In 1950, an expectant world-record Maracanã crowd weren’t prepared for the national ‘tragedy’ that followed. Marc Jobling – with the help of Tim Vickery – looks back at that fateful day and what it would mean if Brazil banish their demons this summer.

“Everywhere has its irremediable national catastrophe, something like a Hiroshima. Our catastrophe, our Hiroshima, was the defeat by Uruguay in 1950.” – playwright Nelson Rodrigues

They named it ‘Maracanazo’ – the Maracanã blow. For a nation determined to announce themself as a post-war superpower, it had seismic effects. Even now, Brazil hasn’t fully recovered; haunted by the possibility that history will repeat itself this summer. “Brazilian football is all about winning – forget those ideas of it being a carnival in boots, where people are happy to concede seven goals as long as they score eight. It’s all about winning” revealed Tim Vickery, the freelance journalist who is an expert in all things South American.

This wasn’t an explosion or natural disaster. It was just one football match. But in Brazil, where football is an obsessive religion, the consequences of losing this World Cup Final were huge. Vickery labelled the aftermath: “an orgy of national self-hatred”. At this point, the now five times world champions were still awaiting their maiden victory. Until 2010, Brazil were the only World Cup winners never to have won as hosts. Their chance to rectify this mistake can’t come soon enough.

Yet it all looked so promising for the seleção. After volunteering to host the first World Cup since the Second World War, preparations began for their assumed coronation as world champions. “Europe was rising from the ashes”, said veteran sports commentator Teixeira Heizer. “The only reason why the World Cup was held in Brazil was that nobody else wanted to host it.”

However, the hype surrounding this Brazilian side wasn’t undeserved. They had talents such as Ademir, Jair and Zizinho – the idol to Pelé and many others. “The 1950 team were a magnificent side, especially the front three”, revealed Vickery. “Ademir wasn’t a particularly complex player – he was quick, two-footed, could finish and was good in the air. Zizinho and Jair were absolutely outstanding. Zizinho just blew the minds of the European journalists who came over – they’d never seen anything like it. Whilst Jair was tiny, he had a cannonball of a left foot.”

16 teams were drawn into four pools of four, with each group winner progressing. To ensure more matches for their stadia, Brazilian organisers overlooked a knockout format and insisted on a round-robin final group stage involving these four. It remains the only World Cup to adopt this strange set-up. As fate would have it, the finest two sides in the winners’ group would play in the final, decisive match.

Getting there

Brazil breezed their way through to it, starting with a 4-0 win against Mexico in the opening match (two teams that will meet at this summer’s tournament). The game against Switzerland was in São Paulo, so coach Flavio Costa replaced his midfield with three São Paulo players to please the locals. The game finished 2-2.

Yugoslavia were next but Brazil finally secured a 2-0 success. Yugoslav captain Rajko Mitić hurt his head on an exposed Maracanã girder and, by the time he was patched up, Ademir had put Brazil 1 up before Zizinho sealed the victory. Spending the two preceding months at a training camp had obviously focused the Brazilians, who destroyed Sweden 7-1 and Spain 6-1 in the final group phase.

The 1949 Copa America champions were relentless in their quest to claim the Jules Rimet trophy. Uruguay, on the other hand, were unspectacular. Although they humiliated Bolivia with an 8-0 thumping, several teams withdrew from the competition for travel reasons and Uruguay’s one group game took them through. The Celeste drew 2-2 with Spain and narrowly beat Sweden 3-2 – a vast difference from the Brazilian demolitions.

They shouldn’t have been underestimated though. Uruguay won the 1930 World Cup, yet didn’t participate in the following two. In their minds, they were reining world champions. In the era of two-points-for-a-win, Brazil went into the final match one point ahead of the Uruguayans and simply had to avoid defeat in order to be crowned champions. The Maracanã anticipated a party.

