Life From 12 Yards: Gyan’s miss fail to put Ghana in history books

Penalty. A term, that can ruffle the feathers of even the calmest of beings. A term, that in any walk of life, shocks and triggers signals of doom and punishment for some, and hope or satisfaction for others. Football, is no exception. Goalden Times bring you a series where we look at the more unfortunate events of missed penalties (and their aftermath??). Enjoy the ride with Subhashis Biswas.

Image Source - Daily Maverick
Image Source – Daily Maverick

Player : Asamoah Gyan, Ghana.

Opponent Goalkeeper: Fernando Muslera, Uruguay.

Match venue and date: Soccer City, Johannesburg, South Africa, Quarter-final, World Cup, 2nd July, 2010.

In the  fourth segment of the series, we bring you the story of a missed penalty, which had far more long lasting implications than just on the result of the match. Football in Africa was about to enter among the elites in the, for the first time ever, an African nation was about to enter the semi-final of the world cup. Only that penalty needed to be converted. But, as we have portrayed so far in this series, life from 12 yards is not easy, life from 12 yards does not go according to the plan. The gap between cup and lips, however small it may seem at times, are sometimes impossible to close.

In the build-up to the dreaded moment, we actually had a fascinating football match. Football in world cup 2010 was not particularly a scintillating affair, and more so in the knockout rounds, we did not have evenly contested exciting matches. The quarter-final encounter between Uruguay and Ghana was a different affair. From the very onset of the match, it was full of attacks and counter-attacks, and close misses. Suleh Muntari gave Ghana the lead with a stunning 35 yarder just with the last shot before half-time, but Diego Forlan, who was in red-hot form during 2010 world cup and eventual golden-ball winner, equalized on the 10th minute after the break, with a curling free-kick from just outside the box.

Though the match had many more goal-bound attempts, brilliant saves and close shaves, it failed to produce any more goal in the regular 90 minutes of play. The story remained same in the added extra time, as the match was slowly headed towards penalty shoot-out. On the last minute of the extra time, Ghana had one last attack towards Uruguay goal, and after a miss-timed clearance by Fernando Muslera from a free-kick, Stephen Appiah shot the ball towards goal. Luis Suarez blocked it with his knee at the goal line, but the rebound lobbed up to Dominic Adiyiah, who headed the ball towards the goal. The Ghanaian supporters present all over the world was about to erupt in joy, when they saw a player in Uruguay goal line saved the ball with both hands. Nope, the guy who saved the ball was not goalkeeper Fernando Muslera, but it was Luis Suarez!! This time instead of using knee or other body parts, he had to use his hands to keep his country’s hope at the world cup alive. Referee could not be quicker enough to show him the red card and awarded a penalty to Ghana. With what would be the last shot of the match, Ghana could become the first ever African nation to enter the semi-finals of the world cup. How we wish that life would have been that simple.

Asamoah Gyan walked up to take the penalty. Asamoah Gyan had already scored three goals in that world cup, and had 100% conversion rate from two previous penalties, one against Serbia and another against Australia in the group stages. Against Serbia his shot was about two feet above the ground, and towards the right side of the keeper, while the keeper dove left. Against Australian keeper Mark Schwartzer , his shot was a grounder , towards the bottom left corner of the goalkeeper, and again the goalkeeper dove towards the wrong direction. He was a good penalty taker, and did not provide any clue to the keeper till the last moment. It was difficult for the keeper to guess which Gyan was going to shoot, looking at his eyes. Gyan had already scored four  international penalty goals till that time, so the whole Ghana nation along with the players were pretty much confident about their progress to the semi-final.

Asamoah Gyan had already scored three goals in that world cup, and had 100% conversion rate from two previous penalties

Fernando Muslera, the Uruguayan goalkeeper was actually no mutt with penalties. He was playing with Lazio at that time and made them Copa Italia Cup winners by saving two penalties in the penalty shoot-out at the final against Sampdoria. When Asamoah Gyan was getting ready to take the penalty, there was a lot of tension among the players, and a few players were walking inside the box to distract the player. Referee had to clear the penalty box before asking Gyan to shoot. Just before the whistle, Andres Scotti, the Uruguayan defender made a signal with his right hand towards Muslera. It was not clear what he wanted to mean, but it seemed that he suggested the ball would be above the ground, it would be a high shot. It was exactly that in the end.

Gyan did not have a long run up, maximum up to three to four steps from the spot. Muslera was still, right at the centre of the goal line. He did not give any indication towards which side he is going to dive till the last minute, which probably forced Gyan to shoot the ball almost down the middle, and above the ground. Muslera finally dove to his right, but his dive was so late that Gyan already has struck his shot by the time Muslera made the decisive move.

Now let us look at the penalty from Gyan’s point of view. Gyan could have placed it on either side of the goal, choosing placement over power. But it was a nervous moment. Any penalty is a nervous moment for the shooter, no matter how calm the player remains outside. But there is added pressure on the shooter when he knows that his shot is the last shot of the match, and can put his team in world cup semi-final. This would be the first time for Ghana in world Cup semi-final. This would be the first time for any nation from the “Dark Continent in world cup semi-final.  It is difficult to think logically in these kinds of pressure situations.

Owing to this pressure, Gyan might have decided to blast it rather than place it. He probably knew about Muslera’s reputation of saving penalties, and thus feared that may be a placement on either side of the goal may result in a save by the keeper. Thus he chose the safer option, a shot above the ground, down the middle, so that even if the goalkeeper guesses correctly and outstretches his leg, the ball will be in the net.

Source -
Source –

Gyan’s shot was above the ground, not exactly down the middle, but may be a foot towards right from the middle of the goal. Muslera dove to his right, and saw that the ball was travelling towards middle of the goal as he was falling to the ground. But the ball was six  inches higher than the liking of Gyan, and the whole Ghana nation. The placement was almost right, but the power was a bit too much. The trajectory of the ball should have been six  inches low. The ball hit the upper part of the crossbar and went out of the ground. Uruguay survived; a jubilant Suarez went inside the tunnel knowing that his “innovative” and “impromptu” action has managed to save Uruguay from going out of the world cup. Gyan was in shambles, being consoled by the team members. History would have to wait for Africa.

The match went to penalty shoot-out. Diego Forlan gave Uruguay lead but Asamoah Gyan, brave man he is, walked up to take the first spot kick for Ghana. This time he struck it towards the left upper corner of the keeper, and despite guessing the direction correctly, Muslera had no chance of saving it. Gyan did not celebrate the goal, only thinking that had he made similar decisions a few minutes ago, this penalty shoot-out would not have happened.

Fate is a cruel thing. This time John Mensah and Dominic Adiyiah missed penalties in the shoot-out, both the shots being weak grounders which were saved by Muslera. The whole nation cried, the whole Africa cried. Uruguay celebrated. Ghana lost out of the world cup losing 2-4 on penalties, after the match was tied 1-1.


U-17 World Cup – A Future Prospect For Indian Football

Winning the U-17 FIFA World Cup hosting rights is the best opportunity India has bagged for itself to showcase its own football talents. It’s almost like a Pandora’s box that will not only open up a future for our young footballers, but will also create a platform for everyone associated with football, right from administrators to club owners to leave an indelible mark in the global football arena. Soumyadip Das explores the endless possibilities, if everything is done right


U-17 FIFA World Cup is the fourth oldest FIFA competition after the FIFA World Cup, Olympic Football and FIFA U-20 World Cup. The competition has always provided a stage for young talents to showcase their calibre in front of the world, and is fiercely competitive in its own rights. India, often considered as a ‘Sleeping Giant’ by FIFA, has been selected as host nation for the 2017 edition of the tournament. It promises to be an important platform for Indian football to emerge from the shadows and rub shoulders with the elite in world football.
It’s a memorable experience for a football fan to hear the national anthem of his country played at the biggest stages of world football. Soon the Indian football fan is also going to live the experience. India, till date, haven’t played in the main stage of a football World Cup at any level. That is going to change in 2017, as India will be hosting the U-17 World Cup and as a result will automatically qualify as per tournament rules. Although the glamour is not the same as it is at the senior level, still playing a World Cup at any level is a matter of pride, and India will be gearing up to do justice to the occasion.



