Alcides Ghiggia (1926-2015)

By Steve Mitchell

On 16th of July, the world of football bid a fond farewell to Uruguayan star Alcides Ghiggia. His passing just happened to take place on the 65th anniversary of the event that turned him into a football immortal. It’s an event whose grainy black and white footage has even been compared to that of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

From Uruguay to Italy

Born in December 1926, Ghiggia started his professional career with InstituciónAtléticaSudAmérica before moving on to play for one of Uruguay’s most famous club sidesPeñarol. In 1953 he moved to Italy spending the next eight years in the capital with AS Roma, where he won the Fairs Cup, a pre cursor to what we now know as the Europa League.Ghiggia made over 200 appearances for the Giallorossibefore moving onto AC Milan in 1961 where he spent just one season, making only four starts for the Milanese giants as they won the league championship. He returned to his homeland in 1962 finishing his career with Danubio from the city of Montevideo.

International career

Ghiggia represented both Uruguay and Italy at international level between 1950 and 1959 but only managed to win 17 international caps. He represented Uruguay at the 1950 World Cup Finals, a tournament that was to propel him to worldwide stardom.

“Maracanazo”

The 1950 World Cup Finals were held in Brazil and unlike previous tournaments; the winner would be decided by a final round robin stage featuring the four teams who had qualified from their respective groups. The winner would be determined using a mini-league system so the country that finished top would be crowned world champions.

With one round of matches to go, Spain and Sweden were cut adrift leaving the decisive match between hosts and league leaders Brazil and second placed Uruguay, as the one that would decide the championship. A draw was enough for the host nation and so sure were the Brazilian press and public that their country would claim footballs biggest prize, that on the morning of the match to be played at the iconicMaracanã stadium, Rio de Janeiro had a carnival atmosphere about it. Brazilian daily newspaper O Mundo had already published a photograph on its front pages of the national team declaring that “These are the World Champions”

Uruguay’s captain Obdulio Varela was incensed by what he considered a lack of respect and he bought as many copies of the newspaper as he could, distributing them to teammates who were then encouraged to urinate on the publication. Brazil had played some exhilarating football during the finals and around 174,000 people were reportedly inside the stadium by kick-off.

Two minutes into the second-half the hosts were ahead thanks to a goal by Albino Friaça, throughout Brazil, the party had started in earnest. An equaliser by Juan Schiaffino on 66 minutes failed to dampen the spirits inside the Maracanã as a draw was still good enough for the Brazilians. The Uruguayan captain Varela then shouted to his teammates “Now it’s time to win” and just 13 minutes later with the Brazilian defence looking vulnerable, the unthinkable happened as Ghiggia picked up the ball on the right hand side continued unchallenged and rifled the ball into the net to give Uruguay the lead and ultimately the trophy. The legend of the Maracanazo (The Maracanã blow) was born.

Brazil in mourning

As English referee George Reader blew the final whistle, the thousands packed into the Maracanã and the millions on the streets could scarcely believe what had happened. Some supporters were so distraught they committed suicide and many newspapers refused to accept the fact that they had lost the game. Brazilian goalkeeper that day Moacir Barbosa was castigated for the rest of his life. Shortly before his death in 2000 he claimed that; “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.”

A return to the Maracana

In 2009, 60 years after scoring one of the most famous goals in World Cup history, Ghiggia returned to the Maracanã as Brazil honoured the man that had destroyed an entire nation. A casting of his feet can now be found alongside Pele, Eusébio and Franz Beckenbauer on the walk of fame at the stadium. Ghiggia spent the last years of his life at home in Las Piedrasbefore passing away on Thursday at the age of 88.

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