Uruguay 2-1 Brazil, Maracana
World Cup final stage, 16 July 1950
The moment There are 12 minutes of the 1950 World Cup left. But, for Brazil, they may as well be an eternity.
The wait to finally win a first World Cup has certainly felt like one.
And now, so close to the end, they have the point they need.
Unfortunately for Brazil, though, they don’t have the assurance or confidence that marked the build-up to the game.
The 1950 World Cup had been organised on unique lines, with a four-team group replacing the semi-finals and final. As it transpired, though, the last game was to take the form of a final in everything but the conditions.
Since an exhilarating Brazil had put 13 goals past Sweden and Spain while Uruguay had only drawn with the latter, the hosts only needed a point to deliver their first title.
And that wasn’t the only thing going their way. There was form. There was home advantage. There was Uruguay’s odd system. There was a baying crowd…
The 200,000-plus audience didn’t just expect victory; they assumed it. The O Mundo newspaper was proclaiming it. The state governor was even announcing it.
Before the game, former Italian manager and defending champion Vittorio Pozzo was shocked by the Rio official Angelo Mendes de Moraes addressing the stadium by hailing Brazil as “victors of the tournament… I already salute you as conquerors.”
It did all have some effect though – Uruguay right-half Julio Perez wet himself during the anthems.
But the truth is that Brazil were feeling it too. Despite an early onslaught, they weren’t recreating the routs of the previous games. With Roque Maspoli magnificent in goal and captain Obdulio Varela dominant in defence, Uruguay kept parity as well as their heads.
And, although they eventually succumbed to a Friaca goal two minutes after half-time, by then they know they could live with Brazil. And, as Varela told his team, even kill them off.
It is the centre-half who surges forward on 66 minutes, spraying the ball out to Alcides Ghiggia for Juan Schiaffino to then finish. For the first time, the Maracana goes deathly silent.
It wouldn’t be the last time.
Twelve minutes from the end, Uruguay’s formation has released more space on the right. Ghiggia is again free and plays it to Perez, waiting the return.
No longer nervous, Perez provides it.
Ghiggia is through. A good cross could settle the game. Brazil are readying themselves. But, instead, the forward hits a fortuitous, bobbling shot to the near post.
The Maracana goes silent again.
“These are the world champions.” The headline on Brazilian newspaper O Mundo on the morning of the game
“Juancito is a good man but today he is wrong. If we play defensively against Brazil, our fate will be no different from Spain or Sweden.” Obdulio Varela, having earlier got the Uruguayan squad to urinate on editions of O Mundo, tells them to disregard their manager’s instructions
“Boys, the crowd may as well be made of wood. Let the show begin.” Varela calms his players’ nerves with an inspirational speech.
“[The Brazilian defence] did the logical thing. I did the illogical thing… I had a little luck. In football you need luck and you need to go after luck.” Ghiggia on the six seconds
“The silence was morbid, sometimes too difficult to bear.” World Cup founder Jules Rimet
“There really was only silence. It was a complete silence. You could only hear our shouts… They could not have equalised. They did not react.” Ghiggia
“Everywhere has its irremediable national catastrophe, something like a Hiroshima. Our catastrophe, our Hiroshima, was the defeat by Uruguay in 1950.” Brazilian writer Nelson Rodrigues
What it meant Shockwaves through Brazil. Although comparing it to Hiroshima may seem grossly and insensitively overstated, many more writers than Rodrigues have argued exactly that. Not in terms of the cost, of course, but in terms of the emotional trauma.
At that point, Brazil was a young country that had never fought a war. It increasingly identified itself through football.
And now, at the point of deliverance, that very identity was shown to be on worryingly shaky ground.
Brazil wouldn’t win their first World Cup. Uruguay would win their second.
And the Brazilian nation would weep uncontrollably. As the influential Brazilian anthropologist Roberto daMatta wrote with extreme seriousness, the 1950 game “is perhaps the greatest tragedy in contemporary Brazilian history. Because it happened collectively and brought a united vision of the loss of a historic opportunity. Because it happened at the beginning of a decade in which Brazil was looking to assert itself as a nation with a great future. The result was a tireless search for explanations of, and blame for, the shameful defeat.”
But also solutions. As Wilson writes in Inverting the Pyramid, every football culture has its own idiosyncratic response to setbacks. And Brazil’s was to blame defensive deficiencies. So one of the immediate reactions was to bolster the national team’s backline with an extra stopper. The path towards the famous 4-2-4 formation had been set. As had the path to 1958 and Brazil’s position as the most successful country in the history of the game.
But, for all the trophies they’ve won since, they can never alter the result of the Lost Final.
4. The Miracle of Berne
West Germany 3-2 Hungary, Wankdorf Stadium
World Cup final, 4 July 1954
The moment It wasn’t looking good for West Germany. In fact, it was looking pretty much terminal.