Hosting Rights

Before the start of the bidding process, FIFA was keen for India to bid for the hosting rights. It is a well known fact that FIFA is interested in spreading the game in India because of the huge Indian market. Hosting such an event is a sure way of catching the attention of the media and the public. India agreed to be part of the bidding, and after some initial difficulties in getting the necessary clearances from the government, finally submitted the bid. On 4th December, 2013, a landmark day for the country’s football, India beat other bidders Azerbaijan, South Africa, Ireland and Uzbekistan and got the right to host the 24-nation biennial mega event. The news delighted each and every Indian football fan, as the nation, starved of international football experience at the highest level, finally got the opportunity to join the party and cheer for their team in the world stage.





A tournament where footballers below the age of 17 represent their countries, the U-17 World Cup also consists of qualification and final rounds, just like its senior counterpart. It provides the starlets a platform to showcase their skills in front of the world and is an important stepping stone to becoming future stars at the senior level.

Brief History

The first edition of the tournament was staged in 1985 in China and subsequent editions have been organised every two years since then. Called the FIFA U-16 World Championship in its original avatar, in 1991, it was rechristened as FIFA U-17 World Championship, and then again in 2007 as FIFA U-17 World Cup, its current name. The most recent edition was hosted by the United Arab Emirates in 2013. The next edition will take place in Chile in 2015, and then, as we all know, India will be hosting it in 2017.

Nigeria has been the most dominant nation in the tournament’s history till date, with four titles including the most recent version in 2013 and three runners-up finishes. Brazil is the second most decorated team with three titles, while Ghana and Mexico have won two titles each.

The Format

The event consists of a round-robin group stage, where teams in each group play against each other. The final group standings decide which teams qualify for the knockout phase, where successive matches are played and the winning team advances through the competition while the losing team is eliminated. Eventually, the last two teams standing lock horns in the final to decide the tournament champion. The teams losing in the semi-finals face each other to decide the third spot.

From 1985 to 2005 there were 16 teams in the competition, divided into four groups of four teams each in the group phase. From 2007 the tournament was increased to 24 teams, divided into six groups of four teams each. The top two teams of each group along with the four best third placed teams make the knockout stage. From 1985 to 1993, matches were played over two 40-minute halves with two extra time halves of 10 minutes each for knockout matches in case of a deadlock. In the 1995 edition held in Ecuador, the standard duration of matches was extended to the traditional format of 45 minutes per half (with 15 minutes per half in extra time for knockout games). From 2011, the extra time has been discontinued to save young players from getting exhausted, and all knockout games progress directly to penalties if tied after 90 minutes of regulation time. Till date, 73 teams have participated in this competition, five of them (Morocco, Sweden, Venezuela, Slovakia and Iraq) made their tournament debut in 2013. Brazil and USA hold the record for maximum participation, both having played in the final stage 14 times. Brazil with 40 matches won hold the record for most number of wins, followed by Nigeria and Ghana with 34 and 27 wins respectively. Only Brazil and Nigeria have scored 100 or more goals in the history of the competition, with Brazil holding the record for highest number of victories (142). Florent Sinama Pongolle and Souleymane Coulivaly hold the record for highest number of goals in a single tournament (9 each) in 2001 and 2011 respectively. In the 1997 edition, Spain recorded a 13-0 victory over New Zealand which is the highest margin of victory. Nigeria has won the FIFA Fair-play trophy of U-17 World Cup a record three times. Nigeria holds the unwanted record of most consecutive matches (16) without victory while Brazil holds the record for most consecutive wins (7).


The host nation gets an automatic spot in the main event while the other teams play the qualification rounds to earn the right. Every confederation organises different tournaments for the teams to qualify. Those tournaments are- AFC U-16 Championship (for Asian teams), African U-17 Championship (for African teams), CONCACAF U-17 Championship (for North & Central American teams), South American U-17 Football Championship (for South American teams), OFC U-17 Championship (for Oceania teams) and UEFA European U-17 Championship (for European teams). Four teams each from Asia, North and Central America, South America and Africa, six teams from Europe and one team from Oceania qualify for the main competition. The remaining spot is reserved for the host nation.

Superstar in the Making

Outstanding players worldwide have been known to ‘jump’ the grades, because of their exceptional skills, straight to the senior national team at a tender age. More than 100 players have played FIFA World Cup while being eligible for the U-17 version. For example, Pele, regarded as the world’s best ever player, made his debut for Brazil in a 2-1 defeat against Argentina in 1957, aged 16 years and nine months. Even at that age, he scored Brazil’s only goal to enter the history books as the youngest goal scorer in international football. Diego Maradona too made his senior debut for Argentina at the age of 16. In recent times also the trend has continued. Argentina and Barcelona star, Lionel Messi, made his full debut in 2005 at the age of 18. His first senior game for Argentina came few weeks after he led Argentina to victory in the 2005 U-20 World Cup, beating Nigeria 2-1 in the final. Pele and another Brazilian great, Romario, in 2010, urged the Selecao’s then coach, Dunga, to include Neymar, Brazil’s newest star, in his squad for the 2010 World Cup, after some courageous performances in the Nigeria 2009 U-17 World Cup. Players like David Silva, Cesc Fabregas, Landon Donovan, Fernando Torres, Andres Iniesta, Eden Hazard, Pablo Zabaleta, Tim Krul, Mamadou Sakho, Christian Benteke, Javi Garcia etc. have showed their spark in this competition through the years and have now become indispensable parts of some of the famous and successful clubs and countries. Among the players emerging from the U-17 World Cup, Emanuel Petit and Andres Iniesta have scored in FIFA World Cup final, while altogether 10 players have played FIFA World Cup final for the winning team. Iker Casillas has won FIFA World Cup as a captain (in 2010).
The following video contains some of the greatest moments of U-17 World Cup history.



India’s Chances


As the host country, India will participate in the 2017 edition. It is a great exposure for Indian Football. Few years ago, FIFA President Sepp Blatter said in an interview – “Indian Football is still lagging by 100 years”. The scenario hasn’t changed much till now.

Indian football is going through a lean phase. India played in the 2011 AFC Championship, but lost all their group matches to get knocked out without a single point. Recently, India has even lost the final of SAFF Cup to Afganistan, a tournament in which India has otherwise seen success over the years. Yet, FIFA has given India a great opportunity which they must look to capitalize on. FIFA President Sepp Blatter believes that there is great hidden potential in Indian football and the U-17 World Cup will provide a platform to realise some of that.

As India needs to develop stadiums and facilities as per FIFA guidelines, it will also go a long way towards improving the football infrastructure of the country which cries for a much needed facelift. Currently, there are two stadiums in India (Delhi and Chennai) which meet the standards required to host a FIFA match. India is planning to upgrade several more stadiums to FIFA standard and have identified stadiums in Kolkata, Guwahati, Kochi, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Goa, and Pune as possible venues. This will in turn benefit the clubs which use these stadiums as their home ground.

Apart from hosting the tournament successfully, India is also looking to make a mark on the playing field in front of a global audience. To realise that dream, East Bengal, one of the leading Indian football clubs, have decided to start talent development programmes in three places (Tejpur in Assam, Jalpaiguri in West Bengal and Kannur in Kerala) , with the co-operation of the Tea – Board. As part of this program, the club will provide technical support to groom the players under the age of 13 who will potentially don national colours in the 2017 tournament.

Recently, AIFF General Secretary Kushal Das said in an interview that the Coca-Cola Cup (formerly the Mir Iqbal Hossain Trophy), an under-15 tournament, will be one of the primary auditioning grounds for the Under-17 World Cup Team for 2017. More than 40,000 players participated in the last edition of the tournament held across 75 cities. This tournament is yet to launch any major players, but keeping the 2017 U-17 World Cup in mind, AIFF, in partnership with Coca Cola, will rejuvenate the tournament, to hunt young talents for the future. Once promising players are identified, AIFF plans to groom them for 2017 through international exposure, guidance and training facilities. AIFF has already selected five young players (Jitendra Singh, Amit Tudu, Subrata Das Prasenjit Chakraborty and Abhijit Sarkar) to participate in “Coke Coaching and Conditioning Camp” in Brazil in next May, and such exercises are set to continue in the coming years.

In the recently held World Cup trophy tour in India, Selecao’s World Cup winning captain of 1970, Carlos Alberto, emphasized on the importance of hard work and training. During the event in Kolkata, he called up two U-16 National Camp trainees and said,

Practise, practise and practise. You will have to work hard every day with the junior players if you want them to become stars of future. The stars of today like (Lionel) Messi and Neymar have put endless hours of practice in the academies of the clubs like Barcelona and Santos to become what they are today”.

