MOACYR BARBOSA: An unjust life sentence
‘In Brazil the life sentence does not exist.
At the most you can get 30 years.
Even if you are a murderer, paedophile or rapist.
There is only one person who has received a life sentence: yours truly.
I didn’t spend it behind bars. I spent it living as a free citizen … but with the pity, anger and condemnation of an entire country.
My country, Brazil.
A ‘mistake’ of mine cost us the title of world champions in 1950.
It was the World Cup organised by my country.
It was the World Cup we were supposed to win.
It was the World Cup we were going to win.
One to one. With twenty minutes to go. It was enough for Brazil to raise the Rimet Cup to the skies of the Maracana.
It was not a real final.
It was the last match of a four-team group.
Us, Sweden, Spain and Uruguay.
We beat the Swedes and Spaniards with such ease that no one, but no one, had a single doubt about our final victory.
Seven to one to Sweden and six to one to Spain. Our rivals in that last match between us and my country’s first victory in a World Cup, on the other hand, had struggled mightily. A three to two against Sweden with a goal in the final minutes and even a draw against Spain, two to two, in the other match.
All we needed was a draw that day.
However, this collective enthusiasm, this overwhelming, absolute certainty had not infected the team. We knew Uruguay well.
We knew very well how strong they were even though we were playing like we had never played before in our lives.
Two months earlier we had played against them three times in less than two weeks.
At stake was the ‘Copa del Rio Branco’. A challenge that is played every year between us from Brazil and the ‘Celeste’.
Two matches and in the event of a draw a third one is played: the ‘bella’.
Do you know how it turned out? That in the first match in Sao Paulo on 6 May they won four to three. We won the second one three to two in Rio de Janeiro. The ‘bella’, also in Rio, we won one-nil.
God knows how hard-fought and balanced those matches were!
No, none of us had any illusions.
We knew it would be yet another battle and that the floods of goals scored against Sweden and Spain we could forget.
But for the whole of Brazil it was not like that.
We had to be the ones to lift that Cup to the sky. It couldn’t be any other way.
We knew immediately that it would not be a walk in the park.
We got off to a flying start, but Uruguay didn’t just come in to defend like Sweden and Spain had done.
They folded in on themselves very carefully but once in possession of the ball they were more than ready to hurt us.
Varela, their captain set up in front of the defence, commanded the game, limiting the incursions of Zizinho and Jair while Schiaffino, with his great technique, skilfully set in motion their three forwards Ghiggia, Miguez and Moran.
No, it was not going to be a walkover at all.
The first half ended nil-nil.
In the dressing room we told ourselves that it could have gone well. That we didn’t have to please anyone. That it didn’t matter if we put on a show or not. The important thing was to win the World Cup and the nil-nil would allow us to do that.
The second half began.
It began as best it could.
Friaça, our right wing, after a beautiful combination with Ademir, put the ball into the back of the net.
The Maracanà exploded.
And not only because of the firecrackers that were thrown in the air … 200,000 people celebrating really make a lot of noise.
Then there was like a “suspension”. Varela, with the ball tucked under his arm kept talking to the referee and linesman complaining about something. Only Varela was speaking Spanish and the referee was English. The whole stadium fell silent. Silence descended on the Maracanà. Everyone was trying to understand what was wrong. There was no one singing, dancing or celebrating.
When the match resumed, without anyone having understood what had happened, the tension had dropped.
We soon realised one thing though: that the Uruguayans had no intention of raising the white flag while we didn’t quite know what to do.
To look for the second goal that would definitively close the game or to stay calm, put the game to sleep and let the minutes pass?
We were now halfway through the second half when Ghiggia, who had created problems for us throughout the match, took off on the right flank.
He arrived almost undisturbed inside the penalty area.
I prepared for the save.
But Ghiggia did not shoot. He put the ball backwards towards the edge of the area where Schiaffino was arriving at full speed. He volleyed, hitting the ball perfectly.
One to one.
With almost twenty-five minutes to play.
Ours was a reaction of the heart.
Not of the brain.
We threw ourselves forward again. This was not how we wanted to lift our first World Cup. But everything had changed. In the stands and on the pitch.
A Uruguay goal was simply not part of the planned ‘script’.
Silence descended on the Maracanà. Everything was back in the balance.
