The Maracanazo: The game that changed a jersey

Such was the confidence of a maiden Brazilian World Cup victory on home soil in 1950, that the nation’s fans and media started celebrations well before a ball was kicked.

Prior to the final, the Selecao looked to be in impeccable form.

The hosts pulled off a 7-1 rout against Sweden before replicating their form in the penultimate stages of the World Cup with a 6-1 thrashing of Spain. And with that, Flavio Costa’s men entered the match as undoubted favourites to take home their first Copa do Mundo.

For Uruguay, well, things looked bleak.

A lacklustre draw against Spain in Estadio do Pacaembu was followed by a tight 3-2 win against Sweden - things weren’t looking great.

Sure, progressing to a World Cup final was and still is an achievement in itself, but the prospect of losing in an undignified manner against a rampant Brazilian side in front an additional 200,000 Brazilian citizens in a packed Maracana stadium was the stuff of nightmares.

What transpired can only be attributed to divine intervention. With Ademir, who is widely regarded as one of the best Brazilian forwards ever, among their ranks, and a young Pele watching his idols ply their trade at the highest level, what could possibly go wrong?

Even on the morning of the final, there was an air of confidence.

Millions upon millions of shirts with the words “campeões do mundo” etched on the front were distributed to fans. As if that wasn’t bad enough. O Globo, a newspaper outlet, foolishly ran “These are your world champions” as their headline. An improvised carnival was in place in the streets of Rio and chants of “Brazil must win” could be heard from afar.

There were even reports that FIFA’s president at that time, Jule Rimet had already prepared his congratulatory speech.

How did Uruguay prepare? Well, remember those aforementioned celebratory newspapers? Uruguay captain, Obdulio Varela, bought a pile of them and commanded his troops to urinate over them. It worked, it seemed.

Needing just a draw (due to the round-robin finals format which took place after the group stages), Brazil flopped at the final hurdle. Ademir was nowhere to be seen, and unlike Spain and Sweden before them, Uruguay took the game to the Brazilians. La Celeste’s aggressive attacking display proved too much for a fragile Brazilian defence as they ran out 2-1 victors.

The subsequent result shocked the nation to the core. Newspaper outlets refused to accept the loss and then famous radio journalist Ary Barroso retired, albeit briefly. Some distraught fans sadly took their own lives, and the nation was in mourning over the “Maracanazo” – the Maracana blow. As Pele would later recall: “It was the first time I saw my father cry”.

The Selecao, who had previously donned a white jersey with a blue strip, opted for a completely new design. In fact, the iconic yellow and green shirt, blue shorts and white socks which have since won five world championships, were designed by a Uruguayan. The old adage: “Rubbing salt in their wounds”, was subsequently taken to the next level.

Nowadays, it’s considered blasphemous to even utter a single word to a local with regards to the loss. And as some optimists, including Coach Luis Felipe Scolari, would have it, the tragedy was a blessing in disguise.

"My vision of 1950 is entirely different to what most people think,” Scolari said.

“Before 1950 Brazil had never gotten to the final, they were the pioneers of the five titles we have won since then.

“Those players got there and made Brazilian history. We built our success on top of them. We are going to try to get back to the Maracana for the final and properly remember the team of the '50s because they were wonderful and fantastic and that's how I'd like Brazilians to think about them.”

He may be right. This time around, complacency no longer seems to be in the veins of the supporters. As of late, there have been quotes suggesting that most are backing Argentina to pull off a historic win. That’s not to say expectations aren’t high, though.

After disappointing World Cup and Copa America campaigns in recent years, Brazilian football looked worse for wear. Mano Menezes’ tactics were often criticised, the results his team achieved were anything but praiseworthy and it wasn’t until Scolari picked up the scraps that the national team started living up to their usual lofty heights.

Under the 65-year-old, Brazil have seemingly re-invoked the spirit of the past, and their brand of attacking football has been delightful to watch. Even Fred looks like a world-class striker when playing in national colours.

So far, Neymar too has lived up the hype and expectation that comes with the title ‘The New Pele’, which is seemingly thrust upon any Brazilian who can chuck a few step-overs here and there. Not to mention, their defensive set-up is perhaps the nation’s strongest ever – at least they’re less fragile than that of the ‘50s.

Some 64 years and five world championships later, Brazil finally have another chance to win the World Cup in their backyard. Whether or not they will eventually redeem for their loss is yet to be seen. However, take heed - they have the capabilities to pull off a historic win.