Effect on the Women’s game

In the senior level, India’s women’s team has shown some strong performances in AFC Asian Championship and World Cup qualifiers. The FIFA ranking of the women’s team (49) is also much higher than the men’s team. If India can host the men’s event successfully, they can also try to bid for the rights to host U-17 Women’s World Cup in future which can help in further development of women’s football in the country. AIFF is already looking to build a good women’s squad at U-17 level as well. If they can get hosting rights to the U-17 women’s World Cup it can help boost their plans to improve the women’s game in the country, and the U-17 men’s World Cup can be a stepping stone in that direction.




FIFA has seen the potential among Indian players and the passion of fans for the game; that’s why they provided India with this golden opportunity. In the past, India enjoyed success at the Asian level but the graph has gone downward ever since. This is India’s biggest chance to turn the tide and they should make full use of it. If they succeed, we might see India take the first steps towards becoming a football powerhouse in future. Spain and Brazil are two teams who have reaped the benefits of getting a good team from U-17 level to progress through to the senior level. Given time, there is no reason why India cannot replicate such success if they work hard from the grassroots level.


The Trivela is a Portuguese term to denote the art of kicking the football with the outside of one’s foot. It is used to hide one’s weaker foot and also to suddenly fool the opposition with a wickedly swerving ball from a difficult angle. In Triviela, we will attempt to find some football feats/facts which would make you sit up and take note, like it happens when you see Ricardo Quaresma try these

This triviela is dedicated to the wonderful group of Spanish footballers and their achievement in winning three consecutive major trophies that they entered – the 2008 and 2012 European championship and the 2010 FIFA World Cup. It is a unique achievement in the annals of football and most observers would place them in a group of ONE, to have achieved that unique feat. In this edition, we try and see which other teams came close to achieving what Spain has achieved and if any team had managed to do it before them….or maybe do better than them.

Spain with their third consecutive title

Now the simple fact is that, to win three major trophies, one has to win a World Cup in between, since most major trophies happen with a duration of four (sometimes two) years in between. Hence all nations, which haven’t won a World Cup, but may have monopolised their continental competition like Mexico – winners ’93, ’96, ’98 of CONCACAF Gold Cup or Iran – ’68, ’72, ’76 winners AFC Asian Cup or Egypt – ’06, ’08, ’10 winner of Africa Cup of Nations, would not feature in this discussion.

Close Misses

Brazil won the ’94 and ’02 World Cups but only finished runner-up in ’98.They had won the Copa America in both ’97 and ’99 and lost to Uruguay in penalties in the ’95 championship. So starting from the ’94 World Cup, Brazil reached the finals of every major championship till the ’99 Copa America. That’s a staggering five world and continental competitions. This sequence was broken when they lost shockingly to Honduras in the ’01 Copa. They then proceeded to win the next World Cup as well as the next two Copa Americas, but without a World Cup win in 2006, it again denied them the opportunity to grab a three-peat.

Germany, or West Germany as they were called, would also suffer the same fate – winning the ’72 European Cup and ’74 World Cup but missing out on the ’76 European Cup by losing to Czechoslovakia on penalties in the finals (when Antonin Panenka first showed his penalty skills baffling the great Sepp Maier). They would win the ’90 World Cup and ’96 European championship (beating the Czechs), but would miss out on the ’92 European Cup and ’94 World Cup to be denied this legacy.

South American Connection

Brazil’s two great South American rivals – Argentina and Uruguay though can claim something to this but in both cases, there was no World Cup being held and hence only the existing major championships can be taken into account. The World Cup was not held due to World War II between ’38 and ’50, but the Copa America was still going on. Argentina, led by players of the great River Plate team of the 40s won three consecutive Copa America – ’45, ’46, ’47. Add the runner-up in the ’42 and champion in the ’41 editions, and you again get a run of five consecutive finals with defeat in only the second one for a truly great Argentine side.

Uruguay was the earliest footballing South American giant. They won the ’24 and ’28 Olympics gold – at that point with no World Cup, the Olympics were the pinnacle of global football championship. Uruguay also won the ’23 and ’24 Copa America, thus recording the earliest sequence of three major championship wins.

Argentina and Uruguay thus won three in a row, but didn’t win the World Cup and that was not due to their fault. The World Cup was simply not conceived or was not being held when they won their championship.

Parting Shot Uno

There is one more instance of a team winning three consecutive major championships, which included the World Cup. And that team is Italy. They were the first European team to win the FIFA World Cup in ’34. They were also the first team to retain their World Cup crown (that no European team has ever done) in 1938. In between, they also won the ’36 Olympic Gold at Berlin. The first great Italian team of Vittorio Pozzo, thus won everything that they entered between ’34 and ’38.




Parting Shot Deux

Is every team that won that threesome a latin one? Well not quite. But you have to turn from the men to the ladies to find probably the most dominating team of all in history. Germany (or West Germany) has won seven of the last eight European competitions for ladies. This has included a frankly unbelievable five consecutive wins in the UEFA European Women’s Championship from ’95 to ’09. They also won two FIFA Women’s World Cup in ’03 and ’07. They had lost in the quarter-final stages of both the ’99 and ’11 World Cups. So if we look at a stretch – they won all the major championships that they entered in the first decade of the millennium – three European championships and two World Cups for an unprecedented 5 trophies and one decade long reign.

Surely the Spanish now know, they still have some way to go.

What’s the Goalden Word?

We football fanatics often come across terms and phrases that we start using without knowing its meaning. We hear them on television or read them in magazines wondering what the word is all about. WTGW will endeavour to focus on such terms and their usages helping us create our very own footballpedia. This month’s word is Nadeshiko.  If you would like to know about any such word associated with the football world, do toss in a mail at

NADESHIKO:  (na-de-shi-ko)  (なでしこジャパン)  : [Feminine-Noun-Plural]

Pink or Frilled Pink Carnation

The word nadeshiko in Japanese means the Dianthus superbus flowering plant also known as the large pink or frilled pink carnation. It is used in conjunction with Yamato, the ancient name for Japan for the floral metaphor Yamato Nadeshiko which is a term for an ideal Japanese woman. This term is presently used in Japan to describe the traits of traditional Japanese women of yesteryears that are rare in the current generation.
In 2004 Japan Football Association (JFA) organised a public contest to select a nickname for the national side. On 7th August 2004 JFA announced that ‘Nadeshiko’, from the phrase ‘Yamato Nadeshiko’ had been chosen amongst 2700 entries. The name proved lucky for the team as they won the silver medal in the 2006 Asian Games after losing to North Korea in a tie-breaker.

The triumph of the Nadeshiko

The culmination of the Nadeshiko came in the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup. After upsetting hosts Germany & strong contenders Sweden in the quarterfinals and semi finals respectively, the Nadeshiko came up against the Americans in the finals. The Americans created more chances, hit the woodwork twice and twice took the lead.

Both the times the Nadeshiko came back with an equalizer, with the 2nd equalizer in the 117th minute from captain Homare Sawa. The team believed that it was their destiny to win this tournament and goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori saved two penalties in the shoot-out. Saki Kumagai converted her penalty to make Japan the first Asian team to win a senior football World Cup across genders. The Nadeshiko lived up to the various traits of their nickname – grit, tenacity, belief and undying spirit.

World Cup 1958 – Time for New Heroes

Kinshuk Biswas turns back the clock, to that year in the history of the FIFA World Cup, when the young Brazilians had the world at their feet

 The World Cup host country for the year 1958 had been chosen as early as June 1950, during the FIFA Congress in Brazil held in conjunction with the World Cup finals. Sweden, Argentina, Chile and Mexico had shown interest in hosting the tournament. However, aggressive lobbying by the Swedes ensured that they ended up as the unanimous choice.

This was possibly the first tournament since 1934 without a clear favourite. The world had changed a lot in the four years since the last tournament. The all conquering Hungarian team had been left desecrated by the Soviet crackdown on the Hungarian revolution of 1956, prompting mass defection by the best players such as Ferenc Puskas, Sandor Kocsis and Zoltan Czibor. Nandor Hidegkuti and Jozsef Bozsik remained but were already past their best.

The defending champions West Germany still had Helmut Rahn and Hans Schafer and a dynamic young centre forward named Uwe Seeler. They lacked a creative playmaker in the midfield and so 37-year-old Fritz Walter was persuaded to come out of semi-retirement by the manager Sepp Herberger. The hosts, Sweden had credentials to match any of the top teams.  Nils Liedholm and Gunnar Gren of AC Milan had been chosen although both were over 35 years of age. They had the famous English strategist George Raynor as manager but were an ageing team. Argentina was back after a 24-year absence and had both tremendous flair and pedigree, being the defending Copa America champions.

