On July 16, 1950, the Uruguay national team perpetrated arguably the biggest theft of the 20th Century, think the “Italian Job” but done for real and on a much grander scale, except now consider that it was done with no real planning, no money, no criminal mastermind quarterbacking the whole operation, no Michael Caine, heck not even a facetious cameo from Noël Coward… what did they do you ask? The Uruguay national team went inside a packed stadium, the holy of holies, the cavernous Maracana, mind you, in a foreign land, and won the biggest tournament mankind could’ve possibly imagined immediately following World War II. This was a monumental achievement which can’t be dismissed, conveniently misfiled or relegated to the ashbin of history.

More planning went into the “Italian Job” robbery in the film “The Italian Job” starring Michael Caine than the Maracanazo!

There’s always a revisionist urge to dismiss what came before, to obliterate the past in favor of the present, but don’t fall victim to that logic. But.. before we go any further, we need to paint the picture, set the table if you will. Lets start with what we know.

Uruguay battles Argentina for supremacy in the 1928 Olympic final – when it was all over Uruguay were the best football side the world had ever produced.

By the end of the 1920’s we all know Uruguay were a powerhouse, a side which redefined soccer, won two Olympic tournaments back when FIFA itself didn’t even have a World Cup tournament set up. During this era, Soccer, football, or whatever you want to call it, was being globalized for the masses. Uruguay were awarded the hosting rights to the first World Cup tournament, by 1930, that fine 1920’s side were an aging side but were still good enough to win the whole thing, which they did. By the time the 1930 World Cup was over Uruguay were still the best side the World had ever seen.

And then it stopped.

Uruguay didn’t send a team to the 1934 World Cup, supposedly because many European teams didn’t make the big trip to Montevideo in 1930, so Uruguay decided to pay the favor in spades – maybe, who knows… maybe by then Uruguay’s FA were strapped for cash – Uruguay were not alone, England who were considered Europe’s best side had quit FIFA in 1928, they also skipped out on the big show. So Italy won.

And then came 1938 – Originally FIFA were to alternate the tournament between Europe and the Americas but then Jules Rimet decided to reward the tournament to France, supposedly it enraged most of the South American associations with the exception of Brazil, and this time not only did Uruguay skip out on the World Cup, but so did Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Peru, Colombia and even Mexico and the United States decided not going was better than going.

The Weight of History

Which brings us to 1950… wait a minute, did I leave something out? Yes, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about a couple of other factual occurrences leading up to 1950… mainly World War II.

Hitler’s attempted Putsch fails, he lands in jail, the trial turns Hitler into a celebrity, he uses his time in jail to write a book which will outline World War II.

The conditions that led to the 1950 tournament have to include World War II – but lets go back a little further, to 1919, just two years after Obdulio Varela had been born, the Treaty of Versailles is passed. This treaty ends WW1. Germany accepts responsibility for WW1 and agrees to make huge payments (known as reparations), limit its military to 100,000 troops, and transfer territory to its neighbors. A year before Uruguay conquered the 1924 tournament, Adolph Hitler and his followers are arrested for attempting to overthrow the Bavarian Government, he is arrested on November 11, 1923, for high treason and sentenced to five years in prison, he serves only one year. Just a year after Uruguay’s 1924 Olympic conquest, Mein Kampf is published, essentially’s Hitler’s thesis for world domination, it included Hitler’s rumination about world events and… the Jews.

Caricature of Brazil’s beloved José Maria da Silva Paranhos Jr, aka The Baron de Rio Branco, an international cup would be named after him which would be contested by Uruguay and Brazil.

But while all of this was going on, on September 6, 1931, the first Copa Barón de Rio Branco is played – a year after Uruguay had won FIFA’s inaugural World Cup, Uruguay lost 2-0 to Brazil. The Cup was named after Brazilian diplomat José Maria da Silva Paranhos Jr, who you ask? Born on April 20, 1845, this diplomat would be granted the title of nobility by Pedro II Emperor of Brazil before Brazil’s proclamation the Republic is passed, the Baron would continue to use this title throughout his life. The Baron died February 10, 1912, just five years before Obdulio Varela was born. This cup, the Copa Barón de Rio Branco, along with WWII form the nucleus that would give the World, the Maracanazo. This cup was played on ten occasions between Brazil and Uruguay – Brazil won the cup 7 times while Uruguay won it 4 times. For the inaugural match Uruguay fielded only five players from the side that defeated Argentina 4-2 in the 1930 final (players in bold played in 1930): Enrique Ballestrero, José Nasazzi, Ernesto Mascheroni, Francisco Occhiussi, Lorenzo Fernández, Alvaro Gestido, Francisco Frioni, Luis Alberto Rodríguez, Pedro Duhart, Pablo Dorado and Santos Iriarte.

