On July 16 1950, Brazil and Uruguay faced each other in the first World Cup final after World War II. The match was played at the open-air Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janerio, with Uruguay monumentally upsetting the hosts by winning the game 2-1.
Brazilian playwright Nelson Rodrigues described the loss as the country’s “Hiroshima,” while Uruguay’s win inspired a new Spanish noun, Maracanazo, literally meaning “The Maracana Blow”- with the term used to signify the historic result.
The Maracana Stadium was specifically built for the 1950 World Cup. Construction plans were drawn by seven architectures and the work started in 1948. The building of the stadium came under political scrutiny, with Carlos Lacerda, then Congressman and political enemy of the mayor Angelo Mendes de Morais, criticizing the massive expenditure on the stadium as well as the latter’s location. Despite this, the plan wasn’t shelved.
Nonetheless, the work soon fell behind schedule. Despite 1500 workers engaged on the job, an additional 2000 labourers were employed in the final few months to meet the deadline. The stadium eventually came to use in 1950, just in time for the World Cup match between Brazil and Mexico. However, all the works were only fully completed by 1965.
The idea behind constructing the extravagant Maracana Stadium was “to construct a stadium that would be a testament to the success of Brazilian football and the victory of the Brazilian national team.” The stadium was to be a man-made monument, “that would be worthy of a place among Rio de Janeiro’s other landmarks.” It was to be “audacious and dramatic.” And the aim was fulfilled as Brazil built the largest football stadium on the planet, with a capacity of 200,000 spectators. It was located at the heart of Rio and surrounded by the traditional neighbourhoods of the city.
“Today Brazil has the biggest and most perfect stadium in the world, dignifying the competence of its people and its evolution in all branches of human activity,” wrote newspaper A Noite. “Now we have a stage of fantastic proportions in which the whole world can admire our prestige and sporting greatness.” Journalist Mário Filho of Jornal dos Sports said the Maracana Stadium gave Brazil “a new soul, awakening the slumbering giant within.”
Official FIFA documents state that 174,000 fans attended the final, but apparently there were more than 200,000 people inside the stadium.
Road to the Final
Brazil were chosen to host the first World Cup after World War II and for four years, the country prepared for the spectacle.
With only 13 teams playing the World Cup, there were no knockout rounds. Instead, the winner of the tournament was to be decided by a second round-robin group stage consisting of the four group winners from the first round. The four group winners were Spain, Brazil, Uruguay and Sweden.
As the tournament progressed, Brazil’s ecstatic showings meant they were the front-runners for the trophy. They swept aside their opponents with relative ease, scoring 21 goals in their first five matches.