Unfortunately the three member forward line – Omar Sivori, Antonio Valentín Angelillo and Humberto Maschio had been poached by Italian clubs. Uruguay and Italy, the most successful nations in the World Cup till then had both failed to qualify after being defeated by Paraguay and Northern Ireland respectively.

Incidentally, all the four home nations of Britain – England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales had qualified; a feat yet to be repeated till date. All the teams had been hit by the Munich air disaster. Brazil was bringing a youthful team who had an unsuccessful tour of Europe in 1956. They were using a 4-4-2 formation which was still a work in progress. Soviet Union, the defending Olympic champions were making their debut with charismatic Lev Yashin in the goal. There were 16 teams in the final tournament and they had been divided into groups, and a draw was used on the basis of geographical location of the nations. There were four pots: Western Europe, Eastern Europe, British teams and the American continent. No Asian and African team participated. After the draw the four groups were:

Group 1                     

Group 2                     

Group 3                

Group 4

West Germany







Soviet Union

Northern Ireland









The format was tinkered with yet again, with all teams playing each other in the group stage with play-off matches to decide progress in case the teams placed second were found to be tied on points. If the two top teams had tied, a draw of lots would decide the group champion. Some teams complained about fatigue due to play-off matches and FIFA decided to use goal averages of the teams to decide the positions. The Swedish FA rejected this proposal stating that the original format could not be changed. Of course, the extra revenue from the play-off matches was the main motivation behind the reluctance to accept the goal average system because the Swedish manager was the most vocal critic of the play-off system.  However the goal average system was implemented in case the top two teams in a group had tied.  All the rounds of group matches were played on the same dates, June 8, June 11 and June 15, with the exception of the Hungary versus Sweden match, which was played on June 12 instead of      June 11.

The first match featured the match-up between the defending champions West Germany against the South American champions, Argentina. The Latin Americans started with an early goal by Oresto Corbetta in the third minute. After that, the non-existent marking of the Argentines made the match a Helmut Rahn show. Rahn had been persuaded by the manager to lose some weight by reducing his consumption of beer. He scored 2 goals with either foot from 25 yards out. Uwe Seeler added a third to give the champions a 3-1 victory. The second match was a major surprise with Northern Ireland defeating the Czechoslovakian team 1-0 with a headed goal from Wilbur Cush. In the second round of matches, Argentina played to their potential and whipped Northern Ireland 3-1.

It was a brilliant performance of skill and flair with the Latin Americans resorting to party trick dribbling and passing. The other match featured a typical comeback by the West Germans who fell behind by two goals to the Czechs only to claw back and earn a 2-2 draw. Although, it was with a controversial goal by Hans Schafer who was accused of barging into the Czech goalkeeper, Bretislav Dolejsi over the line in the 78th minute. Going into the last round of matches, all teams had an equal chance of qualification and danger of elimination. West Germany was the favourite going into the game against the Irish.

The Irish played their best game of the tournament and Harry Gregg, their goalkeeper made a string of outstanding saves even while hobbling and being unable to take kicks. The match ended 2-2. In the last match, Argentina was expected to overcome the dour Czechoslovakians. However, the match was the worst ever performance by their goalkeeper, Amadeo Carrizo – an all-time great.

The Europeans used their pace and superior movement to annihilate the Argentines 6-1; a result that eliminated the South Americans. The West Germans had topped the group but Northern Ireland and Czechoslovakia had to go to a play-off. The match finished 1-1 in regulation time and eventually Peter McParland scored the winner in the 97th minute to send the Irish into the quarter finals.

Group 2

The first match of the group was a goal-fest featuring France and Paraguay. The Paraguayans led 3-2 after the 50th minute. The French had a lot of quality in Raymond Kopa and Just Fontaine who went on to create five goals to give them a 7-3 victory. The other match featured Yugoslavia against Scotland, which was a hard fought 1-1 draw.  The second round featured Paraguay against Scotland which was a thriller and ended in a 3-2 victory for the South Americans. The Yugoslavia-France match was an entertaining one of high quality football played by both sides. Fontaine scored two more goals for France but the East Europeans were a better organised side with some flair.

The Yugoslavians eventually overcame the French to register a 3-2 victory. In the last round of matches, the French required a victory against Scotland, and Paraguay required the same result against Yugoslavia. The Paraguayans played exciting football but were let down by poor defending to draw 3-3 with the Yugoslavians.  In the France-Scotland match, the British team played their best of the tournament but ended losing by two goals scored by the unstoppable Fontaine. France and Yugoslavia advanced to the quarter finals with Paraguay ruing their missed opportunities and poor defensive display. France topped the group on goal average.

Group 3

The hosts played against the Mexicans in their opening match. The Swedes slowed down the pace of the play to suit their ageing side but still had enough quality to score three goals. With two from Agne Simonsson and a penalty converted by Liedholm, they emerged 3-0 victors. Hungary and Wales played out a 1-1 draw; a magnificently headed equaliser from John Charles in reply to an early goal by        Jozsef Bozsik.

The Welsh goalkeeper, Jack Kelsey pulled off some great saves to deny the Hungarians. In the second round, the Mexicans avoided defeat for the first time in the tournament -a feat, which took them 9 matches and 28 years to achieve. They played out a 1-1 draw against Wales equalising in the 89th minute. The celebrations after the match were as if they had won the Cup itself. In the other match, Sweden defeated Hungary 2-1 with both ageing sides playing a slow tempo game, with both hosts’ goals coming through defensive lapses of the opposition. In the last round of matches, Sweden fielded a team of reserves against the Welsh to the indignation of the Hungarians. Eventually the match ended in a 0-0 draw, although Wales were lucky as the Swedes had some glaring misses. The Hungarians eventually made their presence felt with Hidegkuti having a great match against the Mexicans and easily winning  4-0.

Sweden qualified as group champions and a play-off was required between Hungary and Wales. The Hungarians mercilessly fouled John Charles, the best Welsh player. The match was played under a shadow of political tension as Imre Nagy, the leader of Hungarian uprising had been executed the day before. There were Hungarian immigrants and defectors in the stand chanting for a free Hungary with banners and posters. Amidst all this, the Welsh won 2-1 coming back from a goal down to reach the quarter-finals.

Group 4


England played Soviet Union, against whom they had drawn a friendly in Moscow a few months back. In this match, the English were clearly second best against a side, with great fitness and good tactical acumen. Nikita Simonian and Valentin Ivanov put the Soviets 2-0 up.

However, England were given a lifeline by a freak Derek Kevan goal, which deflected off his head and wrong-footed the great Lev Yashin. The equaliser was a Tom Finney penalty after a contentious decision from the referee. A Bobby Robson goal was wrongly disallowed but at the end the English were relieved to have salvaged a point. The other match featured Brazil against Austria and defeated them 3-0 without much effort. Two goals were scored by Jose Altafini who was nicknamed Mazzola after the great Italian, Valentino Mazzola who died in the Turin air crash. The other goal was scored by Nilton Santos. The Brazilian coach, Vicente Feola however was not happy with his forwards, especially 19-year-old Mazzola, who he thought was weighed by his impending transfer to Italy.

The second round of matches featured a goalless draw between England and Brazil. Walter Winterbottom, the manager for England, put Bill Slater to man mark Didi, the focal point of Brazilian attacks.

Just Fontaine(L) - the highest scorer

The English were lucky as Mazzola and Vava both hit the woodwork. In the other match, Austria dominated the Soviets for an hour and then Yashin saved a penalty. The Soviets started attacking the Austrian defence through the wings and Valentin and Aleksandr Ivanov (no relation) scored a goal each to set up a 2-0 victory. In the last round of matches, England were expected to easily defeat the Austrians but were pegged back to a 2-2 draw where they had to come from behind, twice. The Brazilian coach had brought a psychiatrist and asked him if he could play two new young players. The psychiatrist replied that one was too immature and infantile and the other so unsophisticated that his inclusion would be an absolute disaster for the team. Thankfully, Feola had very little faith in the doctor and played both the individuals: Pele, the infantile one and Garrincha, the unsophisticated one. The result was magical and they ripped a good Soviet team to shreds, setting up two goals for Vava in a 2-0 win. Brazil had topped the group but England had to play the Soviets in a play-off. The Soviets controlled the game and won by a 69th minute goal from Anatolyi Ilyin.