With England withdrawing from FIFA, Austria’s Wunderteam became Europe’s best side until the Anschluss. Meanwhile Italy won the 1934 and 1938 World Cups.

And then just 2 years later, one January 30, 1933, Hitler is named Chancellor of Germany, just a few months later the Dachau Concentration Camp opens up for business. Basically Hitler begins militarizing Germany, and then on March 12, 1938, Nazi Germany annexes Austria, the Anschluss. In terms of football, Germany’s annexation of Austria allowed them to steal the best players of Austria’s Wunderteam (except for Matthias Sindelar) but Germany failed to make it out of the first round in the 1938 tournament even with some of the Wunderteam players.

Meanwhile back in Uruguay, on January 29, 1939, Obdulio Varela makes his international debut with la Celeste, as Uruguay defeat Chile 3-2 in the 1939 Copa America played in Peru.

Obdulio Jacinto Varela, the most important player Uruguay ever fielded.

And then on September 1, 1939, Germany invades Poland, marking the start of WW2, something which the World knew was coming. Just 2 months later the War landed in Montevideo for a brief hysterical moment, when on December 17, 1939, following the Battle of the River Plate, Germany’s pocket battleship, the Admiral Graf Spee is scuttled off the coast of Montevideo. From the onset this War promised to be 100 times worse than the last, and it would be, from 1939 to 1945, the War morphed from Hitler’s initial expansionist dreams, conquering most of Western Europe into a drag down, knock it out affair which dragged the Soviet Union and the United States for it to reach its nihilist conclusion.

Just 2 months after Germany invaded Poland, the war arrives on Montevideo’s shores, when Germany’s pocket battleship the Admiral Graf Spee is scuttled off the coast of Montevideo.

Just 2 years after Germany had invaded Poland, on June 22, 1941, “Operation Barbarossa” is launched, Germany invades the Soviet Union, marking the start of the two-front war, this would be the turning point of the War. And then on December 7, 1941 Japan attacks Pearl Harbor, marking the US entry into WW2. And then comically as if Germany didn’t have enough hands to play, on December 11, 1941, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States.

Meanwhile in the World of Football, there was no football as long as the War dragged on, so without much surprise, the 1942 World Cup is cancelled. This really shouldn’t have surprise anyone, the last FIFA congress had been held in 1938, during the War years, FIFA did not reconvene.

Two years after what would’ve been the 1942 World Cup, the Normandy Invasion occurs on June 6, 1944. And despite the allies thrust into Hitler’s Europe, the war continued until 1945, on April 16, 1945 Stalin sends in 20 armies, 6,300 tanks and 8,500 aircrafts to capture Berlin, an agreement between the Allies and the Soviets stipulate the Allied Armies (positioned 60 miles to the west of Berlin) halt their advance to Berlin in order to give the Soviets a free hand in Berlin.

On April 24, 1945, the Soviets surround Berlin. On April 30, 1945, Hitler supposedly commits suicide, although the body is never found – the German high command is in shambles – on May 7, 1945 Germany surrenders to the Allies. But still the War continued because the Japanese still refused to surrender. So on August 6 and 9, 1945 the United States drops the Atomic Bomb on the City of Hiroshima (August 6) and then on the city of Nagasaki (August 9). On August 15, 1945 Japan’s surrender to the United States is announced, formally bringing WW2 to a close, although the official surrender occurs on September 2, 1945.

The United States drops the bomb on the city of Hiroshima, which officially concludes World War II.

By the time the War is over over 60 million people were killed. Which according to a Wikipedia article was estimated to be 3% of the 1940 Population, estimated at 2.3 billion. This includes battle deaths, civilian casualties, bombings, the Holocaust, the Soviet Union’s own population transfers, and the US atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki followed by the Post War rape and pillaging by both the Soviet Union and US armies. And now without further ado we can properly talk about the 1950 tournament.

Well, not so fast.