Uruguay defended with order. That order that we had lost, hurt and confused by their goal.
There were eleven minutes to go when Varela frustrated an attacking move of ours for the umpteenth time.
He opened the play on the right for Ghiggia.
The latter passed it to Perez who returned it a few metres further on.
Ghiggia launched himself towards our goal for the umpteenth time.
For the umpteenth time he jumped our defender Bigode with ease.
He was in front of me again, exactly as he had been a quarter of an hour before.
Was he going to repeat the same play by passing the ball in the middle of the area or was he going to shoot at goal?
I decided for the first option. I took a tiny, tiny step towards the centre of the area.
It was the worst decision of my life.
Ghiggia didn’t put the ball in the centre of the area this time.
Ghiggia shot on goal.
At the first post where I had left a few centimetres more than necessary.
I tried to make up for it.
I was already ready to launch myself on the right to intercept that cross that never arrived.
I was in time to react.
I even touched the ball with my left hand.
I hoped I had done enough to deflect it into the corner.
Then came the silence.
An unreal silence, the kind that makes you go deaf.
At that moment it all became clear to me.
I turned around, hoping for a miracle.
Instead the ball was there, kissing the net of the goal I had to defend.
Uruguay was ahead.
Uruguay was at that moment world champion.
I began to pray.
I walked back and forth to my goal area.
And meanwhile I was praying.
I was praying that Ademir, Zizinho, Friaça or one of my teammates would score that goal that would give us back the Cup.
That goal didn’t come. Uruguay won the game and won the World Cup.
It was a tragedy. For everyone. For us footballers, for the staff and for the whole country.
What I could not imagine was that sadness and disappointment in a few days turned into frustration, blind rage and a mad and cruel hunt for the culprit.
The culprit was found.
His name was MOACYR BARBOSA NASCIMENTO.
… The undersigned. “
The “condemnation” of Moacyr Barbosa was one of the most heinous, unjust, shameful and repugnant pages of Brazilian football history.
And it was so because that defeat actually had very different motivations and ‘fathers’ from that goalkeeper who conceded that decisive goal from no more than seven or eight metres without any opposition from any of his teammates.
The story was actually very different.
Those who were there that day know that things turned out differently and that poor Moacyr Barbosa paid much more than those actually responsible for that defeat.
It should be remembered that at the end of the match no one took it out on Barbosa.
Flavio Costa, Brazil’s coach, and all the Seleçao players knew exactly how things had gone.
No, in that locker room at the end of the match no one pointed to him as being responsible for that authentic sporting drama.
Bigode, the man deployed on the left of the Brazilian defence, was literally ridiculed by Ghiggia throughout the match.
In both Uruguayan goals it was Ghiggia who, having got rid of Bigode with ease, entered the Brazilian penalty area first by serving Schiaffino the equalising ball and then scoring the second and decisive goal himself.
Bigode for some time only left home to go training or to play with his Flamengo team, such was the pressure on him and the embarrassment at his performance that day.
Then it all ended. People forgot about him.
Because there was only one culprit: Moacyr Barbosa.
In the centre of defence, with the task of giving cover to his teammates, was Juvenal, also from Flamengo.
He gave very little cover that day.
It was Ghiggia himself who admitted in an interview many years later that ‘we were amazed at how easy it was that day to get into the Brazilian defence, which is usually so organised and grim’.
Only for Juvenal it was not, as for Bigode, simply a bad day.
On the evening before the final, Juvenal Amarijo Amanso was given permission to leave the training camp due to unspecified ‘family problems’.
His family was probably at Dancing Avenida that night, a famous club in the centre of Rio, because it was there that Juvenal spent the evening … returning to the hotel late at night and completely drunk.
It was immediately clear that his condition was certainly not ideal for playing such an important match, but his replacement in the team, Nena, was injured, and so Costa had no choice but to deploy Juvenal, who was a ghost throughout the match, totally unable to close the gaps opened by the ‘Celeste’, especially those on the left of the Brazilian defence, the area where Ghiggia had raged throughout the match.
It didn’t end there.
Bigode, Juvenal and Barbosa.
They were not the only ones responsible for that day.
The preparation for that match was a total, utter disaster.