Quarter Finals

FIFA had got their quarter-final draw correct this time, featuring matches between group winners and runners up. Sweden played Soviet Union, France faced Northern Ireland, Brazil met Wales and West Germany was against Yugoslavia. In the match against the Soviets, the Swedish manager – George Raynor used a superb piece of tactics.

He knew that the opposition would mark his playmaker Liedholm. Hence, he made Gunnar Gren the playmaker for this match and Liedholm would draw away the marker. By the time the Soviets figured this out they were a goal down. They conceded another goal, late to give the hosts a 2-0 victory. France was too good for the Irish, defeating them 4-0 with Fontaine scoring another two goals. To be fair, the Irish were a team of walking wounded which was compounded by their team management making travel arrangements by bus instead of train, which entailed 12 hours of travel.  The Brazil-Wales match was a very close affair. The Welsh were missing their best player, John Charles who was finally sidelined with all the incessant fouling of opponents getting the better of him. Jack Kelsey gave another magnificent account of his abilities and was beaten because Pele’s shot had been deflected off Stuart Williams. The Brazilians later admitted this was the toughest match they had in this tournament where they had scraped through 1-0. In the last quarter-final, West Germany beat Yugoslavia in a very dull affair with a spectacular goal scored by Rahn after dribbling past three defenders on the right wing.

Semi Finals

The hosts, Sweden  played the defending champions, West Germany in a high voltage match. The West Germans took the lead through Schafer. The Swedes were lucky to equalise, as in the build up, the ball was clearly controlled by the hand of Liedholm. The match changed when Fritz Walter went off after a crunching tackle from Sigvard Parling. Immediately, Gunnar Gren freed from the clutches of Walter, scored in the 80th minute to give Sweden a 2-1 lead. West Germans went a man down when Erich Juscowiak was sent off. Kurt Hamrin scored the third Swedish goal to take the hosts to the final.  In the second semi-final between Brazil and France, goals were inevitable with the attacking prowess of both sides. Vava put the Brazilians ahead in the second minute only to have Fontaine equalise in the ninth. After that, it was all Brazil with a goal from Didi and a Pele hat-trick in the second half. France pulled one goal back but the Brazilians were an emphatic 5-2 winners. In the third place match, France defeated West Germany with four goals from Just Fontaine, all being created by the talented Raymond Kopa. The final score was 6-3. Fontaine finished with 13 goals in the tournament- a record yet to be equalled.


Bellini (L), Maurice Guigue (C) - Referee and Nils Liedholm (R)

The final match was played between the oldest (Sweden) and the youngest (Brazil) sides of the tournament. George Raynor, the Swedish coach had predicted that Brazil would panic if they could be made to concede an early goal. He got his wish as Simonsson received the ball from the defence, wide on the right in the fourth minute. His square pass found Liedholm, who went past the opposition defenders Orlando and Hilderaldo Bellini and beat Gilmar, the goalkeeper with a low grounder past his right hand (0-1). Instead of panicking, the Brazilians were eager to restart the game, which gave a feeling to Raynor that his pre-emption about the opposition may not be accurate and that his ageing stars could face problems.He was proved correct in the ninth minute when Garrincha went past his marker and tapped in a cross from the right which was lunged in by Vava (1-1). The repeat of the same move – a higher cross from Garrincha in the 32nd minute – beat the goalkeeper rushing out and was turned into the back of the net by Vava (2-1). The age of the Swedes was showing. Gunnar Gren was 20 years older than Pele which was evident and very painfully so! Pele hit the post from 20 yards in the 40thminute.

Pele celebrating after his first goal in the final

The second half brought no respite for the Swedes. Pele scored a great goal in the 55th minute when from a Nilton Santos cross he went past defender Sigge Parling with a chest trap, and flipped the ball over the goalkeeper, Karl Svensson volleying it into the net (3-1). Mario Zagallo scored from a header in the 68th minute, beating his marker (4-1). Liedholm managed to create a goal for Simonsson, to reduce the margin (4-2). The final word in the match was written by Pele who back-heeled a ball to Zagallo on the left and moved forward between the defenders and hit a looping header over the goalkeeper into the net (5-2).

It was the exclamation point of an excellent tournament, which was won by the best side playing the best football. The Brazilians did a lap of honour around the stadium with the Swedish flag, as the crowd cheered equally loudly for them in spite of having the home team as opponents. It was a spectacular tournament with high-quality football and the ushering in of two young stars in the modern age of football.

Bellini lifting the Trophy
Brazilians with the Swedish flag after the final

The Burden of Expectation in the Belly of a Giant

World War II had ravaged the world. The entire continent of Europe was in ruins. The World Cup trophy would have been lost amongst many other valuables which were seized by the Nazis. The Nazis were after the trophy as well, but it was saved by the efforts of a man named Ottorino Barassi. He was the president of the FIGC (Fedeazione Italiana Guioco Calcio or Italian Football federation) during the war. As Italy was the defending champions, the trophy was in a bank vault in Rome. Barassi sensing the danger to the trophy took it home and kept it in a shoe-box under his bed till the end of the war. There were very few countries willing to host the tournament after the war. People felt that spending money for a football tournament was wasteful when countries were rebuilding themselves from the ravages of war. Before the cancellation of the 1942 tournament, FIFA had received two bids from Brazil and Germany. The Brazilians presented their bid to FIFA again in 1946 when it was decided that the tournament would go back to South America after two decades. Barassi , the saviour of the trophy, was assigned to assist the Brazilian federation in organising the tournament, drawing on his experience from the 1934 tournament held in his country. The Brazilians presented the idea of building the largest stadium of the world in Rio de Janeiro, double the capacity of Wembley stadium, then the largest in the world.

The hosts started as favourites as they had won the Copa America in 1949 beating Paraguay 7-0 in the finals and Uruguay 5-1 before that. They had an impressive trio of inside-forwards in Zizinho, Ademir and Jair. Italy, the defending champions were weakened by the Superga air disaster involving the Torino team which resulted in the death of ten national team players. Sweden, the Olympic champion of 1948 was a strong team but their coach had refused to include players playing for foreign clubs. The best Swedish players had been signed up by Italian clubs after the Olympics, so they did not have their best side for this tournament. Yugoslavia, silver medallists from the Olympics were a good team. There was huge anticipation over the debut of England who had lost Frank Swift, Tommy Lawton and Raich Carter but still had Billy Wright, Stan Mortensen and ‘The wizard of the dribble’ Stanley Matthews in their ranks. FIFA had decided that the first two teams of the British Home Championships would qualify automatically for the tournament. England and Scotland both had qualified based on this FIFA directive. George Graham, the chief of the Scottish FA decided that Scotland would play only if they won the Home Championships. They lost the final to England and despite the pleading of Billy Wright, the England captain and Jules Rimet, they refused to go to Brazil. Uruguay had some good players like Juan Schiaffino and Alcide Ghiggia.  All the East European countries like Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Soviet Union refused to play the qualification matches. Turkey refused to go, citing financial difficulties. In Asia – Philippines, Burma and Indonesia – all destroyed by war pulled out of qualification matches while India qualified by default. Argentina withdrew citing differences with the Brazilian Football federation. France and Portugal were invited in place of Turkey and Scotland. Portugal refused but France accepted. Germany and Japan were banned from playing international football by FIFA.

FIFA had changed the format of the tournament with four groups where all teams played each other, with each group winner advancing to another group of four teams to decide the champions. The format was to ensure that each team would play more than one match as opposed to the knockout format used for the last two editions of the tournament. There was no final match but the last match became a final by circumstances. There was no zoning of the groups and all teams with the exception of the hosts had to travel large distances to play their matches which was not ideal in those times. The draw was held in Rio just before the tournament with the 15 participating teams.

Group 1: Brazil, Mexico, Switzerland and Yugoslavia

Group 2: England, Chile, Spain and the USA

Group 3: Italy, India, Paraguay and Sweden

Group 4: Uruguay, Bolivia and France

India wanted to pull out citing financial difficulties, but FIFA agreed to bear the major part of the expenses. They still pulled out as they played barefoot and FIFA had banned barefoot play in 1948. France also withdrew due to the large amount of travelling involved in playing their two matches. Finally, only thirteen nations remained in the fray, same as the last tournament in the same continent twenty years ago.