Hungary had raced into a very early 2-0 lead, as they had done in every game of the 1954 World Cup so far – without ever getting beaten. And those games, of course, had made it 32 games and four years without defeat in total.
Worse, one of those games was an 8-3 victory over the West Germans themselves in the group stage. With just eight minutes gone, it looked like a similar humiliation could transpire.
Except, within two minutes Max Morlock has pulled one back. Within 10, Helmut Rahn has improbably equalised.
Also, Hungary weren’t exactly excelling like they had over the previous four years. For a start, an unfit Ferenc Puskas was back in the side after incurring an injury in the group game between the sides. Secondly, that group-stage match may have been a harsh lesson for the Germans – but also an important one. Despite the strength of the Hungarian performance, Sepp Herberger and his team spotted a number of flaws and potential problems in the Golden Team’s make-up.
Most tellingly, the Germans solved the problem of Hidegkuti by adapting their own game and deploying a man-marker.
It meant that Hungary still controlled the game. But not with the same cutting edge. And, when they finally got through, goalkeeper Toni Turek was equal to any effort.
Then, with six minutes left, Hans Schafer crosses into the box. It’s cleared. But Rahn collects. As he’s done so often – but the Hungarians still seemingly haven’t learned amid their own sense of superiority – the forward feigns a shot before cutting inside. And unleashing.
It evades Gyuli Grosics. Incredibly, it’s a goal.
It still mightn’t have been the last in the game. Almost immediately, Puskas pierces the German backline. The flag, however, goes up. Within minutes, the Jules Rimet Trophy would go up.
But in German hands rather than Hungarian.
“It was our own fault. We thought we had the match won. Then we gave away two stupid goals and let them back into it.” Puskas
“Rahn has to be shoot, Rahn shoots – Tor! Tor! Tor! … 3-1! Call me mad! Call me crazy!” German commentator Herbert Zimmerman describes what he sees… and what he feels
“The reaction in Hungary was terrible. Hundreds of thousands of people poured into the streets in the hours after the match. On the pretext of football, they demonstrated against the regime… In those demonstrations, I believe, lay the seeds of the 1956 uprising.” Goalkeeper Gyuli Grosics
“It is as though Hungarian football is frozen at that moment, as though we have never quite moved on from then.” Former international Tibor Nyilasi
“We are somebody again.” The catchphrase commonly used in West Germany following the victory
What it meant A monumental upset as West Germany were world champions for the first time and Hungary would have to go on waiting… but also so, so much more.
On the grandest of levels, historians like Arthur Heinrich and Joachim Fest have argued it was a turning point in German history. After the subdued guilt and repression of the post-War years, the victory finally gave the population the vigour and proud sense of identity to finally express – and enjoy – themselves again. Some have even described the Berne Republic, citing the win as the true founding moment of the new Germany. Not to mention the powerful economy that would rise by the early ’60s.
Certainly, the game would prove a definitive turning point in football history. Most of all, one of its greatest teams would go unfulfilled.
And the Germans had illustrated how and why by so successfully utilising a man-marker.
That constant battle between Hidegkuti and Werner Liebrich would also prove a crossroads in history.
From there, West Germany and Hungary would go in drastically different directions, beginning one international dynasty and effectively ending another.
3. Brazil tip the balance… for good
Brazil 2-0 USSR, Ullevi Stadium
World Cup group stage, 15 June 1958
The moment It wasn’t just Brazil’s World Cup that stood on a knife-edge. It was their entire history.
Indeed, after over half a century of sublime success, it’s almost impossible to imagine now how unsure Brazil must have been as they approached their crucial final group game against the USSR requiring a win. Not only did they have the pressure of progression but also that from 28 barren years without the trophy they craved most.
As a result, they also approached the game without any of the awe subsequent World Cup wins have placed in the opposition.
Instead, it was Brazil who were intimidated here. Caution had dictated that Garrincha and Pele were dropped from the opening two games until coach Vicente Feola realised putting the responsible Zagallo on the left would balance the brilliance of the virtuosos. Not that Feole was completely convinced yet. Fearing USSR physicality, the coach decided the only way to victory was to frighten the Soviets with sheer ability early on.
“Remember”, he reminded Didi, “the first pass goes to Garrincha.”
Within a minute, the winger had beaten Boris Kuznetsov four times, left Yuri Voinov on the ground and smashed the post. Sixty seconds later, Pele hit the bar before Vava scored from an exquisite Didi pass.
“The greatest three minutes ever played.” L’Equipe journalist and European Cup founder Gabriel Hanot
What it meant Not just that Brazil were through to the quarter-finals. Also that they were through the looking glass.
There was no going back now. The football had been too good, almost futuristic. What’s more, it contained everything that was wondrous about the game: dynamic team collaboration culminating in a divine pass; influential tactical innovation; courage; quality and, finally, individual brilliance.
From there, Garrincha and Pele couldn’t be dropped. Brazil’s new confidence certainly wouldn’t drop.
