World Cup 2014: The ghost from the Maracana

In the evening hours of July 16th 1950, a goal was scored at the Maracana Stadium, in the city of Rio de Janeiro, located in southeastern Brazil where it changed the destiny of a man.  For the rest of his life, he would continue to rue that day forever.

This is a tale of passion, unforgiveness, rejection, hate and dejection, a journey that goes deep into the very passionate heart of the football loving Brazilian. The story of a man and a nation he served with all his heart.

Moacyr Barbosa Nascimento, born 27 March 1921, was a Brazilian international goalkeeper, one of the world’s best in the 1940s and 1950s and also largely known for not wearing gloves.

On that perfect Sunday, the nation trooped out, beaming with full confidence, occupying the national stadium with a world record of almost 200,000 fans in attendance – an attendance never equaled at any football event throughout history. Brazil was to win its first world cup on home soil. The Selecao had filed out onto the famous Maracana turf, sang the national anthem with their eyes burning red hot with pride, strong desire and passion not only for the game but for the nation. 11 warriors right there on the turf, cheered by thousands of home fans, passionate Brazilians, hoisting the national flag with zeal, singing and chanting samba songs.

Brazil had won all their games drawing just once en route the final. Uruguay had also done enough against Spain and Sweden to find themselves in second place.  With Sweden beating Spain to finish third, all attentions had shifted to the very last match. Brazil only needed a draw to win the World Cup trophy for the very first time over Uruguay, who also had to win to regain the trophy since their last in 1930 on home soil.

The local press had already proclaimed Brazil world champions and the days leading up to the final were almost treated by one and all a victory procession. The carnival float was ready as was the pre-planned victory parade. Millions of t-shirts proclaiming victory slogans had been printed.

Barbosa, keeper of the day, had played in three games earlier, and would remain Brazil’s goalkeeper for the decider.

After all match protocols were observed, the game kicked off, amid very high expectations. Not wasting much time, they began attacking, straight away. And as luck would have it a minute into the second-half, Friaca put the home side just one step away from becoming world champions, his only goal for Brazil. It was also to turn out the only Brazil scored that day. The first half had ended with Brazil still in the lead. It was mere formality going into the second half as Brazil was expected to hold on to their lead, or at worst, settle for a one all draw to be called ‘world champions’. Enthusiasm and songs of victory filled the hearts and lips of many across the nation, knowing little that the tables would to turn.

Back from recess, Uruguay continued from where they left off, playing slowly. But when they finally got into their strides, there was no stopping. Uruguay equalized minutes into the second half.  Jet-heeled right winger, Ghiggia from Montevideo, surged down the line before crossing the ball for Schiaffino to drive home the equalizer past Barbosa.

Thirteen minutes later, Ghiggia surged down the line again, this time ruining Barbosa’s life forever. Exactly 4.33pm, 16th July 1950, the goal was scored; the worst moment of Barbosa’s days on earth. Ghiggia had charged in from the left wing in the 79th minute after skillfully dribbling past Brazilian defender Bigode before firing vaguely. Misjudging and anticipating a cross, the ball bobbled up off Barbosa at speed disappearing out of shot; the action momentarily confusing the cameraman whose first act was to assume the ball had been comfortably controlled by Barbosa. There was a fraction of delay. Senses returning, he quickly switches the camera’s view to the net. In it lies the ball, nestling comfortably in the far corner. Slowly, unhappily, he returns the shots to Barbosa, by this time broken and dejected on one knee. His team mates had turned their backs on him, no-one philosophic enough to console him. Gradually, gently and helplessly, he arose. Barbosa had cost Brazil the World Cup in a dumbstruck Maracana, his confused mind unaware of the torture that lay agonizingly ahead.

Charismatic Brazilian radio commentator Luis Mendes described the action. ‘Goool do Uruguay!’ he intoned mechanically before using the same words, this time in a question. ‘Gol du Uruguay?!!’ He continued in a litany of different, unhappy styles, nine times in a row, from astonishment – ‘Gol du Uruguay!’- to disbelief – ‘Gol du Uruguay’, and finally to acceptance – ‘Gol du Uruguay!!!!’