Group 1

The tournament started on June 24, 1950 at the huge Maracanã stadium, then known as the Municipal in Rio de Janeiro with the hosts playing Mexico. The capacity of the stadium was halved as it was not complete. There were fireworks, 5000 pigeons and a 21 gun salute which did not bode well for the unfinished concrete structure. The people in the stands were covered in shards of concrete but thankfully none of them were large in size. The host team however was better prepared than the venue. The Brazilians hit the post in the 6th minute by a Jair shot. Then Ademir tapped the ball into the goal past the advancing goalkeeper Antonio Carbajal to put Brazil ahead. Mayhem ensued with fifteen radio commentators and a dozen reporters rushing onto the pitch for instant interviews! The referee George Reader of England cleared the pitch without much of a problem and the game resumed. Brazil kept dominating and hit the woodwork five times. After halftime, Ademir and Balthazar switched positions. Jair scored with a cross-shot and Balthazar added a third with a header off a corner from ten yards. Ademir added his second of the game by a driving in Jair’s short pass. Brazil had won 4-0 but still their coach, Flavio Costa wasn’t sure about their forward line.

Half constructed Maracanã in the first match

Yugoslavia comfortably defeated Switzerland 3-0 with their incisive passing. This was the first finals match where the floodlights were switched on. Alfred Bickel, the Swiss captain was one of two players who had played in the last World Cup before the war. The other was Erik Nilsson, the Swedish captain. Incidentally both the players were from countries which were neutral during World War II.  Yugoslavia defeated Mexico 4-1 in their next match living up to their reputation as one of the best teams in the tournament. Brazil played Switzerland in Sao Paolo in their second match. The Brazilian coach called their opponents as a team without any importance. He brought in a lot of new players from the Sao Paolo club to please the crowd. The same crowd wanted to lynch him at the end of the match and riot police had to be deployed. Leaving out Jair was a bad decision. The Brazilians struggled against the plucky Swiss and led 2-1 at halftime. In the 88th minute, Bickel got away and crossed for Jacky Fatton to score his second goal of the game and stun the crowd. The result meant that Yugoslavia needed only a draw against Brazil in the last match. The hosts were in danger of being eliminated. There was massive amount of tension in Rio when Brazil met Yugoslavia to decide who would reach the final group. Brazil had a huge slice of luck when Zlatko Cajkovski, the Yugoslavian midfielder cut his head in an unfinished steel girder at the stadium. The referee, Mervyn Griffiths refused to delay the start in a stoic show of British punctuality. Ten man Yugoslavia were made to pay for their deficiency by conceding a goal scored by Ademir in the third minute. Cajkovski rejoined in the tenth minute and the Yugoslavs matched the hosts in creating chances. The Yugoslav goalkeeper, Srdan Mrkusic was asked to change his jersey as he was wearing the same all-white strip of the Brazilians after 30 minutes (Shades of Graham Poll of 2006). Cajkovski hit the post and missed with the goalkeeper at his mercy in the second. The host eventually made the match safe with Zizinho scoring in the 69th minute. The hosts had just about made it to the final pool.

Ademir of Brazil, the top scorer with 8 goals

Group 2

The English played their first World Cup finals match against Chile. The Chileans were facing their first European opposition since the 1930 World Cup tournament.  Neil Franklin, one of England’s best defenders had left England to play for Independiente Santa Fe of Bogotá for 5000 pounds and 35 pounds of bonus for each win. He was not pleased with the 20 pound a week wage cap imposed on footballers by the English FA in England. Columbia was not a member of FIFA and he refused to join the English teamfor the tournament which was a big loss for them. The coach, Walter Winterbottom did not even play Matthews. They defeated Chile with goals by Mortensen and Wilf Mannion in each half but looked far from comfortable at the back with Chilean George Robledo who played for Newcastle causing them problems. England team used oxygen cylinders to cope with the humidity during the halftime break but Billy Wright just didn’t like the concept. United States played Spain and led through a Gino Pariani goal for 80 minutes. The Spaniards eventually equalised through Silvester Igoa and won 3-1 with further goals from Estanislao Basora and Telmo Zarraonandia, better known as Zarra, in the 82nd and 85th minute. The scoreline did not reflect the real story of the match.  American defender Charlie (Chuck) Columbo played with gloves raising a few eyebrows. Spain next played Chile and defeated them 2-0 with both Basora and Zarra on target in the first half.

Joe Gatjaens (R) scores against England

England played USA in Belo Horizonte in a match that has been touted as the greatest upset in the history of football. The truth was that the Americans were not a bad side as they had shown against Spain in the last match. The English media has described the American win as nothing short of a miracle over the years but they were being unkind to their opponents to gloss over the shortcomings of their own team. Matthews was still not on the team as Winterbottom did not consider their opponents good enough to play the great man. Joe Gatjaens scored the only goal of the match with a diving header in the 38th minute. The English media describe the match as a procession of missed English chances and acrobatics by Frank Borghi, the American goalkeeper. Mortensen and Mullen missed chances but the Americans had their own chances to extend their lead. Pariani brought out a great save from Bert Williams, the English keeper. Alf Ramsey cleared off the line from a Frank Valicenti (Wallace) shot. The crowd grew from 10,000 to 40,000 by the end. An editor in London thought the scoreline was a misprint of 10-1 in favour of England. It was a bad day for the English against colonials as on the very same day England lost for the first time in a cricket test match against West Indies. The score in reality should have been 3-0 in favour of England as the Americans had fielded three foreigners in their team. The goal-scorer Gatjaens had played for Haiti, Joe Maca was a Scottish player and Ed McIlvenny was a Belgian. There was a FIFA letter showing that the three were ineligible. However, Jules Rimet was persuaded by the American ambassador, Herschel Johnson who conveyed the wish of a certain President Harry Trueman to overlook such small deficiencies and shortcomings.  In their last match, England needed a win against Spain. At last Matthews started and Jacky Milburn was brought in. Both of them played well but the rest of the team were demoralised by the loss in the last match and Spain won it by a goal from Zarra in the 48th minute. Spain had qualified for the final pool with an all win record. In the inconsequential last match, the Americans were defeated by the Chileans 5-2.

 Group 3

The first match was between defending world champions Italy against the defending Olympic champions Sweden. Sweden had not selected the great AC Milan trio Gunnar Gren, Gunnar Nordahl and Nils Liedholm, known as the great Grenoli.  Again a lot of people say what if? The match was well fought with the Swedes bossing the possession with crisp passing. The Scandinavians were 2-1 ahead at halftime through goals by Hans Jeppson and Sune Andersson after Italians had taken the lead through Riccardo Carapellesse. Jeppson added another in the second half. Ermes Muccinelli pulled one goal back in the 75th minute but the Swedes comfortably controlled the game till the final whistle to win 3-2. Nearly all the Swedish players were signed by Italian clubs after this match. The Swedes played the Copa America runners up Paraguay next and were two goals up within half an hour. Paraguayans fought back with goals in the 34th and 75th minute. After that the Swedes shut shop and played for the 2-2 draw. The Paraguayans needed to beat the Italians by a two goal margin to qualify for the final pool but were handed a 2-0 defeat. The Italians played well and it was the last the Italians were seen in a World Cup for 12 years as their national team went into decline. Italy was the first defending champions to be eliminated in the group stage, an ‘achievement’ which they repeated six decades later. Sweden qualified for the final pool.

Group 4

There was only one match in this group which was hit by the pulling out of France.  Uruguay crushed Bolivia 8-3. In this match, Uruguay showed that they had some very good players like Roque Maspoli in goal, Rodriguez Andrade the nephew of the great player of the 1930 cup winning team and Obdulio Varela their captain. Schaiffino and Ghiggia were both impressive with Omar Miguez scoring a hat-trick. Uruguay made it to the final pool, easily playing just a single match which meant that they were much fresher and less travel weary than the other teams.

Uruguay team

Final Pool: Brazil, Spain, Sweden and Uruguay

The first match in the final pool was between Uruguay and Spain. Both teams were very physical and rough. Zarra was marked out of the game by the Uruguayans. Ghiggia sprinted in to score the first goal in the 27th minute. Spain hit back with two goals from Basora in the 39th and 41st minute. Uruguay was saved by Varela who moved up-field and went past two opposition defenders and scored from the edge of the box.  The bruising match finished 2-2 and two Uruguayans missed their next match. After narrowly qualifying from the group stage, Brazil unleashed their attacking prowess against Sweden by annihilating them 7-1. The Swedes were not a bad team by any stretch but four goals by Ademir, a brace of goals by Chico and one by Maneca finished their chances in the tournament. The three inside forwards Ademir, Jair and Zizinho were magnificent with their inter-passing and movement which was far more skilful than anything seen in Europe in those times. All the three were lanky and sported pencil moustaches. They would have scored more goals if they had not played exhibition football for the last 30 minutes.