World record crowd

On 16th July 1950, the official attendance was 173,850 but in truth over 200,000 packed into the new stadium – 100 of those belonged to La Garra Charrúa. According to Vickery, the stadium looked “like a giant spaceship. Building it was a huge declaration of intent – Brazil was the country of the future and the future was arriving.”

To put things incredibly mildly, the Brazilian people were confident of victory. Their route to the final convinced them that home glory was their destiny. After all, two of the previous three tournaments resulted in the host’s coronation. There was excessive pre-match pride. Gazeta Esportiva declared, “Tomorrow we will beat Uruguay!” whilst O Mundo boasted, “These are the World Champions” next to a team photo. Uruguay’s inspirational captain Obdulio Varela was so incensed by O Mundo that he bought every copy he could find, took them to the dressing room and urinated on them in front of his team.

Brazil’s squad were given solid gold watches inscribed: “For the World Champions”. The victory parade was planned, where there would be scenes of absolute euphoria. Even FIFA’s President Jules Rimet fell for the postulation – writing a congratulatory speech in Portuguese. Rio’s Mayor chanted over the PA system: “You players who in less than a few hours will be acclaimed champions by your compatriots. You who are superior to every other competitor.” The downfall would be spectacular.

From kick off, Brazil flew out of the traps and it seemed only a matter of time before they scored – they had 17 attempts. Ademir’s header forced a li but no goal came in a goalless first half. a spectacular save from Roque Maspoli but no goal came in a goalless first half. Frustrated, those in attendance were unaware that a sly punch by Varela in the 28th minute would become a psychological turning point. Left back Bigode (named after his moustache) didn’t even retaliate; he just took it. Varela walked away victoriously clutching his shirt in a symbolic little win.

Brazil continued the blitz into the second half, with Zizinho going close. Finally, in the 47th minute, a breakthrough when Ademir’s pass found Friaça, who bobbled a shot past Maspoli to ease the growing Brazilian worries. Appealing for an offside only to buy time, Varela wisely let the crowd lose their voices and shoot their fireworks before restarting. The talented Juan Schiaffino immediately went close. The 66th minute saw Alcides Ghiggia turn Bigode inside out, before crossing the ball for Schiaffino to equalise.

Doubts began to creep in and uncertainty stained the atmosphere. Brazil were still on their way to World Cup victory but were shaken. In hindsight, perhaps the clues were there during their Copa America triumph. Needing just a draw against Paraguay in their final game, they lost 2-1. The resulting play-off saw an emphatic 7-0 win but there were concerns that they were susceptible to crippling nerves.

In the 79th minute, the killer blow. Ghiggia was sent down the right flank and ghosted past a defeated Bigode, bearing down on Moacir Barbosa’s goal. The in-form goalkeeper was in the midst of a great tournament but didn’t know what to do here – close down Ghiggia or anticipate another cross to Schiaffino. His indecisiveness proved costly. Ghiggia’s shot was low and at Barbosa’s near post, but the keeper couldn’t get down in time. 2-1 to Uruguay and the muted Maracanã’s jaws dropped collectively. Radio commentator Luiz Mendes shouted “Gol du Uruguay” many times, each with a new strain of horror and disbelief.

With 10 minutes to rescue their World Cup dream, Brazil resorted to speculative shots to try and find a way through the rear-guard. But it never came. With Friaça’s corner approaching the far post, Uruguay’s Schubert Gambetta caught the ball. He’d heard the full time whistle. The match was over and the national mourning began for the shell-shocked Brazilians. This wasn’t part of the script.

“Only 3 people have silenced the Maracana – Sinatra, Pope John-Paul II and me” – Alcides Ghiggia


Fans openly wept as Rimet was brought onto the pitch by hysterically crying policemen. There were suicides that night, with two throwing themselves from the stadium itself. The consequences were huge for Brazilian football and society in general. “Losing in the final shows how manic-depressive football can be”, added Vickery. “Had they won they would have gained immortality. 24 hours after thinking they were great, they decided they were shit, believing ‘We Brazilians are a mongrel race, are morally inferior and will never amount to anything.’”

