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May 26, 2014

The omens of failure were there in 1950

Brazilian legend Pele insists the Selecao can't rely on Neymar at next month's 2014 FIFA World Cup.

The impact of Brazil's defeat at the 1950 World Cup is still felt in 2014. In this exclusive excerpt from Fernando Duarte's forthcoming book Shocking Brazil, it appears that the pre-final preparation hinted at a stunning defeat...

The Seleção's headquarters throughout the tournament was a mansion on the Joa hills, a place that to this day remains reasonably detached from the madness in Rio, but in 1950 was as secluded as a Tibetan monastery. [Team captain] Augusto da Costa had intentionally looked to isolate his players from the madness and hype that would surround them in the city. So removed were they from the effervescence downtown, players would often lose track of time.

'We would only snap out of it on match days, where we just wanted to play a good game and then come back to chill, sometimes even with a glass of wine,' said [goalkeeper Moacyr] Barbosa in a TV interview in the 1990s. It would all change radically in the first hours of July 14.

The players were woken up with orders to pack up and hop on the team bus, for they were moving base. The peaceful Joa would give way to lodgings at São Januário, the Vasco stadium, much more conveniently located for the festival of visitors, dignitaries and celebrities who were desperate to see the Seleção. Not only were the players now reachable, they would also struggle with noise and the noxious fumes of a nearby paint factory. "At five in the morning we would listen to the whistle calling up workers to their shifts," recalled defender Bigode.

Costa, however, argued that the training logistics were improved thanks to the location of a training pitch adjacent to the players' rooms, which they did not have at Joa. Trouble, however, was brewing among the players.

The Seleção's blistering campaign had attracted the interest of a series of benefactors who began to offer gifts to the players. The treats ranged in diversity from a suit to a piece of land, but it soon became apparent that the playmakers and strikers were receiving more attention than their team-mates.

Brazil's players pose for a team photograph before their 4-0 first round win vs. Mexico.
Brazil's players pose for a team photograph before their 4-0 first round win vs. Mexico.

Media access was suddenly as invasive as it could get and national magazine O Cruzeiro had even approached the players to arrange exclusive deals for articles on the day after the Uruguay match, in order to 'show how a world champion lived.'

Striker Ademir was taken to a hospital in order to 'bless' a boy who would undergo surgery the day before the final. The player would later confess the whole experience had left him shaken. The boy's father had simply wandered into the Brazil camp before convincing the manager to release Ademir for the bizarre trip. Ademir reportedly arrived at the operating room and the 14-year-old simply gave the striker a kiss before telling the surgeon to start the procedure. "After I got back to the hotel I couldn't sleep," Ademir would later admit. "I spent the night thinking of what happened and why that boy was treating me like a saint."

- Bellos: Rebuilding from the ruins of 1950

- Forrest: The tale of Moacyr Barbosa

- Young: In Brazil, futebol = Life

- Alvarez: Samba in Brazilian soccer

Things would get even more hectic when politicians invaded the team headquarters looking for photo opportunities with the celebrated players. It was a year of general elections and the parade of candidates was overlooked by manager Flavio Costa, himself aiming to get voted into the Rio City Council after the World Cup.

The players posed endlessly for pictures, including one for a brand of beer, in which they wore celebratory ribbons -- the same that would make the front page of O Mundo. "I had never seen so many people in a team's camp before an important game," said Barbosa. "Every five minutes there would be cars, lorries and buses stopping and spilling out people who wanted to talk to us and 'congratulate the world champions.' We had to talk to everybody, sign every autograph. My right arm actually went numb after a while. It was a party atmosphere instead of a place for us to rest and focus."

At 10 pm, Costa finally gave orders for the players to go to sleep. Unfortunately, not everybody obeyed. A group of players too wired to go to bed ended up playing cards for another couple of hours, while midfielder Juvenal went further and spent the night drinking and partying in Central Rio, returning to São Januário only on the morning of the game, apparently reeking of booze.