Following the end of WWII, the Football Association (commonly known as the FA) rejoins FIFA after having withdrawn in 1928 – One of the FA’s conditions for their return were that both Germany and Japan be banned from the 1950 tournament for their roles in the War. During the same year, 1946, the 25th FIFA Congress is held in Luxembourg, this was the first FIFA Congress held after the end of WWII (1939 to 1945), since what would’ve been the 1946 World Cup is cancelled, a number of decisions are made: the World Cup trophy will be renamed the Jules Rimet trophy, Brazil is awarded hosting rights to the next World Cup which was scheduled for 1949 but then delayed till 1950, Switzerland is awarded the subsequent tournament (1954).

The Jules Rimet Trophy arrives in Brazil on June 22, 1950.

As for Uruguay, on January 5, 1946 Uruguay defeats Brazil 4-3 at El Centenario for the Copa Barón De Rio Branco. On January 10, 1946 five days after Uruguay’s win over Brazil, Brazil and Uruguay draw 1-1 for the same cup, Brazil withdraw from playing at the 78th minute, Uruguay is awarded the Copa Barón de Rio Branco. This rivalry continues, on January 28, 1946 Brazil defeats Uruguay 4-3 in the South American Extra played in Buenos Aires. So this innocuous tournament begins to plant the seeds for the Maracanazo.

But the most important match played that year was not between Uruguay and Brazil but between Argentina and Brazil. On February 10, 1946 Argentina win the Copa America Extra, 2-0 at the Monumental. The match was suspended for 70 minutes at the 30th minute when Brazil’s Jair Rosa Pinto fractured Argentina’s Jose Salomon, which resulted in a melee between Brazilian players and the Argentinean Police. When the public invaded the pitch the match was suspended, eventually it was restarted and Argentina won the match. Vicente De La Mata (Arg) and Chico (Brazil) were sent off, while Jose Salomon never played international football again.

Jose Salomon, the Argentinean whose leg was broken in a contested match between Argentina and Brazil.

Meanwhile the Copa Barón de Rio Branco continues. On March 29, 1947 Brazil and Uruguay draw nil all for the Copa Barón de Rio Branco. And then on April 1, 1947 Brazil defeat Uruguay 3-2 for the Copa Barón de Rio Branco.

While this is going on, on May 10, 1947 The Match of the Century is played – 137,000 fans packed into Hampden Park, Glasgow to see a reconstituted “Great Britain” side defeat a Rest of Europe XI six to one. This friendly marked the return of the Home Nations (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) to the FIFA family. At Stanley Rous suggestion, the £30,000 raised in ticket sales for this match were to be given to FIFA which was struggling financially. This match raised expectations to what was to come, the return of the World Cup.

Program to the Match of the Century, the proceeds were given to FIFA in a show of good will, it also announced the FA’s return to the FIFA family.

In South America, on December 28, 1947 Argentina wins the 1947 South American Championship (Copa America) tournament played between November 30 – December 31, there is no championship game, the winner is crowned based on points. Pay attention to that format, it’ll come to play in 1950 as well. Uruguay finishes third and lose to Argentina on the above highlighted date. Important to note, Brazil WITHDREW from the tournament and did not participate. Uruguayan players who featured in this tournament and would go on to feature in the 1950 tournament included, Schubert Gambetta, Victor Rodriguez Andrade, and Eusebio Tejera, the Uruguayan squad were coached by Juan Lopez.

1948 arrives and Uruguay and Brazil are still going at it in the Copa Barón de Rio Branco, on April 4, 1948 Uruguay and Brazil draw 1-1 at Montevideo for the Copa Barón de Rio Branco and then on April 11, 1948 Uruguay defeat Brazil 4-2 for the Copa Barón de Rio Branco at Montevideo.

Worth noting is that on June 3, 1948 the Marshall Plan is initiated, the United States assists Western Europe with an economic stimulus plan worth $13 billion to help rebuild Post-War Europe’s infrastructure.

The DIMAYOR arrives on the scene, they steal all of Argentina’s best players including Alfredo Di Stéfano.

An then just 24 days later something curious occurs in Colombia, on June 26, 1948 La División Mayor del Fútbol Colombiano (DIMAYOR) is founded. Not affiliated with FIFA, the DIMAYOR lured many foreigners including the Argentinean Alfredo Di Stéfano with big money salaries.

Alfredo Di Stéfano, Argentina’s best player, he would emigrate to Colombia and then Spain.