Amongst the scapegoats was the all-white kit. A competition was held to design a new shirt that was more patriotic, won by 19-year-old Aldyr Garcia Schlee. This was the birth of the seleção’s iconic gold and green shirts. Not that they were seen for a while – the scarred national team didn’t play again until April 1952 and avoided the Maracanã until March 1954. The three black players – Bigode, Juvenal and Barbosa – were labelled cowards by the press.


“A multi-racial society was still something that was fairly new and it was the black players that got most of the blame. Rationality went out the window”, continued Vickery. Yet nobody took more of the blame than goalkeeper Barbosa. He was never forgiven for his mistake, abused every day and his life was made a misery. He once tried to visit the seleção to wish them luck but was turned away. Forgetting Pelé and Jairzinho, Barbosa’s main 1970 memory occurred in a supermarket. A woman pointed at him and shouted: “Look at him, son. He is the man that made all of Brazil cry”.

Barbosa later tormented himself by working at the Maracanã and invited his remaining friends to a special barbecue at his home. The smoke smelt different, there were strange white logs – he was burning the Maracanazo goalposts. A cathartic experience, he claimed that the steak that day was the best he’d ever eaten. Starting a goalkeeping curse – a position symbolic of protecting the nation – no other black man was entrusted with the role until Dida nearly 50 years later. He moaned: “In Brazil, the most you get for any crime is 30 years. But my imprisonment has been for 50.”

Vickery believes the “absolute fury of nationalism” was evident in the 1954 tournament. “You could see the consequences when they played the great Hungary side in the quarterfinal because they got themselves whipped up in the dressing room beforehand. The players had to kiss the flag. They were told they had to avenge the deaths of Monte Cassino, where Brazilians had fought in the Second World War. Quite what the Hungarians had to do with this, fuck only knows! They went out and kicked them from pillar to post because they weren’t going to let anyone say that they were weak and would bottle it on the big occasion.”

World titles in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002 have helped remove the clouds that polluted the beautiful Brazilian skies but there’s still a sense of incompleteness – those weren’t on home turf. “For those that remembered it, the demons were slightly banished in 1970 when they beat Uruguay in the semi-final. The older members of that team had very vivid memories. Pelé has memories of his dad listening to it on the radio with his mates and watching them cry their eyes out at the final whistle.”


Looking forward, Vickery predicts a much calmer reaction to any failings from Neymar, Daniel Alves, Oscar and company: “For today’s players, it’s ancient history. In 1950, the players were doing far more than representing Brazilian football, they were representing Brazil’s place in the world. That’s changed now and thankfully society is much more mature. It won’t be seen as a reflection on the inherent weaknesses of the Brazilian people, it’ll be seen as the deficiencies of the football team. But I would still hate to be those players if they lose.”

The 1950 World Cup provided several myths. India’s team didn’t withdraw because they had to wear boots. English newspapers didn’t assume the shock 1-0 defeat to the USA was a mis-print, before printing a 10-1 victory. But the impact of this final on the Brazilian people is no myth. They were psychologically paralysed by defeat, it simply wasn’t meant to happen. In a country where football is such a strong bedrock of society, the Uruguayan victory shattered their self-esteem. Only being crowned champions this summer would bring it back fully. They’d call it the ‘Maracanã redenção’ – the Maracanã redemption.


This article is to be published in ‘brasileiro’, an alternative World Cup guide being produced by the MA Sports Journalism class at the University of Sunderland.


11 Years Ago: That Night in Rotterdam


Sometimes, football is beautiful. A 90 minute microcosm of the emotions we face in everyday life. Ultimately it’s just a sport but it’s more than that, really. Newcastle United is one of those clubs where ‘normal’ doesn’t exist; we’re a special club – for better or worse! Today is the 11 year anniversary of my favourite ever NUFC moment, one that’ll live with the Toon Army forever. Are you ready for a nice story?

