1950 Brazil

The biggest crowd in history by far
Watched the clash at the Maracana
But brave Uruguay's toasts
Drowned Brazil's pre-match boasts
Though the hosts only needed to draw

With WW2 finally over, FIFA was keen to resurrect the World Cup. The trophy had been renamed the Jules Rimet trophy in recognition of his 25 years as FIFA President. With Europe largely in ruins, there were few countries willing and able to host a tournament, so when Brazil put forward a decent plan and committed to building a brand new monster stadium, the Maracana, it seemed a winning formula. However, securing sufficient participation proved problematic for a variety of reasons, and ultimately the format of the format of the tournament was a complete shambles, and resulted in probably the most unsatisfactory outcome in World Cup history.

What was going on in the world in 1950?

  • President Truman orders development of the hydrogen bomb
  • Senator McCarthy accuses the State department of containing 205 communists
  • The inaugural Formula One race is held at Silverstone
  • North Korean troops cross the 38th parallel into South Korea
  • China invasion of Tibet commences

Births and deaths of famous people

  • Gilles Villeneuve, Mark Spitz and Jocky Wilson from the sporting world were born
  • Ed Harris, Robbie Coltrane, John Candy and Peter Gabriel from the entertainment world were born
  • Richard Branson from the world of business and self-promotion was born
  • George Orwell and George Bernard Shaw from the literary world both died

Back to the World Cup – the format

In short, what a mess! The plan was for 16 nations playing in 4 groups of 4, which was sensible. However, there were numerous withdrawals before, during and after qualifying which derailed these plans.

Germany and Japan were occupied countries and were suspended from competition. Most of the East European nations declined to take part. Argentina fell into dispute again, this time with the Brazil federation during qualification and said 'no'. The 'home nations' tournament was used a qualifier for the first time, with the top 2 going to Brazil, but after finishing second the Scots declined to take part. Turkey withdrew after qualifying for financial reasons, and India pulled out, allegedly in protest at regulations which precluded playing in bare feet.

Italy, defending champions from 1938, had agreed to play despite reeling from the Superga air disaster of 1949 which wiped out the great Torino side of the 1940s most of whom were first choice for Italy, indeed one Italy international match from the late 1940s had featured 10 Torino players.

The upshot was a tournament of 13 teams, but rather than redrawing the groups after the withdrawals, FIFA decided to leave them as they had been, so that one group consisted only of two teams, Uruguay and Bolivia. When they played, Uruguay won 8-0 and were then in the final group of 4.

And that is the other overriding problem of this World Cup. For some bizarre reason, FIFA decided there would not be a final match, but a final group of 4. By good fortune, the last game between Brazil and Uruguay happened to be the decider, effectively the final, but it was a butchered and flawed format, which happily has never been used since.


England were the only rookies in 1950, finally agreeing to take part after years of grumpiness and arrogance including a complete disengagement with FIFA in the 1930s. A combined Great Britain team had just beaten a Rest of Europe team 6-1 and as England were home nations champions it was felt that they were one of the favourites to win the World Cup in their first appearance.

Oh dear, how things can go so badly wrong! After a routine 2-0 opening win against Chile, England crashed to an unthinkable 1-0 defeat to the hapless USA and then lost again to Spain 1-0, and went home.

Who should have won but didn't?

Uruguay met Brazil in the deciding game in the final group with Brazil a point ahead of Uruguay having thrashed Sweden and Spain 7-1 and 6-1 won respectively.

Here is some very grainy footage of Brazil 6 Spain 1, but at least you can a sense of fervour in the Maracana

Surely Brazil would at least draw the final match in front of 200,000 fans in the Maracana stadium? Uruguay had only drawn with Spain and looked off the pace set by the hosts.

0-0 at half time, became 1-0 to Brazil early in the second half and the fans started to celebrate. Uruguay equalised; still no problem. Then incredibly, 11 minutes from time, Uruguay went ahead and widespread panic set in amongst the Brazil players, and they failed to equalise despite being appreciably the better side.

The biggest crowd in history by far
Watched the clash at the Maracana
But brave Uruguay's toasts
Drowned Brazil's pre-match boasts
Though the hosts only needed to draw.

All in all, the outcome seems very unsatisfactory; a poor format and the wrong team winning. Jules Rimet had prepared his presentation speech in Portuguese in anticipation of a Brazil win. As it transpired the organisers abandoned the presentation ceremony and Rimet had to call out for Varela, the Uruguay captain to come and receive the trophy.

Here is some grainy old footage of the final match highlights.

Brazil decided there had to be some jinx on them and changed their home strip from white with blue trim to the more familar yellow shirts with green trim, blue shorts and white socks after this debacle.

Heroes and Villains

Villain: George Graham

No, not that George Graham! This George Graham was Chairman of the Scottish Football Association and it was he who decided that, despite qualifying for the World Cup, Scotland would not take part as runners up in the home nations championship. George Young, the Scottish captain and his team, wanted to play and lobbied the Scottish FA accordingly, but George Graham dug his heels in and refused to allow it.

This was especially galling as FIFA really needed support from the footballl establishment like never before and were badly let down by some countries. Scotland, in particular had no great reason to be absent from the tournament and the whole episode smacks of sour grapes at having lost to England in the home nations.

Hero: Joe Gaetjens

The USA's 1-0 defeat of England sent shockwaves around the football world. Journalists who read the telegraph transmission of the results assumed it could only have been a mistake, and perhaps England had really won 10-1. Indeed, before the game, there had been talk of giving the USA a 3 goal start to make a proper game of it. To be even clearer about the perceived differences in ability between the side, England's recent international record was W23, D3, L4, compared to the USA who had lost their last 7 internationals. Bill Jeffrey, USA's Scottish coach said that his side were "sheep ready to be slaughtered".

England had all the early play and had 6 shots in the first 12 minutes, 2 of which hit the post. But in the 38th minutes, a 25 yard shot from the USA was on its way to the England goalkeeper, when Joe Gaetjens dived near the penalty spot to deflect the ball into the net for the only goal of the game.

Gaetjens was not even a US citizen, one of 3 such aliens in the side. He was Haitian born to a Haitian mother and German father and never achieved US citizenship and continued to leave in Haiti later in life. He was not interested in politics, but his younger brother was, and when in 1964 Papa Doc Duvalier declared himself President of Haiti for life, the rest of the Gaetjens family fled the country in fear of reprisals. Joe decided, as a sports figure he would be of no interest to Duvalier, but he was wrong.

On the morning of 8 July he was arrested by the notorious Tonton Macoute, the scret police, and is presumed to have been killed sometime later that month. his body has never been recovered.

As the deliverer of possibly the biggest upset in World Cup history, Gaetjens is an unsung hero and is deserving of special mention in the World Cup's story.

Quick Facts

  • Teams: 13
  • When: 24 June 1950 to 16 July 1950
  • Final: 16 July 1950
  • Matches: 22
  • Goals Scored: 88 (average 4.0 per match)
  • Attendance: 1,045,246 (average 47,511)

Verdict: Good, Bad or Ugly?

Bad and ugly, a real stinker, from the flawed format to the wrong winner. Thankfully USA provided some relief by causing a major upset, but, despite the understandable logistical difficulties of getting the World Cup back into gear after WW2, this can only be seen a step backwards for the tournament.




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