Brazil Team

Uruguay played Sweden in their second match. It was a close match, the Swedes taking the lead through Karl-Erik Palmer in the fourth minute, after he controlled and shot high across the keeper from a long floating free-kick from the wing. Uruguay equalised through Ghiggia in the 39th minute, who after a characteristic surging run through the midfield, volleyed a long shot to the keepers right. Sweden immediately regained their lead through a Stig Sundkvist goal with a left footed volley, after the second choice Uruguayan keeper Anibal Paz came out and dropped a cross under pressure from Jeppson to take a 2-1 lead into the break. After the break the Uruguayans kept attacking without any success. Eventually Miguez scored twice from loose balls in the 77th and 84th minute to give Uruguay a 3-2 victory and kept alive their chances of winning the tournament. Brazil played Spain and was equally impressive as the last match winning 6-1. Jair, Ademir and Zizinho were magnificent again with their inter play leaving their opponents mesmerised.

Before the last match there was the league match to decide third place. Spain just needed a draw and Sweden needed a win. The Swedes won 3-1 to claim the third position. This was the best performance in the World Cup by Spain till 2010. Brazil went into the last match against Uruguay, just needing a draw to win the World Cup. They were overwhelming favourites playing at home in front of a crowd of 205,000, the biggest ever to watch a football match. The Brazilian press had already termed their team as champions. The Uruguayan captain bought a newspaper which proclaimed the Brazilians as champions and ordered his teammates to urinate on it to stoke their anger and focus.  The mayor of Rio de Janeiro referred to Brazil as the champions in his speech before the match. The Brazilians were exceptional in their forward play but their defence had a few problems. The diagonal defensive formation left their wing-halves with no cover if the opposition wingers managed to penetrate. The Brazilians started off like their last two matches attacking Uruguay relentlessly. They had eight shots in the first five minutes but were frustrated by a wall of Uruguayan defenders. Eusebio Tajera marked Ademir and he was helped by Varela who was falling back. Above all, the Uruguayan goalkeeper Maspoli played the game of his life.

Maspoli in action during the final

Maspoli saved a thumping shot from Ademir after some crisp interplay between Jair and Zizinho. Then he saved a great header to deny Ademir again. Chico had his shot saved by Maspoli after that. There was no goal at halftime but the spectators were in good spirit singing and dancing to the samba beats. The goal came in the 47th minute. The Uruguayan defence was in the left side to cover Ademir and Jair. A reverse pass from Ademir sent Friaca clear on the right side of the goal. He managed to hold off Andrade and beat Maspoli with a flopping cross cum shot (0-1). The entire stadium was in raptures. The volume was louder and the samba rhythm faster. The goal coming in the second half did not demoralise the Uruguayans who took heart from the fact that they had thwarted the hosts for so long. Varela started to make forays into the Brazilian half. Ghiggia then started to give the Brazilian left-back Bigode a harrowing time. In the 66th minute he took a pass from Varela and pulled Bigode to the left touchline, beat him by a body sway, crossed for Schiaffino to score with a sweeping shot just beating Brazilian defender Juvenal’s tackle and goalkeeper Barbosa’s outstretched hands (1-1).  The stadium was silent. The Brazilians were still going to win the Cup if the score remained the same but the crowd reaction was as if they had lost the Cup.

Schiaffino scores beating Barbosa: The goal that silenced 205,000 people

The Brazilian manager many years later said that it was the silence in the stadium that terrorised his players. Ghiggia repeated the move only to see Schiaffino shoot wide in the 71st minute. The Brazilian coach Flavio Costa should have done something to protect poor Bigode. Defensive tactical acumen was not the forte of Costa. Brazil kept attacking and Maspoli kept saving. Brazil had 30 shots on goal in the game to Uruguay’s 12. In the 77th minute Julio Perez, the Uruguayan half back played a one-two with Ghiggia which flummoxed hapless Bigode. Ghiggia angled in from the right wing and Barbosa stayed back on his line expecting another cross, instead the Uruguayan unleashed a fierce shot below the keeper’s hands, who got a faint touch (2-1).  The spectators were now horrified.

Chico (C) shoots wide in the final

On the other end of the pitch, Maspoli continued his procession of great saves, first from a Jair shot, another from a Chico toe-poke. Then Ademir volleyed over the goal from close range. In the last action of the game, Maspoli dropped a high cross after being challenged. His teammate Andrade was the first to the ball and the final whistle was blown by George Reader, the English referee. The Uruguayans had triumphed for the second time in South America and were yet to be beaten in the tournament.  Schiaffino described the after-match ceremony as having the atmosphere of a despondent funeral.

Obdulio Varela being presented the World Cup trophy

The Brazilians unfairly blamed the players of African origin for their loss, namely, Barbosa the goalkeeper. Thirteen years later Barbosa was given the goalposts as souvenir, which he took home and promptly used as fuel for a neighbourhood barbecue. The Brazilian all white jersey was deemed unlucky and with permission from the Football Confederation a newspaper held a design competition for a new jersey. The competition was won by a 19 year old named Aldyr Garcia Schlee who designed the current uniform reflecting their national flag. Ruben Moran is the only player to make his debut in the World Cup final and win. It was a very successful tournament with huge turnouts to the matches. The only down side was that an entire country was in mourning after the tournament finished.

A Brave New World

Evacuation routes to ships, escape plans, protection protocols, people being searched for concealed weapons, a one-armed man as a major character, a clash between a military dictatorship and a democratic coalition, a death threat and a moat to protect the main protagonists. At first glance it seems a fine plot of an Alistair MacLean or a John le Carre thriller; however the subject in discussion is the first final of the World Cup held on July 30, 1930.

Eighty one years on, the game and the tournament have both grown in epic proportions. So much so that the phenomenon was nearly nominated for the Nobel Peace prize a couple of years back. To understand the game and its huge impact on the world and its people, we need to travel back in history. Not as much the study of numbers and statistics, which apparently constitute a mechanical approach, let’s rather take a sneak peek into the major events, the people associated and other related  aspects significant to the game, that help transcend football from being merely a sport to a passionate way of life.
The first World Cup was conceived as a competition independent of the Olympics, which was then the main competition in the early part of the 20th century. The idea was primarily driven by Jules Rimet, the then President of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). Countries like Uruguay, Italy, Sweden, Hungary, Spain and the Netherlands exhibited a keen interest to host it. FIFA did not have any voting system in place in those days so Rimet after much deliberation, named Uruguay as the host country of the inaugural World Cup tournament as they were the champions of the last two Olympic Games and also to commemorate their centenary of independence. The other idea was to spread the game beyond Europe.
 Even before the tournament started there were a lot of obstacles. For one, air travel was absent. Secondly, many European teams refused to undertake the long tedious journey aboard a ship. Rimet, however, managed to persuade four teams viz. Belgium, France, Romania and Yugoslavia to participate. The Uruguayan organisers agreed that all expenditures shall be borne by them. The Romanians managed to participate due to the intervention of their new monarch Carol II, who personally selected the team and persuaded the employers of the players to ensure that their jobs were safe. The French team joined owing to the efforts of Rimet. Their star striker Manuel Anatol and regular coach Gaston Barreau could not make the trip though. The Belgians were similarly persuaded by the then FIFA Vice President Rudolf Seedrayers who was from the same country. The Yugoslavs were possibly the only European team to participate without any persuasion apart from all the expenses being paid. The ship SS Conte Verde served as the mode of travel for all the teams but Yugoslavia, who made the journey by a mail steamship named Florida. The Conte Verde also carried the trophy, then known as ‘Lady of Victory’, along with Jules Rimet and the three designated European referees. The ship made a stop at Rio where the Brazilian squad boarded. Another brief stop was at Santos where the teams bought plenty of fruits like bananas, oranges and pineapples. The ship eventually reached Montevideo on July 4, 1930, just nine days prior to the commencement of the tournament, with ten thousand residents of the city welcoming them.