The Toon Army make themselves at home

The Toon Army make themselves at home

We’re in the Sir Bobby Robson era, an icon of the game and one of the nicest people you could ever wish to meet. Six years removed from Keegan’s ‘Entertainers’, Robson had built his own team of young, hungry talent that had finished fourth in the Premier League. Led by Geordie hero Alan Shearer, with the likes of Shay Given and Gary Speed in support, this spirited team marched fearlessly into the Champions League. The defence was a little shaky but that was ok – we had Nobby Solano and Laurent Robert down the wings, with Kieron Dyer’s wizardry causing havoc for opponents.

Up front alongside Shearer was Craig Bellamy. To this day he’s a controversial figure but in his young pomp, even more so. This night in Rotterdam marked his return from a three match European ban for head butting Dynamo Kiev’s Tiberiu Ghioane. His time at Newcastle ended under a cloud and his personal relationship with Shearer capitulated but, on this night, he was the hero.

Playing in the Champions League for only the second time, Newcastle were in a tough predicament. Drawn in Group E with Juventus, Feyenoord and Dynamo Kiev, we proceeded to lose our first three games and were practically eliminated. A nice consolation win over Juventus at St James’ Park was followed by a 2-1 win against Kiev. Suddenly, the impossible seemed vaguely possible. No team in Champions League history had ever lost their first three group games and still successfully gone through. Surely Newcastle wouldn’t be the first.

Going into this final matchday, Juventus were safely through to the second phase on 10 points, with Dynamo Kiev on 7pts (-2 goal difference). Newcastle’s heroics had them in third place on 6pts (-3 goal difference), whilst Feyenoord were only one point behind. It was so close, you could almost throw a blanket over the three. Teams on equal points were split by head-to-head records, meaning Kiev had the advantage over Newcastle and Feyenoord. So both teams went into the match knowing that only a win would give them a chance of reaching round two.

However, even that mightn’t have been enough. They needed a huge favour from Juventus in Kiev, who decided to rest Davids, Del Piero, Nedved, Buffon and Thuram in tough wintery conditions. Without that favour, the match in Rotterdam would be a battle for third place and a spot in the UEFA Cup, which Feyenoord had won the previous season in their own stadium. Newcastle set out to make their own De Kuip memories.

UEFA Cup victory on home soil, 2002.

UEFA Cup victory on home soil, 2002.

In all honesty, the first half was quite poor. Feyenoord had future Premier League stars Brett Emerton and Paul Bosvelt in their line up but were without former Nottingham Forest talisman Pierre van Hooijdonk. But what the match lacked for in beautiful carpet football, it more than made up for in drama. Early half-chances from Bosvelt and Speed went wayward, as both matches remained goalless. Bellamy missed a one-on-one with the keeper in the 38th minute, whilst Thomas Buffel rounded Given but refused to shoot with his weaker left foot.

Then, in first half stoppage time, a breakthrough. Given’s punt up field was flicked on by Shearer, where Bellamy casually accelerated past Patrick Paauwe to place a shot past Patrick Lodewijks from a tight angle. Cue bedlam in the De Kuip stands, as the referee blew immediately for half time. Newcastle were 45 minutes away from qualification.

It was hard not to be ecstatic at half time. As a 13-year-old who grew up only knowing the good times, this still felt extra special. Ok, it wasn’t a trophy but overcoming such odds to continue the Champions League dream was incredibly exciting. With the prospect of laughing at schoolmates tomorrow, it was even better. The teams emerged in Rotterdam for the second half, yet the restart was delayed in Kiev.

