In 1963, Moacir Barbosa, goalkeeper of the Brazilian national team that almost won the World Championship in 1950, gave a barbecue for his friends. As firewood, he used the goalposts of the Maracanã stadium in Rio de Janeiro, where nearly 200,000 Brazilians saw their team lose to Uruguay. The lost game is a national trauma for the Brazilians, who were convinced that their team would win. Barbosa, was one of the scapegoats who were blamed for the loss.
On April 7, 2000, Barbosa died in poverty, Alex Bellos writes in Futebolhis compelling book about the history and soul of Brazilian football. Barbosa never got the chance to forget the lost final. In the year 2000, he had the saddest moment of his life, when a mother in a store caught sight of him and said to her son: ‘Look, this is the man who made all of Brazil cry.’
On the eve of the final, not really a final, but the last deciding match in a group together with Uruguay, Sweden and Spain, the newspapers pretended that the match had allready been won. A draw against Uruguay would be sufficient for Brazil to win the tournament. ‘Tomorrow we will beat Uruguay,’ wrote Brazilian sports newspaper Gazeta Esportiva. Another newspaper posted a photo of the Brazilian team with a caption that said: ‘These are the world champions.’
In the Maracanã, the largest stadium in the world, Brazil opened the score on July 15, 1950, but Uruguay equalized in the 66th minute. A YouTube video of the World Cup final shows how the disaster happens in the 79th minute. Ghigia dribbles towards goal, controlling the ball although it bounces on the irregular pitch. When he enters the penalty area, the chalk splatters off the line. He shoots from an awkward angle but also from very close. Near the first post, the ball passes under Barbosa’s arms and into the goal. The goalkeeper gets up again and looks up to the sky for a moment.
One of the explanations that Alex Bellos offers in his book for the enormous grief caused by the loss in Brazil is the fact that the relatively young country never went to war with its neighbors. Europeans mark their history by the World Wars, the Brazilians use World Championships. The lost game at the World Cup against Uruguay may therefore still be the greatest moment of national crisis the country has ever known.