The tournament proper started on July 13, 1930 with simultaneous matches featuring France versus Mexico and United States versus Belgium. Four groups had been made where Uruguay, Brazil, USA and Argentina were seeded. The seeding was more to ensure large crowds for knockout matches than actual strength of the teams. Surprisingly, all the seeded teams with the exception of Brazil made it to the semi finals. Yugoslavia was the only European team to make it to the semis. The South American teams were better equipped as they understood the concept of conditioning camps, training and tactics since they had been playing the Copa America, their continental championships, since 1916. Eventually the final came down to a match between the neighbours, Uruguay and Argentina, the original ‘El Clasico’. There are a few of interesting bits of trivia associated with this tournament. Penalties were difficult to score as they were taken from 16 yards out. The referees were dressed immaculately in coats and ties with golf plus fours and thigh length stockings. In fact, in many matches it was complained that the referees missed out on important events, as they were busy combing their hair or straightening their tie.
 The Argentina captain Manuel Farreira actually left the team before the last group match against Chile in order to appear for his Law examinations in Buenos Aires and returned just in time for the semi finals.
One of the biggest stars was the Argentinean mid-fielder cum defender Luis Monti. He had the quintessential build of a centre half but had a sublime range of long passes. He was also the original strong man who used a lot of thug-like tactics while undertaking his defensive duties. For instance, while at a group match against France, Monti managed to get his elbow on the opposition goalkeeper Alex Thépot’s face following which Thépot was unable to continue. Then Lucien Laurent was subjected to a fierce kick to the ankle which left him limping for the rest of the match. It is believed that Monti was much subdued in his performance in the final match owing to the death threats received earlier. This explanation is, however, offered by the Argentine media. Monti went on to play the next final match four years later representing Italy where he performed much better without any death threats hanging over his head.
The final match of the World Cup can alone form a subject for a gripping novel with several sub-plots. The two capitals of the finalists were across the Rio de La Plata – imagine a match between Manhattan and Queens of New York, each located in a different country. The game was held on a Wednesday, a working day, yet that did not in any way reduce the enthusiasm. The match started at 3:30 in the afternoon but the gates were opened at 9:30 in the morning and within two hours the Estadio Centenario was filled to the rafters. The early opening of the gates was to accommodate a thorough security check of every spectator for concealed weapons. This saw a considerable reduction in  the ground capacity – from 90,000 enthusiasts to the final attendance figure of 68,346. About thirty thousand Argentine supporters were delayed by fog over the river and could not make it to the stadium. Some political rivalry was evident as Argentina was a military dictatorship while Uruguay had a democratically elected coalition government. The referee John Langenus, a Belgian was quite worried about the safety of his life and demanded a safe evacuation route to the ship. He even demanded protective policemen as bodyguards during half time. A ten feet deep moat had been constructed around the field to prevent pitch invasion. There was a drawbridge to connect to the VIP box from the pitch. These are the small examples of the passion that the sport brings out in people, which is still evident today.
Line Up for the Final
Even before the kick off, there was a major problem. Both sides wanted to have the match played with a ball manufactured in their respective countries. Langenus suggested that a different ball be used in each half. A toss decided that the one manufactured in Argentina was to be used in the first half whilst the one made in Uruguay for the lsecond. Such an episode may sound like a matter of disbelief during the age of the ‘Teamgeist’ or the ‘Fevernova’, but this was more than a match; it was a clash that ‘mattered’.

The pitch was dry and dusty, and the Celeste and the Albiceleste fought the battle which would change the history of the game. Both teams started with a 2-3-4-1 formation with Héctor Castro and Guillermo Stábile playing as the lone forwards and Lorenzo Fernández and Monti playing in the centre of the three-man midfield for each side respectively. The hosts drew first blood in the 12th minute when the inside right, Héctor Scarone’s shot was blocked by the Argentine left back Fernando Paternoster, the rebound was picked by the centre forward Castro, who pushed the ball wide right. The outside right, Pablo Dorado charged in like a locomotive and shot underneath the goalkeeper Juan Botasso’s body and past Juan Evaristo who was on the line(1-0). Incidentally Juan’s brother Mario Evaristo was playing as the right out in forward line. Argentina replied eight minutes later with a picture perfect goal. Juan Evaristo, their right half, very recognisable because of his pale beret, took a return pass from Monti and found Farreira, the Argentine captain and inside left, who released Carlos Peucelle, their outside left. Peucelle the predecessor of the present day left wingers beat the opposition left half Álvaro Gestido with a burst of speed and took a fierce shot which left the goalkeeper Enrique Ballestrero standing, high inside his left-hand post(1-1). Gestido was trying to cover for his right half José Andrade who was absent in the left wing. Argentina then went on to dominate the game with their skillful passing and crisp movements with the ball. To add to this they had a world class forward in Stábile. It was now a question of not how Argentina would score but when? The answer came in the 37th minute. Monti hit a hopeful long ball which drifted over the Uruguayan captain and right centre back José Nasazzi to fall to Stábile who scored from close range with Andrade stranded on the line(1-2). Andrés Mazali, Uruguay’s star goalkeeper from the two Olympic Games triumphs had been dropped for breaking curfew. He was caught sneaking home for a conjugal visit. Those were not the days of the WAGs. His replacement Ballestrero who played for this tournament was not of the same class. Andrés Mazali might have saved this goal as Ballestrero was hopelessly out of position.  Nasazzi led the claims for offside but the ball was in the air for a long time. Argentina’s flair and skill was proving its superiority over the hosts’ organisation and industrial style of play. Then came the half time interval and everything changed!

In the second half the hosts started to impose themselves physically. The Uruguayans believed that they were much stronger in constitution than their neighbours and it began to show. The inside right of Argentina, Francisco Varallo re-injured his knee and was sent out to the right wing where he was completely neutralised by Ernesto Mascheroni. At this time Monti seemed to take the death threat to heart and did not play in his usual manner. What put the final nail in the coffin was the highest goal scorer of the tournament; Stábile missed a golden opportunity to put them two goals to the good in the 49th minute. The wind came out of their sails. Now Gestido and Fernandez, the halves of Uruguay were linking up in attack and Argentina were under pressure. In the 57th minute, a free kick by Fernandez reached Scarone in the right hand channel and he passed the ball to Castro, the forward who had one hand. Castro who was a carpenter by profession had lost his left hand from the wrist working on an electric saw. He received the ball with his back to the goal, chipped a clever overhead lob from that position which took both the opposition defenders José della Torre and Paternoster out of the equation and reached José Pedro Cea, the inside right who hit a ground shot past the goalkeeper Botasso(2-2). The equaliser had arrived and now Uruguay pressed forward for the winner. Ten minutes later Mascheroni dispossessed Varallo and ran forward on the left side and passed to the outside left “El Canario” (The Canary) aka Victoriano Santos Iriarte who ran inside and took a snap shot from outside the area which flummoxed Botasso who dived late (3-2). The stadium erupted with joy as the hosts had their noses in front. Argentina had a few chances when Stábile hit the top of the bar with a shot from ten yards out on the 72nd minute. In the 80th minute, the limping Varallo managed to beat Ballestrero who characteristically was out of position. The goal was averted when Andrade, the right half cleared the ball off the line by means of an acrobatic volley with his entire body off the ground. Uruguay made the game safe in the last minute when Dorado received the ball around the centre line in the right side and ran ahead and crossed for Castro who leapt above Della Torre and sent a looping header above Botasso’s flailing fingertips (4-2). It was game set and match. Langenus blew the final whistle and made it to his ship safely. Strangely Nasazzi, the captain fantastic of the winning team did not receive the trophy as Rimet presented it to Dr. Raúl Jude, the Uruguayan FA President.
A few more facts about the finalists which make for an interesting read: Eight of the Argentinian players were never capped again. Stábile, one of the stars of the tournament only played those four matches in his entire international career. Alberto Suppici, the Uruguayan coach similarly managed the team for only the four matches in this tournament and till date, at 31 years is the youngest manager to win the World  Cup. José Nasazzi was captain of the Uruguayan national team for all his 41 international matches. The day following the final match was declared a national holiday in Uruguay. On the flip side, the Uruguayan embassy in Buenos Aires was stoned by a mob. The two football associations broke off relations, the major reason why no further Copa America was organised till 1935. It was hailed as win by Uruguayan democracy over Argentine dictatorship; the triumph of Uruguayan organisation and industrial team game of commoners over the skill, finesse and individualism of the Argentinean elite class. All this was more of media hype than reality, but has added to the mystique of this great tournament.
It was the beginning of a new era in power football where FIFA elevated the game to a higher pedestal. The cup would soon come to Europe and become a tool in the hands of dictators and governments who were racing towards war. But for the moment it was football which was basking in its success and reveling in its glory.