March 06, 2019 4 min read

The first post-second-world-war World Cup was held in 1950 in Brazil between June 24th and July 16th, the first since 1938 and the first to refer to the Jules Rimet Cup, the predecessor of the current world cup trophy. It had been twenty five years since FIFA had named the trophy after its French member. 1950 was the only Finals tournament not decided by a one-off match final, but by a four-team final group. FIFA had previously cancelled the tournaments scheduled for 1942 and 1946, but held the first post-war FIFA Congress at which Brazil bid for the tournament on condition that it be held four years later.

FIFA was obliged to persuade countries to participate and the death of the entire Torino team in the Superga air crash in 1949 significantly weakened the winners of the previous two tournaments in 1934 and 1938, Italy, who, in the end, agreed to participate in the 1950 tournament as holders. Of the seven places allocated to European countries, Italy and Austria were chosen to participate along with England and Scotland, as winners and runners-up of the 1949-50 British Home Championships. The British countries had joined FIFA in 1946. Yugoslavia were the only eastern European country to agree to participate, the Soviet Union, Hungary and Czechoslovakia refusing to take part in the tournament’s qualifying rounds. Chile, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay were the representatives from South America, after the withdrawal of Argentina, Ecuador and Peru. The country from Asia was India, after the Philippines, Indonesia and Burma withdrew. Austria and Belgium dropped out of the qualification tournament at a late stage, their places taken by Switzerland and Turkey.

Sixteen countries were selected, Brazil, Italy, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, Mexico, USA, India, Spain, England, Scotland, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and Yugoslavia. Scotland and Turkey withdrew and Portugal, France and Ireland were invited by FIFA in their place, France the only country to accept.

After the draw, held in Rio in May 1950, India and France both withdrew, leaving thirteen countries divided among four groups. Brazil’s proposal had been that the winners of the four groups advance to a second round consisting of four teams that all played against each other. The 1934 and 1938 Finals had been straight knockout tournaments, involving a total of sixteen matches, whereas the two-rounds format which Brazil proposed would consist of thirty games, the extra ticket revenue helping the host country offset the considerable costs of setting up the event. Each country would be guaranteed a minimum of three matches. Brazil insisted that their proposed format be used, despite the objections of FIFA, who backed down through concern that the hosts would cancel the event.

The stadia used for the tournament were situated in different locations in the country, with most teams having to travel significant distances for their games, in Belo Horizonte, Curitiba, Porto Alegre and Recife. Brazil benefitted from playing their three fixtures in Rio and Sao Paulo. Tournament favorites England and World Cup holders Italy were both eliminated at the first-round stage, with England losing their two opening matches against the USA and Spain and Italy losing to Sweden.

The final group stage, which would determine the winners of the tournament, consisted of the winners of the four groups, Brazil, (with wins against Mexico and Yugoslavia and a draw against Switzerland) Spain, (with wins over England, Chile and the USA) Sweden, (who beat Italy and drew against Paraguay in three-team Group Three) and Uruguay, winners over Bolivia in the two-team Group Four. All six matches were played in Rio and Sao Paulo, Brazil enjoying their base at the Estadio do Maracana in Rio in their 7-1 and 6-1 victories against Sweden and Spain respectively. Brazil led the group, one point ahead of second-placed Uruguay, before the final match between the two, which would determine the World Cup winners. The Sweden versus Spain match would determine the third-placed team, Sweden needing to win to move above Spain, and Spain only needing to draw. Spain would move level with Uruguay, in "second place", if they beat Sweden and Uruguay were defeated by Brazil. Sweden’s 3-1 win took them to the bronze medal.

Around 200,000 more-than filled the Maracana (official capacity 174,000) for a game which Brazil only needed to draw to become world champions. Uruguay had to win. The round-robin final round, rather than straight knockout stages and a final, is the only World Cup Finals tournament to be staged with this format. Brazil versus Uruguay is still referred to as "The Final", but "The final round-robin match" would be more accurate. Brazil were clear favorites. They had beaten Spain and Sweden in the previous two matches, and Uruguay had struggled against the same opponents. Brazil had defeated Uruguay 5-0 in the Copa America in 1949 and the press and politicians had decided before the match that Brazil would be the world champions by the end of the afternoon. The first half was goalless. Brazil had spent most of it in the Uruguayan half, but Uruguay had maintained their defensive shape throughout. The hosts took the lead two minutes into the second through Friaca, but Uruguay responded with two goals, Juan Alberto Schiaffino’s in the sixty-sixth and Alcides Ghiggia’s winner in the seventy-ninth minute, and won the Jules Rimet trophy for the second time.

Celebrate the history of World Cup soccer with this 1950 Brazilian World Cup poster from the Vintage Sports collection. 

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