Despite huffing and puffing for the remainder of the game, Brazil couldn’t break down the water tight Uruguayan defence. Uruguay were world champions and Brazil found itself in a collective pit of despair. The expectant spectators headed home, silent and sullen.

The official attendance was 173,850 – some say 200,000 – making it the largest football crowd ever.  Yet they all fell quiet at Barbosa’s error. And Ghiggia said years after his goal that won Uruguay a World Cup: ‘Only three people have silenced the Maracana – Sinatra, Pope John-Paul II and me’. It was said without any fear of contradiction.

The day after the final, a Monday, Brazil remained a numbed nation, the recriminations only beginning on Tuesday. One match report described Barbosa’s performance as “embarrassing” and his covering of the near-post for the second goal “shameful”.

Apparently, the aftermath of the tourney would be the worst years to come in his life. Brazil would make him rue that dark day for the rest of his life. Barbosa was expectedly criticized, vilified and condemned to high heaven by all and sundry. Things got so bad for both him and his wife that they could not even answer their phones. Once on a travel with his wife Clotilde on a train, they were privy to a conversation in their carriage where the discussion was driven by a man who was busy reading his newspaper. Allegedly, the man had said about Barbosa: “If I ever come across that crioulo, I don’t know what I’ll do with him.” Barbosa piped up and asked: “Are you looking for me by any chance?” Another incident occurred in 1970 when in a supermarket in Rio de Janeiro. A woman, shopping together with her son, spotted Barbosa, turned around to her 10-year-old little boy and said to him, “Look, my son, come here; this is the man who made all of Brazil cry.’

In 1963, Barbosa was given the old square wooden goalposts from the Maracanã as a present which he took home and burned. In 1993, he went to visit the Brazilian national team at their training camp in Teresopólis but was refused entry for fear that his presence would evoke ill luck.

Barbosa was blamed for the defeat, for which he suffered for this for the rest of his life as the match became part of Brazilian folklore. In 2000, shortly before his death, he said in an interview: “The maximum punishment in Brazil is 30 years imprisonment, but I have been paying for something I am not even responsible for, by now, for 50 years.”

As if natured had his own punishment to add, the inseparable Barbosa and his wife had remained childless since their union in the 40s. Sadly, he lost Clotilde, the only one who truly and completely stuck by him, in May 1996 after a long battle with cancer, an unfillable vacuum generated.

A couple of weeks after his 79th birthday, on April 7, 2000, Barbosa died, stroke his call. A pauper, a rejected man, a “pariah”, a failure, someone whose story inspires only pity he died, no one from the CBF attending his funeral. Facts hold and still remain that Barbosa’s life was made a living hell by fellow Brazillians, the football federation and the media. Not only did the CBF hang Barbosa and his team-mates out to dry; they never offered them any financial help.

In spite of everything, Barbosa was voted best goalkeeper in that particular tournament by journalists present at the tournament, a testament of his impressive performance to the finals. Aside the World Cup runner-up’s medal, he won the Copa América as well as a hatful of state championships. He kept on winning trophies, even after all he had been through. Not only was he a superb goalkeeper, he was a compassionate man, a caring man, a humorous yet humble being.

Moacyr Barbosa may well have died in poverty, but a failure? Was he? Did he deserve all the hate, the punishments for an unintended mistake, the scorn? Would he be the last to suffer that unfortunate fate? How does the current crop of players see him, a legend, a villain? Would the pressure be piling up on them when they file out in a .days’ time? Would it be Neymar, David Luis, Julio Ceasar, Oscar, Fred? Who will be the unfortunate scape goat should Brazil lose on home soil again? Would the ghost from the Maracana come back to haunt them? Do you believe in life after death? Do you believe in ghosts, revenge? Let the games begin, then we will see.

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