The ‘Maracanazo’: The Darkest Day In Brazil Football History

At the 1950 World Cup, Brazil was shaken to its core in the “Maracanazo,” when they unexpectedly failed to claim the title on their home turf. On Thursday, the green and yellow start their campaign to erase that dark mark in an otherwise brilliant legacy.

Brazil is the winningest football team in World Cup history, but that has come with some heartache, and the “Maracanazo” is something Brazilians haven’t been able to forget, even after 64-years.

First, some background. In Brazil, football or soccer, as it’s known in the US, is a “religion,” meaning people eat, breathe, and sleep the sport. Players are national heroes, and when their team loses the country is in mourning.

The term “Maracanazo” comes from the location where the disastrous 1950 match was played, Estádio do Maracanã, in Rio de Janeiro, and the term is used to indicate an underdog victory against Brazil.

Unlike the modern World Cups, in 1950 the winner was determined by a group stage, with the final four teams playing in round-robin format instead of a knockout stage in which the loser goes home.

Of course, Brazil was the heavy favorite to win in 1950. After all, they were the hosts, and on top of that, their football style was one of the most exciting in the world, even before Pele came along.

For days, prior to the “Maracanazo,” the press and public alike had built up a celebratory atmosphere in anticipation of what they thought was a sure outcome. Everyone expected Brazil to win their first World Cup at home, in front of their adoring fans.

But it was not to be. Uruguay had other plans, and after battling Sweden and Spain, they were the last left standing against their neighbor and arch rival, Brazil.

The certainty everyone in Brazil had of winning was accentuated by the fact that Uruguay had a difficult time getting to the final match, which they needed to win in order to claim the World Cup title. Few gave Uruguay an outside chance.

Things came to a halt on July 16, 1950 at the Estádio do Maracanã, packed with a paid attendance of 173,830, though records at the time indicate that the actual attendance was estimated to be about 210,000 — the largest crowd ever at any sporting event.

The “Maracanazo” started in promising fashion for Brazil when Friaça scored first, two minutes after the halftime. Ninteen minutes later, Schiaffino scored the equalizer following the recovery of the Uruguayans, who at that time were dominating the match.

Then in one of the most shocking moments in sports history, Uruguay’s Alicides Ghiggia scored a second goal in the 79th minute, leaving the hundreds of thousands of spectators at the Maracanã stunned and silent. Afterwards, former FIFA president Jules Rimet remarked: “The silence was morbid, sometimes too difficult to bear”

What followed in Brazil was nothing short of a national tragedy such as the country had never thought possible, as fans and sportscasters believed the World Cup had been “stolen” from them. People cried and wailed, heartbroken at the unimaginable loss.

Rimet had prepared a speech congratulating the expected champions, Brazil, and organizers left him alone, standing in the field, holding the World Cup trophy. There was no presentation to Uruguay, since even the medals had previously been engraved with the names of the Brazilian team.

Countless upset fans went to the extreme of committing suicide because their beloved “Verde Amarela” (green and yellow) lost to the hated Uruguayans, and the players who were part of that National Team of long ago were vilified for decades.

Today, the “Maracanazo” lives in infamy as the darkest day in Brazil’s football history, and as the nation is ready to once again host a World Cup in 2014, we can’t help but wonder if they will be able to erase the memories of that fateful day in July of 1950.

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