The London Olympic Games are held between July 29 and August 14, the first international sports tournament since the 1936 Olympics and the 1938 World Cup. In the football event, no South American team takes part. Sweden, Yugoslavia, Great Britain and Denmark make it to the semifinals with Sweden defeating Yugoslavia to take the Gold. Denmark defeats Great Britain 5-3 to take the Bronze.

On August 2, 1948 construction of the enormous Maracana Stadium begins.

On November 10, 1948 Football players strike in Argentina during Peron’s first term in power, in fact this was the first strike of any kind which occurred when Peron assumed power, many Argentine football players left Argentina and emigrated to Cuba, Mexico and Colombia which paid better salaries which also included bonuses and prize money. Its estimated that of the 109 foreign players who played in Colombia in 1949, 57 were Argentinean.

On December 31, 1948 Uruguay’s Parliament privatizes British railroads to cover the
£17 million the UK owed Uruguay for beef purchases made during the War. On January 31, 1949, Uruguay’s railroads are nationalized.

Back to Uruguay and Brazil… on April 30, 1949 Brazil defeats Uruguay 5-1 during the Copa America. On May 11, 1949 Brazil would defeat Paraguay 7-0 in the Copa America final, Uruguay sent a youth team, Argentina did not participate.

Welcome my son, welcome to the machine, where have you been? – Peñarol’s Maquina del ’49. Pictured with a cap in the middle, Emerico Hirschl.

On May 4, 1949, another seed is planted in Uruguay’s conquest of the 1950 tournament. Peñarol sign the Hungarian Emérico Hirschl to manage their team. This foreigner goes about in creating La Maquina del ’49 (the Machine in English). Emerico Hirschl who had played for the Hakoah All-Stars in the late 20’s was the first foreigner to coach in Argentina, his move to Peñarol is important as he is unofficially credited by many as the principal architect of Uruguay’s 1950 squad although his nomination to manage the national team was not supported by Nacional and the job was ultimately given to Juan Lopez at the last moment. Peñarol’s 1949 team would form the base of the 1950 World Cup Squad, that team featured the dreaded “Escuadrilla De La Muerte” (in English: the Death Squad), which featured Alcides Ghiggia, Juan Eduardo Hohberg, Oscar Miguez, Pepe Schiaffino and Ernesto Vidal. That team also featured Roque Maspoli & one Obudlio Jacinto Varela.

Peñarol’s Escuadrilla de la Muerte

Out of all the matches Peñarol played that year the most contentious and still most remembered is the one that was played on October 10, 1949 – Known as El Clásico de la Fuga by Peñarol’s supporters or El Clásico Del Robo Del Juez by Nacional’s supporters – this infamous match played between Peñarol and Nacional has an important bearing on the national team as well, Peñarol were winning the game 1-0 with a goal from Ghiggia when Miguez (Peñarol) was fouled by Eusebio Tejera (Nacional). Tejera was ejected and Omar Miguez was awarded a penalty kick, Nacional’s keeper, Anibal Paz was able to block the attempt but couldn’t hold on to the ball, that’s when Peñarol Vidal smashed the rebound home. Nacional’s players protested the goal and surrounded the referee, at which point Nacional’s Walter Gomez, kicked the referee, Horacio Bochetti. Although Peñarol fans like to remember the fact that Nacional didn’t come out for the second half, which they should I guess, the most important thing that happened that day as far as the national team is concerned was Walter Gomez kicking the referee.

El Clasico de Fuga, Nacional fails to come out – celebrated by Manya fans the world over, after this match Walter Gomez would be lost to the national team.

This wasn’t any old player, Walter Gomez was Uruguay’s best player, period. On October 25, 1949 Walter Gomez, Uruguay’s best pound for pound soccer player was suspended for a year for having kicked Horacio Bochetti during the October 10, 1949 derby between Peñarol and Nacional. Nacional is permitted to sell Gomez to River Plate from Argentina. This sale in an era where expatriates were not recalled to the national team meant Uruguay’s best player would miss the 1950 World Cup. File that away and remember that little tidbit.

Walter Gómez debuts for River Plate, it was said, “La gente ya ni come para ver a Walter Gómez” – (the people don’t eat to see Walter Gomez play).