Hugo Viana, playing in place of Laurent Robert, had a difficult time on Tyneside. Signed by Robson for £10m (in the days when that was a significant spend), the talented Portuguese had just won ‘Young European Footballer of the Year’. He showed glimpses of his technical abilities but would only stay at Newcastle for two seasons, having gone down as one of the club’s most famous wastes of money. But this night in Rotterdam was his crowning moment. After some fantastic closing down by Dyer, his cross seemed to miss everyone. Then the TV camera whizzed across and there was Viana, chesting the ball down and hitting it low into the right corner. 2-0 to Newcastle and things were going to plan.

That’s when it all started to fall apart. Kiev had taken the lead in the 50th minute thanks to Maksim Shatskikh, who scored in both games past the Toon. ITV commentators Jon Champion and Jim Beglin began to worry; you could sense it in their voices. Substitute Mariano Bombarda halved the lead after prodding home Bonaventure Kalou’s through ball. As Champion cried “Oh Newcastle, be careful. They were cruising and now they’re stuttering” and something resembling ‘I Will Survive’ blasted through the PA system, a new-fangled feeling of fear kicked in.

Mariano Bombarda gives the Dutch hope

Mariano Bombarda gives the Dutch hope

Six minutes later, it felt like the sky was falling. Dyer’s sloppy pass found its way to Bombarda’s head and the ball took what felt like five minutes to land on Anthony Lurling’s right boot. Rotterdam roared as Newcastle collapsed and the momentum shifted. As Champion put it “Now Feyenoord have the scent of a Champions League second phase place in their nostrils” although, despite Juventus going 2-1 up in Kiev, Dynamo were back in pole position.

Lurling hit the side netting with an 80th minute shot, whilst Jermaine Jenas and Bellamy missed the target completely with wild shots. The score was 2-2, where whoever won would qualify and the loser would be completely eliminated from Europe. A draw helped nobody. Under-strength Juventus were holding up their end of the bargain thanks to the Marcelos: Salas and Zalayeta. Yet time kept ticking away. Stoppage time had arrived and Newcastle were down on their knees.

Chilean Marcelo Salas equalised in Kiev

Chilean Marcelo Salas equalised in Kiev

Then it happened. Andy O’Brien’s hopeful free kick reached Shearer’s head, landing at Dyer’s feet. He surged past Kees van Wonderen but his disappointingly weak shot was hit straight into Lodewijks. For some reason, the keeper let the ball wriggle onto Bellamy’s right foot. But the angle was too tight, really. Maybe it was some divine intervention that squeezed Bellamy’s rebound in off Lodewijks, who knows? All I remember about the next minute was complete delirium. As Champion shrieked “BELLAMMMMYYYYY! IT’S IN! Extraordinary! Has there ever been a more dramatic night in the Champions League?” I’m jumping all over the living room, hugging inanimate objects and making noises I’ve never been able to make since. It’s exhausting to even think about.

Bellamy celebrates after scoring the winning goal.

Bellamy celebrates after scoring the winning goal.

Dad preceded the goal by using the bathroom and declaring “I’m going for a lucky wee”, something which he’s tried to replicate over and over again. To be honest, it’s only ever unlucky these days but it’s a nice souvenir from that glorious night, even if I’m the only one who remembers the time that it worked.

The full time whistle went, Juventus held on in Kiev and Newcastle had done the impossible. To this day, we’re still the only club to have lost their first three group games and still proceed to the next round. Newcastle United made history that night. Held by our black-and-white striped bond, Juventus’ vice-President Roberto Bettega said afterwards that “We promised we would help Newcastle United and we did”. The Geordies didn’t go further than the second group phase, after being drawn with Barcelona, Inter Milan and Bayer Leverkusen. But that didn’t really matter; we got to experience six more nights of playing European giants under the floodlights. Juventus reached that season’s Champions League Final, where they lost on penalties to AC Milan at Old Trafford.

Shevchenko scores Milan's winning penalty

Shevchenko scores Milan’s winning penalty

A superb night that can never be taken away, no matter what Mike Ashley does. Cherish it forever. Happy anniversary.