With the majority of the European countries recovering from the devastating effects of the Second World War, FIFA had some difficulties finding a country interested in hosting the World Cup after the cancellation of the previous two editions in 1942 and 1946. Countries in Europe, recovering from post-war jitters believed that their scarce resources ought to be devoted to more urgent priorities than a sporting celebration. While most of the countries backed out of the bidding, Brazil presented the bid and went on to host the country’s first World Cup in 1950.
THE ITALIAN TRAGEDY
Just one year before the start of the tournament, long-standing defending champions Italy suffered a terrible tragedy as the plane carrying most of their players crashed. A terribly weakened Italian team was persuaded to attend the tournament, where they insisted to travel by boat rather than taking a flight. Both Germany and Japan were banned from entering the competition due to their involvement as the allied forces in the second World War. There were multiple withdrawals of teams not willing to participate in the tournament with as many as 3 qualified teams (India, Turkey, Scotland) deciding not to enter the tournament after even more withdrawals at the qualifier stages.
THE CASE OF SIMILAR JERSEYS
England went into the competition as one of the favourites; however, it was not to be, as they went crashing out on 29 June in a shock 1–0 defeat by the United States which, combined with their 1–0 defeat by Spain, led to England being eliminated. Italy, the defending champions, lost their unbeaten record at the World Cup finals when the team was defeated 3–2 by Sweden in its opening match. Because of this defeat, Italy failed to progress to the second round. The final match in group 1 between Switzerland and Mexico was the first time a national team did not play in their own kit. Both teams arrived with only their red kits. There was a meeting held between the Brazilian Football Confederation they tossed a coin and Mexico won so it seemed they would get to play in their own kit. However, they gave a nice gesture to the Swiss by allowing them to wear their kit so Mexico did the honours of changing. The local team that lent out their shirts was Esporte Clube Cruzeiro from Porto Alegre. The shirts had vertical blue and white stripes.
THE PATH TO THE FINAL
The final group stage involved the teams who won their groups: Brazil, Spain, Sweden, and 1930 FIFA World Cup champions Uruguay, who were making their first World Cup appearance since winning the inaugural tournament. The World Cup winner would be the team that managed to finish on top of this group. The final group’s six matches were shared between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Brazil played all its final group matches at the Estádio do Maracanã in Rio while the games that did not involve the host nation were played in São Paulo. Brazil won their first two matches with a 7–1 thrashing of Sweden and 6–1 rout of Spain. Before the decisive match, Brazil was sitting on top of the final group and had one game left to play against Uruguay, in second and only a point behind.
Going into the final match against Uruguay, needing only a point to win the World Cup in front of their own crowd, Brazil was so confident of winning the tournament that a samba band stood on the sidelines of the pitch, ready to play a new song called Brazil the Winners. Local newspapers had already printed special editions proclaiming the hosts “Champions of the World”. Before a huge home crowd of 199,954 (some estimated as 205,000) in the Estádio do Maracanã, Brazil started strongly and was in the ascendancy for most of the first half without finding the back of the net. In the second half though, Brazil had a dream start scoring within the second minute. However, Uruguay equalised and then with just over 11 minutes left to play, to the collective grim of over 200000 people went ahead 2–1 when Alcides Ghiggia squeaked a goal past Moacyr Barbosa, and Uruguay was crowned World Cup champions for the second time. The match became known as the Maracanazo, which roughly translates as the great Maracana blow, and would haunt Brazilians for decades to come. Brazilian football legend Pele, who listened at home on the radio, always remembers that it was the first time he saw his father cry. It is rumoured that the 10-year-old Pele promised his dad, “Don’t cry. I will bring home the Cup one day.”