Having only scored three goals in their previous two games, they would go on to score 11 in their next three – including five in the final against Sweden.
The last time Brazil had got that far, in 1950, there were tears. In 1958, we would see tears again. But only of joy as the influential Pele couldn’t contain himself.
Of course, football as a whole couldn’t contain Brazil. From there, the box was opened. Four years later, they would become the last team to retain the trophy.
History had changed. And in high-class fashion.
Similar moments that didn’t make it Spain 4-1 Russia, Euro 2008
2. The feet of God
Argentina 2-1 England, Azteca Stadium
World Cup quarter-final, 22 June 1986
The moment Four minutes beforehand, there had been only bitterness. Now, there was only brilliance.
Picking up the ball in his own half, Maradona first executes a perfect double-pullback to deceive Peter Beardsley and Peter Reid. Leaving the latter for dust, he then skips past all of Terry Butcher, Steve Hodge and Terry Fenwick with elusive changes of pace and electric pieces of agility.
Finally, there’s one player to beat: Peter Shilton. Maradona shapes to shoot before finishing the move in the only manner that’s truly fitting; deceiving Shilton too, by rolling it the right and into the net.
“I want to cry! Hold God! Viva football! I want to cry! Please forgive me! Maradona on an unforgettable run, with the best move of all time! What planet did you come from?! To leave the British on their way!? To make a whole nation cry?! Thank you God! Thank you for football! Thank you for Maradona! Thank you for these tears!” Argentine commentator Victor Hugo Morales simply loses it
“When I got the ball towards the right and saw that Peter Reid couldn’t catch me, I felt a very big urge to go on running with the ball. I seemed to be able to leave everyone behind. [Fenwick] couldn’t slip me up. I had too much speed behind me.” Maradona
“There was no lack of discipline on our part, no errors. Just the genius of one player who went through half our team to score the best goal of the competition.” Bobby Robson
“The second goal was not an act that I felt belonged to the team. I wrote about the creative process of a genius, based on two confessions Maradona made after the game. They make the goal greater. The first is that Maradona told me he was looking to pass the ball to me. I was running alongside him throughout, waiting for it. But Maradona became intrigued by how to do it himself. He told me he could see me running parallel to him. The second thing he told me was that when he reached Shilton, he remembered a similar run against England when he had beaten several players, but hit the post. Maradona decided to improve on that and put the ball to the other side. So he was able to assimilate the memory, process it and come to an alternative conclusion.” Jorge Valdano
What it meant The greatest individual goal of all time? Certainly, despite admitted distraction among the English players after the Hand of God, there has never been a strike in which a single player has beaten so many opponents and run so far at such an elevated stage.
In essence, the goal is so far the ultimate illustration of the maximum possible effect one player can have on a pitch.
And, in that, it was symbolic. It reflected Diego Maradona’s 1986 World Cup as a whole. No player has dominated, defined and decided one tournament quite like he did in Mexico.
1. Carlos Alberto’s crescendo
Brazil 4-1 Italy, Azteca Stadium
World Cup final, 21 June 1970
The moment The 1970 World Cup final was no longer a contest. It was a coronation.
But it would still have one compelling piece of pageantry left.
With five minutes left, after four players have already started the move, Clodoaldo “starts the carnival” – as Carlos Alberto himself put it. With an uncharacteristic piece of evasive technique that takes four Italians out of the game, the midfielder frees space as well Rivelino.
The left-winger then curls a luxurious pass up the left for the drifting Jairzinho to collect. He draws two Italian defenders before feeding Pele at the edge of the box.
At that point, time and space seem to stop to the number-10’s command. Nonchalantly – almost tenderly and teasingly – Pele delays his pass before rolling it into the path of Carlos Alberto.
The captain doesn’t have to break stride before hitting a strike of the utmost power and purity.
Much like the entire move itself.
“When Jairzinho received the ball from Rivelino and gave the ball to Pele my stride was totally open, and Pele waited a few seconds for me to be there and then gave a beautiful pass. Pele knew I was coming because we had spoken about that kind of chance before the game, if Jairzinho made the movement to the left side.” Carlos Alberto
“This was what we had hoped for, the ritual we had come to share. The qualities that make football the most graceful and electric and moving of team sports were being laid before us. Brazil are proud of their own unique abilities but it was not hard to believe that they were anxious to say something about the game as well as about themselves.” Hugh McIlvanney
“We only realised how beautiful the goal was after the game.” Carlos Alberto
What it meant In terms of the World Cup final, little since it had long ceased to be a drama. Instead, it became a distillation of everything that was pure and possible in the sport. Football, after all, is a team game. And this was the ultimate representation of what that meant: a group of 11 players collaborating and interchanging, enhancing each other’s abilities to create a goal – and a team – of the highest possible quality on the highest possible stage.
It was less a goal than an apogee. Football as art.