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Sunday, August 28, 2011


It has been said that Brazilian football, and maybe Brazil itself, changed after 16 July 1950. It was the day of the final match of the 1950 World Cup - which was being held in Brazil - the only World Cup which was decided by a final group, not by a knockout competition. In their final match, Brazil only needed a draw to win the World Cup; their opponents were their nearest challengers Uruguay, who won the decider by 2 goals to 1 and thus became world champions.

It was a cataclysmic moment, not just for Brazilian football, but for Brazilian society in general, and perhaps for the Brazilian goalkeeper, Moacyr Barbosa (full name Moacyr Barbosa Nascimento), most of all. Barbosa, born on 27/3/21 in Campinas, the second largest city in São Paulo state, first played for local side ADCI as a centre-forward while holding down a job in the Nitroquímica chemical plant (ADCI was the company's works team) in the city. One day, ADCI's goalkeeper was unable to play, so Barbosa volunteered to go between the sticks, and he would never play in an outfield position again. He was soon transferred to São Paulo side Ypiranga, who were then playing in the Paulista (São Paulo state league) first division. (The football club disbanded some years ago, though the entity still exists as a social club.)

In 1945, he was sold on to Vasco da Gama, and his football career really took off. Barbosa won the first of his 6 Carioca (Rio de Janeiro state league) championships in the same year, and soon became popular with the Vasco supporters for his spectacular and courageous, yet steady, style. He actually missed much of the title-winning season after fracturing his right hand during a training-session. (It was to be the first of an almost mind-boggling total of 11 fractures he would suffer to his hands during the course of his goalkeeping career.)

On 16/12/45, Barbosa made the progression to playing international football when he made his debut for the Brazilian national side in a 4:3 defeat against Argentina, the first of 22 appearances for O Seleção, including 2 games (which are not counted as full internationals) against select teams from Brazilian select sides.

He won further Carioca championships with Vasco in 1947, 1949 and 1950, also winning the one-off South American Championship of Champions, which was held in Chile in 1948. It could be said that 1949 was the most successful year in Barbosa's career, with Brazil winning that year's Copa América courtesy of a 7:0 thrashing of Paraguay in the final. So successful were the Vasco team that played together for around five years from 1947-52 that they became known as the Expresso da Vitória (Victory Express).

Barbosa was the goalkeeping mainstay for Brazil in the games leading up to, and during, the 1950 World Cup. Brazil played a three-game series against Uruguay, losing once and winning the other two games, and then beating the aforementioned Brazilian select teams.

As mentioned earlier, the 1950 World Cup's final round was to be played on a group basis, with each team facing each other once. First, though, there was the group stage to get through, which Brazil did comfortably enough, defeating Mexico (4:0) and Yugoslavia (2:0), though sandwiched in-between was a 2:2 against Switzerland. Barbosa played in all three games, and would remain Brazil's goalkeeper for the remainder of the tournament.

Once through the group, Brazil found themselves facing Spain, Sweden and Uruguay in the final group, and they started off superbly, thrashing Sweden by 7 goals to 1, and then easily disposing of Spain 6:1, with Barbosa an ever-present and, truth be told, not having very much to do in either game apart from picking the ball out of the net. Uruguay had also done enough against Spain and Sweden to find themselves in second place going into the final round of matches. 

Sweden had beaten Spain to finish in third place, so attention shifted to the very last match to take place in the 1950 World Cup; Brazil, who only needed a draw to win the Jules Rimet trophy for the very first time, against Uruguay, who had to win to regain the trophy after a 20-year gap. The game was to take place at the newly-built Estádio Maracanã, in the then national capital of Rio de Janeiro, which was only finished just days before the World Cup tournament began.

The deciding game took place on 16/7/50, and since the victory against Spain three days before, the local press had already proclaimed Brazil as the world's best and the days leading up to the final were almost treated by one and all in Brazil as a victory procession. One newspaper ran a centre-page spread on the day of the decider,the headline proclaiming of the Brazlian team that "These are the World Champions". Not for the first time, a case of "pride before a fall" was soon to be recorded in sporting history. Not for the first time, indeed, but it was to prove to be one of the most dramatic.

