1950 World Cup: Getting back on track after World War II

With Europe still recovering from the aftermath of World War II, FIFA began its search to find a host for the World Cup.

Uruguay beats Brazil and silences the Maracana in a memorable final in Rio

Juan Alberto Schiaffino scores the tying goal on Brazilian goalkeeper Moacyr Barbosa in the 1950 World Cup final in Rio. Uruguay went on to win 2-1. ((AFP/Getty Images))

With Europe still recovering from the aftermath of World War II, FIFA began its search to find a host for the World Cup.

The planned tournaments of 1942 and 1946 were both wiped out by the conflict and FIFA, anxious to get the ball rolling again, began to formulate plans for the World Cup to return in 1949 after the Allies vanquished the Axis Powers.

Most of Europe was still in ruins and soccer's world governing body found it difficult to find a country that would host the event during a time when all available resources were being put towards reconstruction efforts.


  • Number of participating teams: 13
  • Top scorer: Brazil's Ademir (9 goals)
  • Number of games: 22
  • Total goals scored: 88
  • Average goals per game: 4.00
  • Highest scoring game: Uruguay's 8-0 win over Bolivia on July 2
  • Total attendance: 1,337,000
  • Average attendance: 60,733

Other nations even declined to participate in the competition, and it looked as though the World Cup would not even take place.


Finally, at a congress on July 25, 1946 in Luxembourg, Brazil offered to host the event, provided the tournament take place in 1950. As the only nation to table a formal bid, Brazil was granted the honour of staging the fourth World Cup.

The Luxembourg congress also produced two other historical results: 1) the World Cup trophy was re-christened the Jules Rimet Cup (subsequently referred to as the Jules Rimet Trophy) in celebration of Rimet's 25th anniversary as FIFA president; and 2) the British soccer federations rejoined FIFA after a 17-year absence.

Several countries withdrew from the World Cup for a variety of reasons. Argentina said "no" because of an ongoing feud with the Brazilian soccer federation. Scotland and Turkey both qualified but later pulled out, the Scots because they finished second to England at the British Home Championship (they vowed only to make the trip to Brazil as British champions).

France was offered Turkey's spot and originally accepted before reneging on their promise once they saw their laborious travel schedule. Austria felt its team was too young, Germany was frozen out by FIFA as a consequence of the war, and Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Russia all opted out for political reasons.

There were reasons to be optimistic, however. Italy, the reigning two-time world champion, made it to Brazil even though the majority of its national team died in a tragic plane crash a year earlier. England, where the modern game was born, made its World Cup debut and Uruguay, having skipped out the last two times, returned.

In total, 13 nations played in the tournament that sported a unique format. The teams were divided into four pools with the winner of each advancing to the round-robin final where a new world champion would be crowned.

Play kicked off on July 24 with Brazil thumping Mexico 4-0 at the newly built Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro. The hosts were held to a surprising 2-2 result by Switzerland two days later in Sao Paulo, before winning Group 1 with a 2-0 win over Yugoslavia on July 1 in Rio.

Ademir scored three goals for Brazil in the first round en route to finishing as the tournament's top scorer.

Group 2 produced the greatest upset in World Cup history on June 29th in Belo Horizonte.

After defeating Chile 2-0 in its opener, England, who previously mocked the idea of the World Cup and never doubted that it was the best soccer nation in the world, fell 1-0 to the U.S. The result was so improbable - the Americans were 500-1 underdogs to win the World Cup - that when word reached back to England, people thought it was a misprint in the newspapers.

MATCH OF THE TOURNAMENT: Uruguay's 2-1 victory over Brazil in the "final." Though the United States' 1-0 win against England ranks as the biggest upset in World Cup history, Uruguay defied heavy odds and fought back to defeat the heavily-favoured Brazilians in an exciting finale at the Maracana.

MAN OF THE TOURNAMENT: Juan Schiaffino. The legendary forward finished the tournament with five goals, behind only Brazil's Ademir, who scored nine. Schiaffino scored four times against Bolivia, but his biggest goal came when he netted the equalizer in the final against Brazil as he led Uruguay to its second World Cup title.

SPOTLIGHT: Italy, the two-time defending champions, fielded a weakened team due to the Superga air disaster on May 4, 1949. On that day, a plane carrying the great Torino team, winners of four straight Italian league titles and considered one of the best clubs of the first-half century, crashed into the Superga hills near Turin, killing everyone on board.

In total, 31 people (18 players) died, eight of whom were regulars for the Italian national team at the time, including Valentino Mazzola, the legendary forward and one of Italy's greatest players ever.

The crash was the biggest tragedy in Italian sports history, and it decimated the national team, forcing the Italian soccer federation to rebuild the side from scratch.

AND ANOTHER THING: Although they were heralded for coming to FIFA's rescue, the Brazilian soccer federation was hardly sportsmanlike in its organization of the competition.

