It is true that I was not yet born, but if you spend time like I do reading about classic football encounters, or notorious episodes in Brazil’s history of the beautiful game, then what happened that day against Uruguay feels familiar.
Take the disputed “Game of Mud” between São Paulo and Palmeiras in 1951, or the “Fla-Flu da Lagoa” derby in 1941, when Fluminense resorted to kicking a succession of balls into the nearby lake in a desperate bid to hold on at 2-2 against bitter rivals Flamengo and win the title. Part of Brazil folklore.
Now, back to July 16th, 1950 and a quick recap for those under 80 years old. The final four teams that year played in round-robin format, instead of a knockout stage. Brazil were one point ahead of Uruguay going into the match, meaning the visitors needed a win while Brazil needed only to avoid defeat to become world champions.
We had beaten all-comers on the way to the final game (we had a great team) and after hearing the mayor of
Rio de Janeiro in his speech calling players “world champions” our team went and lost to Uruguay 2-1.
The crowd, not without reason, blamed the goalkeeper Moacyr Barbosa and his misfortune was revisited in a short film by Jorge Furtado. The main character, now an adult but still haunted by what he had seen as a young boy at the Maracanã sitting alongside his father, returned by time machine to the scene of the crime in an effort to warn the hapless Barbosa against Uruguay’s second goal sneaking inside his near post.
And yet the defeat in the Maracanã was like a lost lesson: we were defeated in Spain in 1982 and France in the 1998 final amid the same certainty of our invincibility.
I remember a commentator when Brazil qualified for the final in Paris saying, “Now we need to know if Ronaldo will score the three goals needed to overcome Davor Suker” (to win the Golden Boot). Three goals in a final against a host nation who had conceded only two in the entire competition?! That’s Brazil for you.
Few episodes in our timeline better illustrate our nature, our character, than the defeat in 1950. The provincialism, nationalism, uncritical, irresponsible optimism, a tendency to look for the guilty in wrong places.
There are not so many film clips from that afternoon, so we always see those same guys crying. Now, it is as if they are in your own family.
Perhaps the only lesson that has been learned from 1950 is to always close down the player, so we never concede another goal like that by Alcides Ghiggia all those years ago.