Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

When Brazil Lost the World Cup


When asked in 1998 who would win that year’s soccer World Cup being played in France, Diego Maradona responded: “Countries organize the World Cup to win it,” thus suggesting that France would be the winner. And it was. The same thing could be said today for this year’s World Cup in Brazil. For most people that country is favored to win the competition. Except…

The year is 1950, when the fourth FIFA (International Federation of Association Football) World Cup was held in Brazil from 24 June to 16 July. Scheduled to play against Mexico, Switzerland and Yugoslavia, Brazil beat Mexico 4-0, thrashed Sweden 7-1, and Spain 6-1, to become finalist for its group.

Uruguay had a difficult match with Spain, finally ending in a 2-2 draw after lagging 2 to 1. Afterwards Uruguay beat Sweden 3-2, the winning goal coming just minutes before the end of the match. The match between a splendidly performing Brazil and an unconvincing Uruguay would decide the world title. The latter, one point behind Brazil, had to win to become world champion, while its rival only needed a draw to claim the title.

There was enormous interest in the outcome despite the consensus from sports journalists and the public that Brazil would be the champion. After all, the Brazilian team had won its previous games easily while Uruguay merely reached a draw with Spain and won an agonizing match against Sweden. A comparison of their previous performances left little doubt of the final result.

Rio de Janeiro was a beehive on July 16, 1950. An improvised carnival was ready to celebrate Brazil’s triumph over Uruguay. Brazilians filled the newly built Maracanã stadium to capacity. Although the official count was a world-record 173,850, unofficial estimates were close to 210,000. Only 100 Uruguayans were present at the game.

The daily newspaper O Mundo printed a special edition with a photograph of the Brazil team captioned, “These are the world champions”. Jules Rimet, former FIFA president and originator of the World Cup, had prepared a speech in Portuguese to congratulate the winners, expected to be the Brazilians. The Brazilian Football Confederation had imprinted 22 gold medals with the names of its players. A song entitled “Brasil os vencedores” (“Brazil the Victors”) was composed days before the final game.

Before the game, the mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Ângelo Mendes de Moraes, addressed the crowd with words intended for the Brazilian players, “You, players, who in less than a few hours will be hailed as champions by millions of compatriots! You have no rivals in the entire hemisphere! You who will overcome any other competitor! You, I already salute as conquerors!”

With the Brazilian teammates and public anticipating victory, Uruguay’s coach Juan Lopez told his players that the best way to play against the powerful Brazilian team was to play defensively and try not to let them score too many goals. Outside the locker room, Uruguayan captain Obdulio Varela, nicknamed “El Negro Jefe” (The Black Chief”), told  his players, “Juan is a good man, but he is dead wrong,” adding, “Boys, outsiders don’t play. Let the show begin”. And with these memorable last words the players went into the field.

The first half of the game ended 0-0. Two minutes after the start of the second half Brazil scored the first goal. Brazilians were delirious and the Maracanã stadium shook as people jumped and shouted at the top of their lungs. Brazil was a feast.

After the goal, Varela took the ball and slowly, very slowly, walked towards George Reader, the British referee and, speaking to him in Spanish, questioned the validity of the goal. He spoke at length, forcing the referee to bring out an interpreter. The game was suspended while the talk was taking place. The Brazilian spectators were furious. This was supposed to be a party! Why was this guy talking so long to the referee! One Brazilian player spat on Varela but he remained undaunted.

Afterwards Varela would declare that his was a carefully thought-out strategy aimed at cooling down the crowd. Mission accomplished, he addressed his teammates: “Let’s go, boys, now is the time to win.”  The Uruguayan players, suddenly energized by Varela’s words, felt they could deal with the Brazilian Goliath.

Twenty-one minutes into the second half Uruguay evened the score. Speeding on the right, Alcides Ghiggia crossed a low pass for Juan Schiaffino to score. Maracanã, which until then had been a party became silent, a silence “which terrified our players,” declared later Brazilian coach Flavio Costa.

A draw would have crowned the Brazilians, but there was another surprise in store for them. Ghiggia exchanged passes with Julio Perez. Ghiggia continued running and sent a deadly shot scoring the second goal with only 11 minutes to end the game. The inconceivable had happened. Brazil had lost the game and Uruguay became the world champion.

The loss of the World Cup had a devastating effect on Brazilians. There were dozens of suicides and many nervous breakdowns. Rio de Janeiro, which was all samba before the game, became as silent as an abandoned country church.

Years later Varela would recall, “There was such sadness among the fans that I decided to go and have drinks with them. I thought the Brazilians were going to kill me when they realized who I was. But I figured that if I had to die that evening it would be my fate. Fortunately, I couldn’t have been more wrong. They congratulated me and we had quite a few drinks together.”

The following day Varela did not allow any photographs of him and refused to join in the celebrations saying, “My heart goes to people who suffer.” Upon their return, the Uruguayans were met by an ecstatic country. Everybody was exultant except one person: Obdulio Varela, the man who made the Brazilians sad.

Dr. César Chelala is a New York writer from Argentina and a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.



Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
Lara Gardner
Why I’m Not Voting
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017