Alcides Ghiggia, Uruguay, Maracana, Montevideo, World Cup

Alcides Ghiggia: Remembering the man who silenced the Maracana

  • Alcides Ghiggia died 65 years to the day his goal won the 1950 World Cup for Uruguay
  • Ghiggia was oldest living World Cup winner
  • Played club football for Penarol, AS Roma, AC Milan and Danubio
  • Represented Italy as well as his native Uruguay

ON THURSDAY 16th JULY, Alcides Ghiggia’s heart beat its final beat, his lungs drew their final breath and his eyes closed for a final time. According to his son, in the final moments preceding his death, he had been talking about football.

At the age of 88, Ghiggia’s passing prompted Uruguayan president Tabare Vazquez to declare 3 days of national mourning in his honour.

Sixty-five years ago to the day of his death, in the final match of the 1950 World Cup, those lungs and that heart had propelled Ghiggia’s 5′ 6″ frame and match-stick thin legs into the penalty area of the newly built Maracana stadium.

With ten minutes to go, and with Brazil only needing a point to be crowned World Champions, two nations held their breath:

“I took the ball on the right, I dribbled past Bigode and entered the box. The goalkeeper (Barbosa) thought I was going to cross it, as I had done for our first goal, so he left a gap between himself and the near post. I just had a second so I shot low between goalkeeper and post and it hit the back of the net even before he dived.”

“There was complete silence, the crowd were frozen still. It was as if they weren’t even breathing.”

“Sometimes I feel as though I was Brazil’s ghost, always there in their memories. Only three people have silenced the Maracana – the Pope, Frank Sinatra and me.”

Alcides Ghiggia scores for Uruguay against Brazil at the Maracana in the final match of the 1950 FIFA World Cup
Alcides Ghiggia reels away having silenced the Maracana.

Ghiggia, was the oldest living World Cup winner and the last surviving player from either side to have played in that match.

“Honour”

The format of the 1950 tournament saw a final round where Brazil, Spain, Sweden and eventual winners Uruguay competed in a group where the top positioned side would be crowned champions. As many as 200,000 souls had crammed into the Maracana for the de-facto World Cup final, expecting free-scoring Brazil to defeat neighbours Uruguay and be crowned World Champions for the first time in their history.

After their previous two group games, where they had scored 7 goals past Sweden and a further 6 past Spain, speeches were made before the game honouring the Brazilian “champions” whilst gifts including lifetime cinema tickets were bestowed upon the players.

That late winning goal from Alcides Ghiggia is still mourned in Brazil and celebrated in Uruguay to this day.

Alcides Ghiggia and his teammates returned home as national heroes to a country who had nervously huddled around listening on wireless radios. It was their country’s second World Cup triumph. Many years later, in a grand sporting gesture, Brazil would honour Ghiggia at the Maracana alongside Pele and their own heroes.

Moacir Barbosa, the vanquished goalkeeper beaten by that low drive to the near post would suffer a fifty-years of jibes and regret that he hadn’t taken a step closer to his post up until his own death in April 2000.

Sporting disappointment saw commentators use the defeat to question the very fabric of Brazilian society. In their darkest hour, football, so often a symbol and metaphor of the nation’s expression, style and identity; was regarded as proof by those who would have it that a multi-ethnic Brazil lacked steel, fight and courage. Multiculturalism had only delivered defeat, so was the mix of European, African and indigenous races making up the country’s population also destined for failure away from sport?

Ghiggia’s late strike spurred Brazil on to reinvention which delivered the “samba soccer” brand of football the nation is now famous for and under pressure in each game to emulate. The jinxed white shirts of defeat were replaced with the patriotic yellow, blue, white and green of the Brazilian flag; an iconic design in Sport recognised the world over. Uruguay’s win was arguably the making of the world’s most successful international side. Eight years later in Sweden, a seventeen-year-old Pele inspired Brazil to the first of their record 5 tournament victories.

“Dominance”

It has been observed that where other nations have their history, their battles and their military conquests, Uruguay has football as a source of national pride.

Uruguay’s early dominance of international football amounted to shock and awe for the assembled nations lined up to compete against them. Ironically, their triumphs were carved from a similar cultural diversity to that which Brazil’s inferiority complex was now coming to question. On home soil in 1930, La Celeste a team with black players as well as white, played the game in a way European nations could only dream about. They were no strangers to international football having competed in the Copa America since 1916 and won the previous 2 Olympic titles. Uruguay had boycotted the 2 World Cups played on European soil in 1934 and 1938 protesting against those nations who had refused to travel for the 1930 tournament. Had they taken part, who knows how many stars would sit above the crest on their sky-blue shirts?

Alcides Ghiggia was the son of Italian immigrants to Montevideo and his family roots would later grant him Italian citizenship. Following a domestic career spent at Uruguayan giants Penarol, he moved to AS Roma and briefly AC Milan, as an early South American footballing pioneer. As an oriundo (a foreign player of Italian origin), Ghiggia would go onto to earn 5 caps for the Azzurri in an age where players were often permitted to switch international allegiances.

After a career which lasted into his early 40s, finishing with Montevideo club Danubio, Ghiggia’s connection with the game continued with a spell as Penarol manager in 1980. He would later work as a Casino security guard and as a driving instructor (a job which introduced him to his 3rd wife, Beatriz, a lady 45 years his junior).

Alcides Ghiggia died in Las Piedras, just north of Montevideo, where he had spent his latter years. He is survived by his third wife Beatriz, his two children, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Alcides Ghiggia will be forever remembered as one of his country’s great heroes.

May he rest in peace.

Uruguay 1950 World Cup Squad with Alcides Ghiggia
Forever Remembered, Forever Champions: Uruguay’s 1950 World Cup squad. credit@Bildbyrån – AIK Fotboll/Wikimedia Commons

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