World Champions by the end of those 90 minutes.
As expected from the favorites, Brazil started the matched heavily focused on attacking and piled pressure on the Uruguayan backline. However, La Celeste did not break and held on to a 0-0 draw until halftime. Two minutes into the second half, Brazil went 1-0 up. However, football tends to have a strange sense of humor sometimes.
La Celeste were not ready to give up just yet and kept attacking until they got the equalizer in the 66th minute. Then 11 minutes from time, the Maracanã was silenced. Brazil was shaken to its core. A shock wave that left the entire stadium stunned. Alcides Ghiggia scored the winning goal and crushed every Brazilian’s hopes. Uruguay had won the World Cup. “I had a split second to decide what to do. I shot, and it went in off the post… It was the best goal I ever scored,” Ghiggia said in an interview. “Three people have silenced the Maracanã – Frank Sinatra, the Pope and me,” he says. He became the first player to score in every match of the finals.
That match became known as the Maracanazo meaning “The Maracanã Blow”. The whole nation was in mourning over what had happened. It was arguably the turning point in Brazilian football history. They abandoned their “cursed” white jerseys with a blue strip for a completely new design. The iconic yellow and green shirt, blue shorts that saw them win five World Cup titles after that fatal day.
After that final a little Brazilian boy almost 8 years old at that time saw his father crying after the match and told his father ‘Don’t worry, when I grow up I’m going to win the World Cup for you.’ That little boy won his first World Cup 8 years later. His name, Edson Arantes do Nascimento or Pelé for short. You may have heard of him.