At seven o’clock on the morning of 16 July, the players of the Brazilian national team were forced to attend a ‘propitiatory’ mass organised by a local radio station, resulting in an early morning rise.
Back at the hotel, they read the morning papers. Among them is the ‘O’Mundo’ newspaper, which comes out with a photo of the Brazilian national team. Above the photo is a headline: ‘These are the World Champions’.
Lunch is scheduled for 11am.
The players and staff have just sat down at the table when Cristiano Machado, the presidential candidate, shows up at the hotel. He gives a long speech, congratulating the players on their imminent triumph and promising them the seas and mountains in the event of electoral victory.
Then in quick succession come Adhemar de Barros, candidate for the Senate, and Eduardo Rios, Minister of Education.
There is no peace.
Even a delegation of fans from Vasco de Gama, Ademir’s centre forward’s team, arrives, insisting on saying goodbye to their idol.
Flavio Costa decides that enough is enough.
“Enough. This way we can’t prepare a match. Let’s go now to the Maracana’.
They board a mini-bus that takes them to the stadium. They arrive in the changing room where they can finally get something to eat.
A scant three hours before the match.
The ‘icing on the cake’ comes just minutes before they take to the pitch.
Costa is preparing the match with the latest tactical instructions to his players.
He is interrupted by an attaché from the Maracana.
‘The players are urgently expected on the pitch’. The mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Angelo Mendes de Moraes, decides to take the stage by also giving a speech to the team, to the 200,000 people who fill the stands of the Maracanà and to all the Brazilian people glued to the radio.
The gist of the speech is ‘Brazil footballers … in a few minutes you will be world champions. You who have no rivals in the whole planet. I have kept my promises by building this wonderful stadium for you. You now keep yours: become world champions.”
… his bust, erected in plain sight at the entrance to the Maracana, was destroyed at the end of the match.
It was the only act of vandalism of that 16 July 1950 …
ANECDOTES AND CURIOSITIES
For the rest of his existence Moacyr Barbosa had to put up with everything.
“Every time I entered a public place there were jokes, giggles of derision and even outright insults. If I had not learnt over time to get over it and remain calm I would now be in prison or in the cemetery’.
In 1993, the Brazilian national team was preparing for the US World Cup the following year.
Barbosa found himself passing by where the national team was in training camp for that internship. He decided to enter to greet the players and staff.
He was turned away in a very brusque and ill-mannered manner by security guards … specially instructed by Mario Zagallo, the technical director of that national team, who strongly opposed the 72-year-old Barbosa’s entry.
Reason? ‘It’s bad luck’ was Zagallo’s sad justification.
One of the most touching episodes was recounted by Barbosa himself shortly before his death in 2000.
“One day I was in a supermarket doing some shopping. A lady with her grandchild approached me. She looked at me and then pointed at her grandson and said “See that gentleman there? He is the one who made the whole of Brazil cry all those years ago’.
What unfortunately everyone quickly forgot was that Moacyr Barbosa was judged the ‘Best Goalkeeper’ of that World Cup and that it was his saves that prevented Brazil from a resounding elimination in the first round in the match against Yugoslavia.
Moacyr Barbosa, the first black goalkeeper in the history of the Brazilian national team, would most likely have been at least among those called up for Brazil’s 1954 expedition to Switzerland if he had not had to forfeit due to a knee injury.
Injuries that were a constant in his career (fourteen different fractures are mentioned) but did not prevent him from finishing at almost 42 years of age with over 1300 official matches to his credit.
With his Vasco de Gama team he won six ‘Carioca’ championships in the space of thirteen years and was instrumental in Vasco de Gama’s conquest of South America’s only Champions Cup, played in 1948 and won in the final against the mighty River Plate thanks to a penalty saved by Barbosa against the great Angel Labruna.
Moacyr Barbosa died of a heart attack at the age of seventy-nine in his Praia Grande after having lived the last years of his life on the threshold of misery, with only the meagre subsidy that the Brazilian federation paid him.
Alone, humiliated and forgotten.
“I think I have thought about that Ghiggia shot at least a million times,” one of the greatest Brazilian goalkeepers in history would say in one of his last interviews.
Note: For those who want to know more about this tragic story, I highly recommend reading “The Last Parade of Moacyr Barbosa” the beautiful book written by Darwin Pastorin.