Meanwhile in England, on April 15, 1950 England win the British Home Championship (1949/1950) as they defeat Scotland 1-0. FIFA had offered 2 spots, to the 1st place and runners-up of this tournament. Scotland refused an invite despite having defeated Ireland 9-2, and Wales 4-1… Scotland were only interested in going to the 1950 World Cup as reigning Champions of the British Home Championship. This marked the beginning of many withdrawals from the 1950 tournament.

Alcides Ghiggia, he would score the game winner in the 1950 World Cup final.

Alcides Ghiggia makes his international Celeste debut on May 6, 1950, as Uruguay defeats Brazil 4-3 in São Pablo. Uruguay and Brazil would continue playing against each other leading up to the 1950 tournament, they would meet two more times for the Copa Barón De Rio Branco, Brazil defeated Uruguay 3-2 on May 14, 1950 and then 1-0 on May 18, 1950.

On June 3, 1950, despite Peñarol’s best efforts to make Emérico Hirschl, the national team manager, Juan López, is officially named NT manager for the World Cup without much fanfare.

The 1950 tournament would’ve featured a proper qualification system however many teams refused to go, such as the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. In Asia, the Philippines, Indonesia and Burma all withdrew leaving India as the sole participant, India would eventually withdraw from the tournament as well citing their refusal to play with cleats! Argentina, Ecuador and Peru also withdrew before qualification started. This meant there would be no qualification for South America and Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay qualified automatically. In Europe Austria and Belgium also withdrew. Turkey who had actually qualified ended withdrawing as well, citing the more realistic reason of not having the funds to travel to Brazil. Because Scotland and Turkey withdrew, FIFA offered their spots to Portugal and Ireland, which they promptly refused, France was also invited but withdrew also at the last minute.

Technically the tournament was supposed to include 15 nations, but India & France’s last minute withdrawals left the 1950 World Cup with only 13 nations. Uruguay were supposed to play in a group that would’ve featured France and Bolivia, with France’ withdrawal, this meant that Uruguay would only have to play Bolivia in their group. Brazil meanwhile had to play against Mexico, Switzerland and Yugoslavia.

Brazil – circa 1949-1950, were expected to win the 1950 World Cup.

The 1950 Tournament would not feature a knockout elimination format, instead the teams would be divided into four groups, with the group winners advancing to the final group stage, playing a round robin format to determine the winner – the final group stage would eventually feature teams that won their respective groups ( Brazil, Spain, Sweden and Uruguay).

During the Group Stage, Brazil defeated Mexico 4-0, drew with Switzerland 2-2, and defeated Yugoslavia 2-0. During the Final Group stage, Brazil hit their stride annihilating Sweden 7-1, Spain 6-1, these two results meant Brazil only had to draw with Uruguay to win the tournament. Uruguay meanwhile had it much easier, since Uruguay’s group only consists of Bolivia, on July 2, 1950 Uruguay would properly trash Bolivia 8-0 at Belo Horizonte to start their World Cup. In the Final Group Stage, Uruguay would draw with Spain 2-2, and would defeat Sweden 3-2 to book their ticket to the Final. Spain failed to win a single Final Group Stage game, while Uruguay and Sweden had each won one, Uruguay had a better goal average than Sweden who had absorbed a monumental 7-1 shellacking at the hands of Brazil.

Uruguay’s 1950 squad ready to play the role of spoilers.

Worth noting here is that Uruguay’s winger Alcides Ghiggia scored in each of Uruguay’s first 3 matches (including the Bolivia match). Brazil’s Ademir failed to score in all of Brazil’s matches but had racked up a nice tally of 8 goals during the tournament.

JULY 16, 1950

And so the table was set, Uruguayan federation officials visited the locker room right before the game, they informed the squad that they had completed their objective just by reaching the final. One person in the room disagreed with that, Obdulio Varela supposedly utters, “cumplimos, si somos campeones” (roughly translated as we’re done when we’re champions) – he then supposedly leads the team in urinating on a Brazilian newspaper which had already proclaimed Brazil, World Cup Champions. And Uruguay take to the pitch. Before a crowd of
199,954 (some estimated as 205,000) in a half-completed stadium (which would not be finished until 1965!) Uruguay were to play the host nation for the first FIFA sponsored World Cup tournament held in 12 years and the first international tournament since the London Games in 1948.

Obdulio Varela exchanges pleasantries with the Brazilian captain much to the chagrin of the officiating crew.