While Costa had mellowed significantly since the beginning of the campaign and allowed 'conjugal visits' to married players during the week before the final game, and actually allowed Juvenal a couple of hours out, he was furious to see the midfielder break the curfew and arrive with a hangover that was so bad he vomited in front of the team. Juvenal then threatened to leave the team hotel when addressed by an incensed Costa, which resulted in a diplomatic effort to avoid even more drama.

 Uruguayan forward Juan Alberto Schiaffino (C) scores the equaliser past Brazilian goalkeeper Moacyr Barbosa.
Uruguayan forward Juan Alberto Schiaffino (C) scores the equaliser past Brazilian goalkeeper Moacyr Barbosa.

The players were then rounded up and taken to Rio's famous Capuchinhos Church for a Mass celebrating the launch of a radio station. At the church the players were mobbed by fans looking for autographs and handshakes. And it would still get even more surreal: at 11 am, when the players were getting ready for lunch, the entourage of presidential candidate Cristiano Machado dropped in at São Januário and interrupted procedures so that he could make a speech hailing their heroics. Then came fellow candidate and governor of São Paulo, Adhemar de Barros, who also spoke and promised grants and assorted treats to the Seleção.

Zizinho finally snapped. "So the game is over already?" he asked sarcastically, only to be reprimanded on the spot by the manager.

Curiously, Getúlio Vargas, also running for president -- he would in fact win the election by a landslide -- stayed clear from São Januário in a change of approach from the men who had previously tried so intensely to use football for their causes.

But eventually, even Costa grew tired of the bazaar atmosphere and decided to have the team travel early to the Maracanã.

The Seleção arrived at the stadium around midday, which suggests the politicians' appearances simply didn't give enough time for the team to eat properly. Or take a nap after the meal. Instead, they helped themselves to ham and cheese sandwiches and lay down on mattresses in the dressing room (which still smelt of new concrete), and tried to sleep while the crowds arrived for the 3 pm kick-off.

The whole country seemed to be descending on the biggest stadium in the world. By the time the Seleção had arrived, there were already reports of overcrowding, with people falling into the moat around the pitch. Officially, a world record crowd of 173,850 paying spectators attended the game, but it is still argued in Brazil that 200,000 people witnessed proceedings.

While it is extremely important to take these reports with a pinch of salt -- a running joke in Brazil is that a second stadium would have been necessary to accommodate everybody who claimed to have been at the Maracanã on 16 July 1950, a bit like the tales in Liverpool about everybody who claimed to have seen the Beatles at the Cavern Club or attended the same schools - the official numbers already represented the fact that almost ten per cent of the Rio de Janeiro population in 1950 was inside the stadium that afternoon. Among them were a young lawyer named Jean-Marie Faustin Goedefroid de Havelange, the man who two decades later would help turn football into a billionaire business, and an 18-year-old soldier named Mário Jorge Lobo Zagallo, later only one of two men who won the World Cup as a player and a manager.

Fernando Duarte charts six of the Selecao's biggest World Cup games in his book
Fernando Duarte charts six of the Selecao's biggest World Cup games in his book "Shocking Brazil."

Already present in the sport's administration circles in Brazil and also working for a major Brazilian bus travel company, it hadn't been difficult for Havelange to get hold of tickets for the match. Zagallo, who had joined other military colleagues on security duty at games, wasn't on duty that day but had blagged his way past ticket control. Others wouldn't be that lucky and tempers were hot outside the Maracanã - rumours that extra tickets would be put on sale caused stampedes outside the stadium and official reports show 169 people were injured trying to get in. In times when ticket operations were rudimentary, the organising committee had chosen to use the ticketing booths of two famous Rio theatres, the Municipal and the Carlos Gomes (named after Brazil's most renowned classical composer). People slept in the queues overnight in their quests for tickets.

While his players tried to relax with the daunting booms of a crowd, whose size they and nobody else in a sporting event had ever experienced before, echoing around the stadium, manager Costa still had to fend off last-ditch attempts to exploit his squad. A representative of Rio mayor Mendes de Morais turned up at the dressing room looking to discuss details of a victory parade the following morning.