While Brazil played five of their six games in Rio de Janeiro (its humid and muggy climate being a disadvantage for visiting teams), other nations were forced to trudge across the vast expanse of the huge country.

France, who failed to qualify but were invited after Turkey and Scotland withdrew, pulled out when they discovered the distances involved they would have to travel: drawn into a group with Uruguay and Bolivia, the French were slated to play one game in Porto Alegre and the next 2,000 miles away in Recife.

England's 1-0 loss to Spain on July 2 gave the group to the Spaniards while the English had their air of superiority and arrogance deflated as they were sent home early.

A talented Sweden team defeated Italy and earned a draw with Paraguay to win Group 3, while Uruguay thrashed Bolivia 8-0 to win Group 4 - curiously, when France pulled out, FIFA did not re-distribute the teams, and Uruguay and Bolivia remained in a group by themselves.


So, Brazil, Spain, Sweden and Uruguay advanced to the final four-team round robin where the country that finished on top would be crowned world champion. Technically, the 1950 tournament is the only World Cup not to have a "real" final, but the last match did determine the winner and is usually referred to, although erroneously, as the final.

Ademir continued his brilliant form when he scored four times in Brazil's 7-1 win against Sweden on July 9 in Rio. Four days later he scored twice and teammate Chico added a pair for the second time in the final round to lift the hosts to a 6-1 win over Spain.

The stage was now set for the last game of the final round, a showdown between Brazil and Uruguay at Rio's Maracana stadium on July 16.

Having thrashed their previous two opponents and buoyed by the home crowd (official attendance figures peg the c rowd at 174,000, while some historians say it was over 200,000) at the Maracana, the invincible Brazilians were virtually assured of victory.

What's more, Uruguay had tied Spain in its first game of the final round and trailed Brazil by a point. All the Brazilians had to do was earn a draw against Uruguay, and they would be crowned world champions.

How could they lose?

With the entire soccer-mad country of Brazil against them, Uruguay was pinned back in its half of the field for most of the opening 45 minutes. The deadly trio of Ademir, Zizinho and Jair danced through the robust Uruguayan defence only to be thwarted by a well-timed tackle or interception from Victor Andrade and Obdulio Varela.

Wave after wave of Brazilian attack crashed on the shores of Uruguay's 18-yard penalty area, but each time goalkeeper Gaston Maspoli was there to make a save.

Two minutes into the second half, Brazil finally picked the lock on Uruguay's defence. Ademir and Zizinho combined to draw Uruguay out of position and Ademir fed an on-rushing Friaca who blasted the ball past a helpless Maspoli.

Though a draw was all it needed, Brazil continued to attack. They were repelled each time and Uruguay, growing in confidence, launched attacks of its own downfield.

The game turned in the 66th minute when Varela rolled the ball to Alcides Ghiggia in the Brazilian half. Ghiggia skipped down the right flank and beat the Brazilian defender Bigode before crossing to an unmarked Juan Schiaffino in the middle.

Schiaffino took a few strides before tucking the ball past Brazilian goalkeeper Paulo Barbosa. 1-1.

The Brazilians had the life knocked out of them and Uruguay confidently pressed forward in search of the winner. It came in the 79th minute when Ghiggia played a 1-2 pass with Julio Perez, beat Bigode one more time and scored at the near post.

The final whistle blew 11 minutes later as the stunned and silent Maracana crowd broke into tears.

The modern era of the World Cup was born, and while all of Brazil plummeted into a state of mourning, Uruguay - the inaugural World Cup champions - reclaimed soccer's greatest prize for the first time in 20 years.


  • The average attendance of 60,733 per game in Brazil set a new World Cup record that lasted until the 1994 World Cup (68,991) in the U.S.
  • Apart from 1958 in Sweden, the 1950 tournament was the only World Cup in which the host nation reached the final and failed to win.
  • India qualified for the World Cup but withdrew because FIFA would not allow the team to play barefoot.
  • According to FIFA, Dr. Ottorino Barassi, the Italian vice-president of FIFA, hid the World Cup trophy in a shoebox under his bed throughout the World War II so it would not fall into the hands of the occupying troops.
  • Joseph Gaetjens, the goal-scoring hero for the U.S. against England, returned to his native Haiti in 1954. A decade later, he was arrested by the country's secret police and is believed to have been killed - like thousands of other Haitians - by the death squad.
  • Uruguay's Alcide Ghiggia scored in every match (four games) that he appeared in at the 1950 World Cup, including the final. The only other players to do that were Just Fontaine of France in 1958 and Brazil's Jairzinho in 1970 - they both scored in all six games they played.
  • Goalkeeper Antonio Carbajal appeared in his first of five consecutive World Cups for Mexico in 1950. Only one other player has played in five tournaments: German legend Lothar Matthaus (1982-98).