These two teams which had tangoed together since 1931 on an on again off again basis for the
Copa Barón de Rio Branco were leveled 0-0 by the conclusion of the first half. Not always celebrated in the myth of the Maracanazo were the solid defensive work by Matías González and Schubert Gambetta. Uruguay stood their ground, in the locker room it was decided they would win the match, someone utters, “Los de afuera son de palo” – was it Varela or was it Gambetta? Only those who were there know for sure. Ghiggia meanwhiles asks Juan López, to tell Julio Pérez, Uruguay’s defacto playmaker, to feed him short passes and not long passes as he was doing during the first half. As far as planning goes, that was about it. What happened in the second half is best described as Garrá and nothing more.

Packed to capacity and then some, the unfinished Maracana bears witness to the crime of the century!

In the 47th minute of the second half all of Uruguay’s planning and wishful thinking disappears, Friaça puts Brazil 1 up. Brazil are winning the World Cup… the Crowd explodes. Obdulio Varela calmly picks up the ball and goes to chat with the linesman. He has a feeling the goal shouldn’t have been valid. This offside protest stalls the action. After the game resumes Varela mutters “now we’ll win it” – The crowd gets taken out. This, this is the moment Uruguay wins the World Cup!

Schiaffino delivers, Uruguay levels the game.

With a less frenzied crowd, Uruguay can get to work. Twenty minutes later, Schiaffino scores for Uruguay, Uruguay have equalized, the Brazilians know with a draw they’re still World Cup Champions, nothing to worry about. Except then, in the 66th minute or thereabouts, Ghiggia draws Bigode, he passes the ball to Julio Pérez, who short passes it back to him, gets past Bigode, threatens to blast it in the left corner, instead he takes it inside and from an impossible angle takes his shot, in doing so he gets by Augusto and Barbosa who is too slow to react. Uruguay go up 2-1.

Ghiggia fools Barbosa, Brazil collapse, they fail to recover.

There’s still time to equalize for Brazil a full ten minutes are left, but they don’t manage it. Uruguay wins the World Cup. Varela snatches the tiny Ghiggia and hoists him in the air. Emotional sobs follow, not only from the Uruguay players who have just managed the impossible but also from the Brazilians players who have just lost it all.

Mission accomplished.

Meanwhile in Argentina, River Plate are playing San Lorenzo at the Monumental during the same time the World Cup final is being played. The public address speakers at the Monumental announces to the crowd that Uruguay have won the World Cup, Walter Gómez drops to his knees and cries, at which point Walter Gómez’ teammates hoist him on their shoulders and the crowd serenades Gomez with the “u-ru-guayo’ chant. In Rio, immediately following the match Jules Rimet doesn’t know what to do with the trophy and doesn’t even know who the Uruguay team captain is, Obdulio politely snatches the trophy from the FIFA President’s hands. There is no doubt. Uruguay are World Cup Champions.

Obdulio Varela has to pry the bounty from Jules Rimet’s hands.

The How And Why?

Uruguay had not been expected to reach the final let alone win it, Brazil would’ve preferred Argentina but the bad blood from the match they played on February 10, 1946 had fostered an all out hatred on the part of the Argentineans, Brazil had withdrawn from the 1947 Copa America while Argentina did not participate in the 1949 edition of the same tournament. But more significantly is the loss of many players to Colombia’s DiMayor including Di Stéfano, there’s this popular misconception that Argentina would’ve reached the final had they played in the tournament, this is complete and utter revisionist nonsense, just like Uruguay were forced to rethink their call-up selections with Walter Gomez’ absence, Argentina would not have been able to count on Di Stéfano or many of their stars. Some like to blame Perón’s closed border policy but a weakened side and national loss to Brazil would’ve been more humiliating for Argentina. Its unclear whether Argentina would’ve been allowed to cap Di Stéfano in 1950, he had last played for Argentina in the 1947 South American Championship (Copa America) by the time the 1950 World Cup came around, he had played for Colombia’s national team although FIFA has refused to acknowledge these matches since Colombia did not rejoin FIFA again until 1953, by this point he had already left for Spain. Di Stéfano aside, its arguable Argentina could’ve mustered a side to combat Brazil’s still impressive 1950 side without his services.

