(Translated from the original French version)
Any study of Brazilian football reveals that football is inextricably linked to Brazilian society. When the British introduced Brazil to football in 1894, it was impossible to predict that football would become a key aspect of its culture. However, during the following decades, football became Brazil’s national pastime, almost a religion, and Brazilian soccer players created a style of play distinctively Brazilian and different from other styles of play around the world. As a result, Brazil was proud to be chosen by FIFA as the host of the World Cup in 1950, only 56 years after the first Brazilian football match took place. What an honor! It seemed that there was no candidate more deserving of the chance to organize the World Cup than Brazil. Everyone recognized the talent of the Brazilian national team, and the team’s fans had confidence in its ability to win—so much confidence that many citizens celebrated the victory before the match had even taken place.  This presumptuousness was a grave error; to Brazil’s embarrassment, the team was defeated at home and on the largest stage in the world at the hands of Uruguay, Brazil’s comparatively diminutive neighbor. The Brazilian people were stunned: the entire country had been invested in the success of its team, and it was not emotionally prepared for a defeat. The World Cup of 1950 will certainly be on the minds of Brazilians during this summer’s tournament, but, given the humiliation and pain of 1950, it is unlikely that they will want to discuss it. To truly appreciate the significance of the World Cup this summer, foreigners must understand the World Cup of 1950 and its influence on the Brazilian psyche.
The Brazilian people excitedly looked forward to the final match between Brazil and Uruguay in 1950. The fact that this World Cup was the first since the twelve-year interruption caused by World War II also contributed to the anticipation. The Uruguayan team had a distinguished history; it notably won first place at the Olympic games in 1924 and 1928, in addition to winning the inaugural World Cup in 1930. Although the Uruguayan team was formidable in 1950, the Brazilian team was widely considered to be superior,  and the Brazilian people believed in their team’s ability to win its first championship. In fact, although the final match had not yet taken place, the mayor of Brazil and several newspapers declared Brazil the victor,  and Jules Rimet, the president of FIFA and the founder of the World Cup, prepared a congratulatory speech for the Brazil.  It seemed that their expectation of triumph was logical: the team had won its previous two matches without difficulty; the striker Ademir had already scored eight goals in the tournament, an impressive record that would last until 2002; and opposing teams had been effectively incapable of scoring goals against the Brazilian goalkeeper Moacir Barbosa.
In addition, it seemed natural that Brazil should triumph on its own pitch, in front of the 200,000 Brazilian fans in the Maracanã stadium, the largest stadium in the world. The Maracanã had been specifically constructed in preparation for the 1950 World Cup. The objective was to construct a stadium that would be a testament to the success of Brazilian football and the victory of the Brazilian national team. In practice, the Maracanã was constructed to serve as a temple of Brazilian football. Due to the enormity of the stadium, construction was delayed and many people feared that it would not be ready to host the finale. Interesting, this history of the Maracanã is parallel to that of the stadiums that are currently under construction in preparation for the World Cup this summer. Although the construction of the Maracanã was not completely finished until 1965, the stadium opened its doors for a friendly match between Sao Paolo and Rio one week before the 1950 World Cup. While scaffolding remained in place to help support the stadium’s roof, the World Cup took place in the Maracanã as planned.
After much anticipation, the final match took place on July 16. After a scoreless first half, Friaça, a Brazilian striker, scored a goal during the 47th minute. It seemed that victory was Brazil’s destiny, and the 200,000 fans cheered uproariously. During the 66th minute, the Uruguayan winger Juan Schiaffino scored a goal to tie the match.  Not to worry—given the results of previous matches, a tie was sufficient for Brazil to win the championship. Then, another Uruguayan winger, Alcides Ghiggia, scored a goal during the 79th minute. Uruguay had surpassed Brazil. The Maracanã was silenced, and the 200,000 fans in the stadium were instantly overcome with disbelief.