The white-shirted Brazilians took the game to Uruguay, and, after a scoreless first-half, their right-winger, Friaça, put them ahead in the 46th minute after receiving a pass from Ademir, darting into the penalty-area and beating Máspoli, the Uruguayan goalkeeper. Twenty minutes later, Uruguay were level, Juan Schiaffino superbly finishing off a lightning-fast three-man move involving the captain of La Celeste, Obdulio Varela, and Alcides Ghiggia, who left the Brazilian left-back Bigode for dead before crossing to Schiaffino. Brazil, needing only a draw, were still favourites to lift the World Cup, but with eleven minutes left, the world of Brazilan football was to be irrevocably turned upside-down.

Ghiggia again faced Bigode and once more passed him with ease, and instead of crossing into the box where the Uruguayan forward-line was waiting, he headed towards the near post into the penalty-area and shot. The ball bounced straight into the ground and careered onwards, bouncing again just as Barbosa, who had been anticipating a cross, dived at the near post. It beat him and nestled in the opposite bottom-corner of the net. The Maracanã fell eerily silent. It was now 2:1 to Uruguay, and despite Brazil huffing and puffing for the remainder of the game, they couldn't break the Uruguayan defence down.

Brazil had lost, at home, in front of a world-record crowd of 199, 854 people (199, 574 of whom were supporting Brazil), roughly equivalent to 10 per cent of what was then entire population of Rio de Janeiro. Uruguay were world champions and Brazil found itself in a collective pit of despair. The crowd headed home, silent and sullen, apart from one rather angry man, recalls Barbosa's biographer, Roberto Muylaert.

The man was busying himself with seeking out Bigode, looking into just about every car in the stadium car-park, including that in which Muylaert was a back-seat passenger. Bigode was not to be found, having made good his escape.

According to Nelson Rodriguez, a noted journalist and novelist who was at the Maracanã for the Uruguay game, the defeat to La Celeste was the worst tragedy in Brazilian history, and he repeated this claim on more than one occasion.

Roberto Muylaert said that "the only film shot of the second still shown exhaustively every time there's a chance of talking again and again about the defeat [on Brazilian television]". In his book on Barbosa, "Barbosa: um gol faz cinquenta anos" (very roughly translated as "Barbosa: a goal lasts for fifty years"), Muylaert likens the footage of Ghiggia putting the ball past Barbosa to the film shot by Abraham Zapruder of the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy in 1963.

"The two documentaries have the same dramatic sequence..even if they do not intend to, the same movement, rhythm, precision of inexorable trajectory that will not change until the moment the target is hit, like a torpedo or rocket drone, which once launched would not be coming back. One dramatic soundtrack could serve the two films".

Muylaert noted that the film of Ghiggia's winner and the film of President Kennedy's assassination share another common characteristic - a cloud of dust, one raised by Ghiggia's shot on goal, another from a gun fired from a window in a Dallas library. (The aforementioned sequence has oft been repeated in books such as Alex Bellos' excellent tome "Futebol - The Brazilian Way of Life", newspaper articles and on various websites from around the world.) He noted that while the Zapruder family eventually received $16 million from the US government in exchange for the film, no-one knows who shot the film of the moment that changed Brazilian football, and the life of Moacyr Barbosa, forever.
The day after the final, a Monday, Brazil remained a numbed nation.The recriminations only began on the Tuesday after the game; one match report, which appeared in O Estado de São Paulo newspaperdescribed Moacyr Barbosa's performance as "embarrassing" and his covering of the near-post for the second goal as "shameful". 

The media reaction following the defeat more or less became a witch-hunt against Bigode, Juvenal, who was, according to many, including Barbosa, at fault for not covering Bigode for Ghiggia's winner, and Barbosa himself. (One of the few people who defended Barbosa in the aftermath of the 1950 World Cup was, in fact, Alcides Ghiggia himself, and he was of the opinion that Barbosa had done nothing wrong, but had instead done what any goalkeeper would have done by positioning himself in anticipation of a cross into the penalty area.)