After Costa finally persuaded the man to leave the conversation for later, he addressed the players. Like a lot of information concerning Brazil's final preparations for the game, what happened at Costa's talk has differed from version to version told by the players and the manager. What they all seem to have agreed upon in interviews and assorted statements over the years, however, was Costa's concern that his players keep their discipline in the maelstrom. In their five games so far in the World Cup, Brazil had not experienced any disciplinary problems and the manager wanted things to remain that way -- although red and yellow cards would only be introduced 20 years later, referees could still send players off. He was also wary of possible attempts from the Uruguayans to wind up his players -- it wasn't uncommon for games between South American teams to descend into sledging matches, and as early as 1925 there had been an on-field fight between Brazilian and Argentine players.

Striker Ademir would later say that Costa had specifically asked defender Bigode and midfielder Juvenal to be careful. "That piece of advice made them nervous," said Ademir. "Both Bigode and Juvenal were guys who always had more stamina than skill and to be told to temper their style like that put them on edge."

Uruguayan Alcides Ghiggia scores the winner during the World Cup Final against Brazil in 1950.
Uruguayan Alcides Ghiggia scores the winner during the World Cup Final against Brazil in 1950.

Juvenal himself remembered similar reasoning: "Mr Costa asked Bigode not to kick anybody and that unsettled him." The manager systematically denied having asked his two 'choppers' to take things easy. "I knew that Bigode was a hard man, a guy to mark opponents out of the game so I would never ask him to change that exactly for the final game. But the Brazilian authorities wanted a disciplined and civilised tournament [on and off the pitch]."

It is difficult to say how confident the Brazilian players were. After scoring 13 goals over two games in the final stage there was obvious enthusiasm, but accounts collected from players in several works all highlight how careful the team was approaching the real action; they were certainly not buying into the hype the newspapers were building that the result was a foregone conclusion. Captain Augusto reportedly warned his team-mates just before entering the pitch that Uruguay would present a harder challenge than Spain and Sweden. "Nobody was thinking we would just walk over them," said Ademir. "We knew the Uruguayans too well to have any such thought."

The Seleção had played the Uruguayans 30 times since 1914, winning 13 games and losing 11. Although they had put five goals past Uruguay in their last competitive game, in 1949, the more recent encounters before the World Cup had been closer affairs and included a 4-3 away defeat. There is another substantial difference between the 'two Uruguays' Brazil faced in the space of a year: they were actually two Uruguays. From October 1948 to April 1949, football in the former Brazilian province was shaken by industrial action from top players, including Varela. Their demands included better wages alongside 'respect from the media,' which hardly endeared the players to the public and the newspapers. Varela was a particular target and his irritation became so severe that he often refused to pose for match pictures.

However, the three games Uruguay played against Brazil leading up to the tournament meant the two teams knew each other quite well -- and until that match, Brazil's element of surprise had been important in their campaign. Apart from World Cup games, Brazil had barely played away from South America, which made any analysis of their play or their players nigh on impossible for their European opponents; although this was also true for Brazil's analysis of their opposition, the Seleção were the ones playing at home and with a roaring mass supporting them. "We played the Brazilians three times in 1950 before the World Cup," Uruguay goalkeeper Roque Máspoli recalled. "Those games were an opportunity to study them. We knew they would not walk over us."

But not everybody in the visitors' camp was that confident. At the Paysandu Hotel, Obdulio Varela and his team-mates were addressed by one of the Uruguayan FA's directors, Juan Jacobo, who emphasised the importance of preserving the reputation of the 'Celeste Olimpica'. "We were told that we needed to avoid humiliation at all costs," said Varela. "Jacobo told us clearly 'not to let those guys hammer us 6-0.' We heard that playing the final was already a great feat."

It looked as if pessimism and resignation were already setting the tone among the Uruguayan media and public. But for the players themselves, the mood was quite different -- and all the more so after Varela had decorated the urinals with the front page of O Mundo and left his instructions to the team scrawled on the mirrors. The underdogs' hackles were raised.

"Shocking Brazil" by Fernando Duarte looks at six crucial World Cup campaigns that radically altered the face of Brazilian football and which had repercussions far beyond the sport. On sale June 5, 2014.

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