The shocking defeat provoked numerous reactions after the match that demonstrated the magnitude of the devastation. For instance, after the final whistle, a distressed fan committed suicide, and three others died from heart attacks. FIFA presented the Jules Rimet Trophy to Uruguay without an award ceremony, as nobody had thought to prepare a congratulatory speech for Uruguay. Outside the stadium, a group of Brazilian fans knocked over a bust of Angelo Mendes de Moraes, the mayor of Rio who was reviled due to his premature congratulations. According to rumors, Flavio Costa, the coach of the Brazilian team, discretely exited the stadium disguised as a nanny. The defeat also influenced the Brazilian team itself, which did not participate in matches for two years or play in the Maracanã for four years following the World Cup. Finally, the most visible consequence of the defeat was the fact that the national team adopted yellow and green shirts instead of the white shirts that it had worn during the match.
The Psychological Toll
The defeat also had an emotional and psychological impact on the Brazilian people as a whole and on Brazilian society in general. The match against Uruguay, nicknamed the “Maracanazo,” is considered to be a national tragedy and is sometimes compared to the bombing of Hiroshima and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The Maracanazo was particularly tragic because all of Brazil—and a large part of the world—watched the World Cup. Brazilians were emotionally invested in their team and, as a result, the entire country suffered from the defeat. The Maracanazo was also tragic because it hampered Brazil’s efforts to show the world that it was a country worthy of the respect and admiration of its peers. The most severe consequence of the Maracanazo was doubtlessly the fact that it provoked a lack of self-confidence among the Brazilian people. Aldo Rebelo, the Brazilian minister of sport, suggests that “Losing to Uruguay in 1950 not only impacted on Brazilian football. It impacted on the country’s self-esteem.” Brazil was effectively paralyzed emotionally and psychologically as a result of the Maracanazo.
Football and Brazilian Identity
Alex Bellos, a British author and expert on Brazilian soccer, suggests that the defeat was especially hurtful to Brazil because football is inextricably linked to the Brazilian identity. To truly understand this link, it is important to consider Brazil’s history as a key participant in the Atlantic slave trade. From 1502 to 1860, Brazil was the world’s largest importer of slaves; during this period, 38 percent of slaves brought to the New World ended up in Brazil, where they primarily worked to cultivate and harvest sugar. Brazil was the last country in the western hemisphere to outlaw slavery in 1888. At the beginning of the 20th century, black Brazilians—slaves or descendants of slaves—became scapegoats, and it was common to blame them for society’s various problems. However, during the 1930s, a group of particularly gifted black football players became national heroes and, as a result, they encouraged their compatriots to appreciate the diversity of their country. Since the 1930s, football has served to unify Brazil.
Moacir Barbosa, the goalkeeper of the Brazilian team, suffered the most as a result of the tragic defeat. As goalkeeper, he suffered endless criticism from Brazilians who blamed him for allowing the two apposing goals and accused him of being responsible for the defeat. In addition, fans of opposing teams mocked Barbosa. Since Barbosa was black, racism often pervaded the criticism, making it all the more painful. Although many of the football players admired in Brazil in the 1950s were black, such as Didi and Léonidas da Silva, Barbosa’s plight demonstrates that the Brazilian society of the era was still marked by prejudice and racism.
Even members of successive Brazilian national teams rejected Barbosa. In 1994, Barbosa planned to meet with Cláudio Taffarel, the goalkeeper at the time, to share his wisdom and encourage him before a qualifying match against Uruguay. However, Mário Zagallo, the superstitious coach of the team, forbade the meeting. Shortly before his death Barbosa expressed his exasperation at being a pariah: “Under Brazilian law, the maximum sentence is 30 years. But my imprisonment has been for 50 years.” Brazilian oral tradition suggests that Barbosa sought consolation when he burned the goal posts from the Maracanã at a barbecue. Although it was, above all, a symbolic consolation, rather than a true comfort, symbolic consolation was, perhaps, better than nothing at all.
World Cup 2014: Redemption or Reform?
This summer, the Maracanazo will preoccupy Brazilians during the World Cup. It is reasonable to expect that a victory this summer would permit Brazil to overcome the painful memory of the Maracanazo. This year’s World Cup presents Brazil with another opportunity to win the World Cup in the Maracanã, and to demonstrate its glory to the world. In fact, a Brazilian victory this summer is not out of the realm of possibility. After having won the FIFA Confederations Cup at the Maracanã last summer, the Brazilian team became the favorite team of many fans attempting to predict the outcome of the next World Cup. Rebelo, the Brazilian minister of sport, argues that the technical proficiency and creativity of Brazilian players gives them an advantage over their European adversaries, whose style is characterized by tactics and force.