There is a theory for, but also question marks about, the behaviour of the media then, according to Juca Kfouri, one of Brazil's most polemical commentators (he has written for publications as diverse as Lance! and Playboy), who wrote the foreword for Roberto Muylaert's book, that "Barbosa, Juvenal and Bigode were victims of Brazil's need to feel guilty for losses, as [was Brazilian captain] Toninho Cerezo in 1982."

"There are theories that [put the blame] on [the] three blacks, which is mysterious when one realizes that Obdulio Varela [captain of Uruguay during the 1950 World Cup tournament], [who was] also black, is seen today in Brazil as the winner of that tournament."

The criticism did indeed seem to take a racist overtone, as all three players were black and thus seeming to emphasise a rather warped theory that the "Brazilian race" had an inferiority complex due to its multiethnicity. Barbosa became, in time, the Brazilian sporting media's favourite moving target, regardless of the fact that journalists present at the World Cup had actually voted him the tournament's best goalkeeper.

Bigode, meanwhile, rarely left his house for a couple of years after the game, only venturing out on match-day and for training. After he retired, he was to remain a virtual recluse for the rest of his life. He received no criticism at all from Barbosa for his performance against Uruguay.

Juvenal, in comparison to Barbosa and Bigode, got off lightly, but was still a target for criticism from the media, and from Barbosa himself, who was less than impressed with Juvenal tripping the light fantastic on the night before the decider against Uruguay, and also, as said, for his inability to cover Bigode for Ghiggia's winner. Neither Bigode nor Juvenal would ever play for Brazil again. Moacyr Barbosa would only play one more game for Brazil, but that would come a few years after the defeat aginst Uruguay.

In the days and weeks after the game against Uruguay, Barbosa and his wife Clotilde hardly left their house in the northern reaches of Rio de Janeiro for fear of recriminations against the goalkeeper; things got so bad for them both that they did not even answer their phone. This led to a friend of Moacyr's, a gentleman living in the southern part of the city, sending someone to collect them and take them down to his house, where they would stay until things cooled off.

The friend of the Barbosas was worried about the couple as he had heard nothing from them, and was, naturally, unable to contact them himself. When his assistant (for want of a better word) knocked on the Barbosas' front door, however, Clotilde, who did not know who this stranger on her doorstep was or why he was there, chased him into the street with a broom.

Not only that, but while they were travelling on a train, they were privy to a conversation in their carriage where Barbosa was being criticised to high heaven by all and sundry, and the whole discussion was being driven by a man who was busy reading his newspaper. Allegedly, the man had said about Barbosa: "If I ever come across that crioulo, I don't know what I'll do with him." Barbosa piped up and asked: "Are you looking for me, by any chance?"

While the other passengers in the carriage began whispering to and nudging each other, the man took to his heels and disappeared, and whether he got out at the next stop or jumped out of a window, nobody knows.. Thereafter, the two stories were certainly beacons of light relief during a dark time for the Barbosas, who stayed with their friend for a short period. However, after a little while, it was time for the couple to get on with life, and for Moacyr Barbosa, it was time to go back in goal.

NOTE: This is the first instalment of a two-part blog. To go to the second part, please click on the link below:


  1. very good arcticle on the recounts of barbosa,
    Uruguay noma!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  2. This was a horrible thing to have had happen, but ultimately 11 other players on the field had a play in this.
    A man is only as good as his team..
    Brazil was not ready for a world cup if that was their attitude.

  3. 2014 World Cup Semi Final
    GERMANY 7 - Brazil 1
    Finally some REDEMPTION for Moacir Barbosa
    All Brazilian people should be ASHAMED at how they treated this man
    I am SO HAPPY Brazil was HUMILIATED at HOME
    Karma is a bitch !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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