What happened subsequently, however, shocked the entire nation.
Brazil started off impressively, pressing high up the pitch and dominating the proceedings. They had 17 efforts in the first-half, but the visitors came closest to scoring before the interval. Omar Miguez hit the crossbar in the 37th minute and ten minutes earlier, Ruben Moran had missed an open goal.
Yet, in the 47th minute, Brazil broke the deadlock via Friaca. He received a pass from Zizinho, dribbled past two defenders and drilled the ball into the far past. One-nil Brazil.
The entire stadium was in delirium. Soon, flare smoke filled the air and the fans “twirled their handkerchiefs.” Brazil were some 40-odd minutes away from achieving their dream.
After conceding the opener, Uruguay captain, Obdulio Varela picked up the ball and went to the linesman to complain about the goal, arguing it was an offside. This delayed the restart by several minutes and gave Uruguay the time to regroup. “If not they would overrun us,” Varela later said.
This was the cue for Uruguay to bounce back. By the time the game restarted, the 200,000 Brazilian fans had settled down. And in the 66th minute, the men in blue equalized. Winger Alcides Ghiggia received the ball out wide. He got around a defender to deliver a low ball into the box for Juan Alberto Schiaffino, who sniffled the ball into the back of the net. One-all.
The Maracana Stadium had dropped dead silent. It wasn’t panicking, but as Valera put it, the Uruguayans had “passed their nerves” to the Brazilians.
Eleven minutes before full-time, Uruguay scored the winner as Ghiggia blazed down the right wing and drilled a low shot into the bottom corner. Goalkeeper Moacir Barbosa Nascimento had misjudged Ghiggia’s shot.
Barbosa was expecting the latter to cross so he positioned himself in the middle. When Ghiggia took the shot, Barbosa was caught completely off-guard.
Uruguay had the lead. Brazil tried to equalize but couldn’t. The crowd failed to lift them up and the players had succumbed under the pressure of the 200,000 fans around them. “When the players needed the Maracanã most, the Maracanã was silent,” wrote the songwriter Chico Buarque.
There is never a second place in Brazil’s psyche. “In this country you are either first or you are last,” Brazil’s Deputy Sports Minister, Luis Fernandes once told The Independent’s Ian Herbert. “Second place might as well be last place.”