Although Brazil is hoping for a victory that will wash away the embarrassment of the Maracanazo, certain individuals have suggested that a defeat could also have a positive impact on Brazilian football. An inquiry by Brazil’s parliament discovered that the best Brazilian football players have been sold to European clubs to the detriment of Brazilian clubs, that Brazilian clubs are practically bankrupt, and that the money generated by Brazilian football enriches a few already-wealthy individuals. Sócrates, a Brazilian star from the 1970s and 1980s, suggests that an embarrassing defeat at this summer’s World Cup could incite the Brazilian Football Confederation to reform, democratize, and reduce corruption. According to Rebelo, a defeat against Argentina would be one such embarrassment, akin to “losing to your brother-in-law and that is something that you also can never accept in the family.”
It is certain that the tragedy of 1950 will be on the minds of Brazilians this summer. A victory would be cathartic and help to restore Brazil’s lost confidence. At the same time, it has been suggested that another shameful defeat could also have positive effects on Brazilian football. It is essential for foreigners to understand the history of the Maracanazo, as well as the psychological impact of the Maracanazo on the Brazilian people, in order to fully appreciate the importance of the upcoming World Cup and Brazil’s role as host. Regardless of who wins the World Cup, the tournament will contain much profound symbolism, and that is all that it takes for a World Cup to be fascinating.
 Joshua Robinson, “The Defeat that Brazil Can’t Forget,” Wall Street Journal, Nov. 4, 2013, www.online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304682504579154172398189230.
 “1950 World Cup: Germany is excluded from a new beginning,” Continental AG, 2010, www.conti-online.com/generator/www/de/en/continental/contisoccerworld/themes/00_fifa_wm_2010/55_dfb_stars/16_dfbstar_1950_ohne_dfb_en.html.
 Vladimir Hernandez, “World Cup 2010: Underdogs Uruguay hunt third cup,” BBC, July 1, 2010, www.news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/football/world_cup_2010/8781362.stm.
 “Uruguay triumph brings heartbreak for Brazil,” FIFA, www.fifa.com/worldcup/archive/edition=7/overview.html.
 Kirsty Lang, “Doctor with cure for Brazilian football,” BBC, June 1, 2002, www.news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/from_our_own_correspondent/2018994.stm.
 Alex Bellos, “Countdown to World Cup 2014: Brazil desperate to exorcise the 1950 ghost,” The Guardian, June 11, 2013, www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2013/jun/11/world-cup-brazil-1950-hosts.
 Mike Collett, “Soccer-Brazil must not repeat 1950 World Cup ‘tragedy’,” Reuters, Dec. 3, 2012, www.uk.reuters.com/article/2012/12/03/soccer-brazil-minister-idUKL4N09D2VI20121203.
 Christian Gestewicki et al., “The Brazilian Slave Trade,” The African Slave Trade in the Atlantic World, www.public.gettysburg.edu/~tshannon/hist106web/site2/BRAZIL.HTM.
 Serge Katembera Rhukuzage, “La malédiction du gardien noir au Brésil,” Carioca Plus, Oct. 24, 2013, www.peacefulworld.mondoblog.org/2013/10/24/la-malediction-du-gardien-noir-au-bresil/.
 Avi Creditor, “1950 Uruguay ghost haunts Brazil in commercial,” Sports Illustrated, Nov. 22, 2013, www.soccer.si.com/2013/11/22/1950-uruguay-ghost-haunts-brazil-in-commerical/.
How to cite this page: “The Maracanazo: Brazilian Tragedy and the 1950 World Cup,” Written by Matthew Schorr (2013), World Cup 2014, Soccer Politics Blog, Duke University, http://sites.duke.edu/wcwp/world-cup-2014/world-cup-2014-fan-guide/anglophone-version/the-1950-world-cup-brazilian-tragedy/ (accessed on (date)).
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