After the not-inconsiderable inconvenience of World War II, the World Cup resumed in 1950. With most of Europe financially ruined by the cost of the war, Brazil alone applied to host the tournament. Neutral during the war, the country had developed rapidly over the previous twenty years, and their hosting of the finals seemed justified, especially considering their performance in France in 1938, when they were unlucky to lose in the semi-finals and, had they not made the enormous tactical error of dropping top striker Leonidas to keep him in good shape for the final. Yet again, the format of the competition was altered, This time there would be four groups, and the winners of each would go on to a final pool. There would be, for once, be no World Cup Final. Although, as it turned out… there would. The tournament was also enlivened by the entrance of the home nations. The top two from the Home Championships were due to go, but runners-up Scotland withdrew on cost grounds. Considering what happened to England, history shows that perhaps they made a wise decision.
Group A: Brazil, Yugoslavia, Switzerland & Mexico – Brazil, the hosts, started comfortably enough, but suffered a nasty shock when Fatton levelled late on to earn a draw against Switzerland. This meant Brazil had to beat Yugoslavia in their final match. Yugoslavia had won their first two matches, and only needed a draw, but the home supporters needn’t have worried. An early goal from Ademir settled the nerves of the 142000 crowd at the Maracana, but it wasn’t until the dying seconds that Zizinho made the points, and a place in the final pool safe.
Group B: England, Chile, Spain, USA – England started comfortably enough, with a workmanlike 2-0 win over Chile, whilst Spain laboured to beat the USA 3-1, with all three of their goals coming in the last ten minutes. The lid was blown off everything in England’s next match. They were expected to put a cricket score past the USA, but couldn’t score. Tom Finney later estimated that England hit the woodwork “fifteen or twenty times” in the course of the match. Just before half-time, Joe Gaetjens scored the goal that set up what is still the biggest shock in World Cup history. Spain won again, so England went into their final match needing a four goal win to qualify for the final pool. No chance. As it turned out, Spain completed England’s humiliation with a 1-0 win. The self-styled “greatest team in the world” were out.
Group C: Sweden, Italy and Paraguay – A minor shock here, though the heart had been ripped out of the Italians by the loss of seven of their players in he Torino plane crash three years earlier. Sweden beat them in their opening match, and then drew with Paraguay to require Paraguay needing a win against Italy to go through themselves. They couldn’t manage it, and an Italian team playing only for pride sent the Swedes through to the final pool with a 2-0 win.
Group D: Uruguay & Bolivia – Not so much as a team as a match. In fact, it wasn’t even really a “match”. Uruguay won 8-0, and thus completed the easiest run to a World Cup semi-final ever.
Final Pool: Brazil, Spain, Sweden & Uruguay – It was fairly clear from the opening match how the final pool was going to go, as they smashed seven past Spain. In their second game, they put a further six past Sweden, but Uruguay clung on grimly with a win and a draw to make the final match not quite academic. 199854 people crammed into the Maracana for the decisive match. Brazil needed a draw, and had scored thirteen goals in two games. Uruguay had struggled to get so much as a win and a draw. Forgone conclusion? It certainly seemed so when Friaca gave them the lead two minutes into the second half. That should, of course, been it, but Brazil continued to pour forward looking for a goal to kill the match stone dead. Midway through the second-half, Schiaffino levelled things up on the break, but still Brazil attacked. And with eleven minutes to go, the unthinkable happened. Ghiggia broke down the left and shot. Barbosa, the Brazilian goalkeeper, had left his near post unguarded. 2-1 Uruguay and the World Cup, in front of a stunned and near-silent Maracana stadium, was silent. There’ll never be a World Cup final like it again.