But still how could a side that had trashed both Spain and Sweden in the Final Group Stage lose to Uruguay, in the book, Futebol, Soccer the Brazilian Way – by Alex Bellos, Zizinho one of the Brazilian players who played in the final argued that Uruguay played an Old System (Viejo Sistema) – “Their system was crazy but it wasn’t as bad as WM… That’s why we lost the World Cup.” – “Uruguay didn’t play WM. Uruguay played with one back deep and the other in front. It was a terrible system but WM is worse.” The WM Zizinho refers to is the football system developed by Herbert Chapman at Arsenal, Brazil played with the WM in the 1950 tournament, as did Yugoslavia, Spain and Sweden – “The three that played in WM we beat.” Jonathan Wilson meanwhile has argued in his book Inverting the Pyramid that the formation Uruguay played under was a 1-3-3-3, or an early version of the more modern 4-3-3.

Uruguay en el ’50: Máspoli, Gonzáles, Andrade, Tejera, Gambetta, Varela, Pérez, Miguez, Ghiggia, Schiaffino, Morán

Formational number aside, there was no planning here, there was no pre-planned intelligence at work here… one only has to watch the Maracana documentary that came out three years ago or read the book by Atilio Garrido, “Maracana: La History Secreta” to experience the the utter disarray Uruguay’s FA was under, before, during and after the tournament. The lack of qualifiers and preparations for this tournament meant Uruguay also might have skipped out on the tournament which they did threaten to do. What kept them in it was where the tournament was to be held, it wasn’t going to be held in Europe which would’ve been more costly for Uruguay’s FA, but also that inconsequential Copa Barón de Rio Branco, which in retrospect wasn’t inconsequential, just a month before the tournament was to be held, Uruguay and Brazil were playing each other. These were two sides that knew each other. The naming of the national team manager so late also didn’t tie Uruguay to any tried and true system of play. And then there’s the Garrá factor. The come from behind win aspect. This Uruguayan virtue is all too easily dismissed nowadays but this back to the wall, do or die concept, plays an important part in this mythical fable. Varela conditioning his team to a win in the pre-match locker room. The offside protest. Playing to win, nowadays a concept so insanely alien to Uruguay’s national team. This side wasn’t playing for a draw. After Friaça’s goal, the game could’ve been over, but with Varela they stuck around to revert the script.

Forget everything you know, we won because Obdulio Varela willed us to win!

Whatever came afterwards felt canned by comparison, perhaps the 1998 final between France and Brazil being somewhat similar to what 1950, must’ve felt like but not really. The ’98 final was staged with the blessing of a megalomaniac like Havelange working at the services of his corporate masters, that Brazil lost that final wasn’t as tragic as 1950, World Cup matches weren’t fixed prior to 1950, it was an honest tournament. It degenerated into a whole different animal as quickly as 1954 and 1958. The only event I can think of which equals the sheer shock aspect of the Maracanzo was Mike Tyson’s loss to Buster Douglas in 1990 and historically maybe Mohamed Atta and Al-Queda’s take down of the World Trade Center in 2001. But there was an operational component to that terrorist attack. In 1950, Uruguay named a coach just three weeks before the start of the tournament, could not count on their best player and weren’t even backed by their FA to even win it when they made it to the final. This wasn’t just luck. Uruguay weren’t just lucky that day. What happened that day came down to just one thing, who wanted it more. At the end of the 90 minutes Uruguay just wanted it more.

Hasta La Victoria!


References – Wikipedia, RSSSF, Cronica Celeste by Luis Pratts, Futebol, Soccer the Brazilian Way – by Alex Bellos, Inverting the Pyramid by Jonathan Wilson, Walter Gomez “U-Ru-Guayo” story told to me by Pepe Cardinale, editor in chief of Noticias Del Mundo.

Yorugua Yorugua 4 like
in my book garra is the never give up attitude, going against the odds, getting going when the going gets tough. but im with ale that theres more than that, maybe many years ago being stubborn to avoid defeat in whatever manner was enough, today you need a more elaborated plan and a winning mentality, the coach thinks we belong to 3rd world in football no mater how many elite players are at his disposal, what results in spoiling an unique generation. reverse engineer world cup winners in recent years and you realize the ball needs to be part of… Read more »
Alessandro Viña

What an article! The definition of our garra i think needs a re-think…. it’s not going out there and playing 11 men behind the ball hoping for a draw and then a win in penalities it is going out there and playing football to win… we can play defensive but we can also counter attack and play football to win the match! Something that’s currently not in tabarez’s book.


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