As the late summer air cooled and the sun began to hide behind the hills, I looked forlornly at the firepit. The slightest of breezes managed to blow out the tiny flame that I had been attempting to raise. At this rate, the marshmallow “S’mores” that my kids were impatiently waiting to toast would be an unfulfilled promise.
I began to wonder whether Moacyr Barbosa, fabled anti-hero of the Brazilian world cup side of 1950, had the same problems lighting a fire when he purportedly held a barbecue to ceremoniously burn the Maracana goalposts from that year’s World Cup final?
According to the assembled journalists of the day, Moacyr Barbosa was the best goalkeeper of the 1950 World Cup Finals. He also continued to shine at club level following the tournament. However, one event that took place between those Maracana goalposts was to cast a shadow that followed him for the rest of his life.
Uruguay were the opponents who dared to step in the fiercely partisan arena of the Estadio do Maracana on 16th July 1950. Brazilian expectations were high, particularly as the group format of the time dictated that they only required a draw to lift the Jules Rimet trophy. A Uruguay win would snatch the prize from their grasp. That was unthinkable.
A free-scoring side (they had put 13 goals past Sweden and Spain in the previous two matches), Brazil had taken the lead in the second half, only to be pegged back twenty minutes later as their river of goals dried up. With eleven minutes left to play, the parched land cracked.
As Uruguay forward Alcides Ghiggia stormed towards the goal, Barbosa stepped slightly away from the net in the hope of intercepting the inevitable cross. It never came. Ghiggia stunned the stadium in to silence as he fooled everyone and drilled the ball with absolute precision in to the tiniest of near-post gaps that Barbosa’s movement had created.
The ball was said to have grazed Barbosa’s fingers as he scrambled in vain to correct his error.
He would spend the rest of his life rueing that he couldn’t do anything more to stop its journey as it somehow squirmed inside the post. Uruguay were the World Champions and Brazil behaved like a country in mourning.
It would not take long for the hand-wringing and “woe-is-me” attitude of the nation to change to one of blame. Losing the World Cup on their own soil when it was seemingly in their grasp? Someone had to be at fault. The finger was pointed squarely at Moacyr Barbosa.
Barbosa had not intended to be a goalkeeper. He was originally a centre-forward for his local side, ACDI. He volunteered to go between the sticks one day when the usual ‘keeper could not make it and did so well, he stayed on.
In 1945, he joined Vasco da Gama, where he would enjoy his greatest successes, winning six titles and almost instantly receiving a call-up to O Selecao. His form was consistent enough to ensure that he would stay Brazil’s number one throughout the Copa America of 1949 and in to the fateful World Cup Finals of 1950.
The ill wind blowing around the country in the aftermath of the final carried Moacyr Barbosa’s name, along with an ever present whisper of menace. He was verbally attacked and vilified when he stepped out in public, so he locked himself up at home.
Many in his position would have fled the country. He had not become a bad ‘keeper overnight—perhaps there could be a home for him to be made in Europe, far from both the Brazilian media and the baying public?
Despite the pressures, the man from Sao Paulo state once again he took up the Number One jersey for Vasco da Gama where, thanks to his consistent performances and a fight back from a career threatening injury, he remained a popular figure. It was not the same anywhere else.
So scarred was the nation that the people were not willing to forget. Despite making it back in to the Brazilian national side for a short spell, the hurt surrounding the loss has not diminished and the legend has probably grown. A lifetime of barbed comments, ridicule and anger played itself out in the highlights reel of his life—with that one goal on constant repeat.
Proof of this occurred many years later when, in 1993, Barbosa arrived at the Brazil squad’s training camp to pass on his best wishes to the players. He was turned away in a move guided by superstition and the fear that his presence would bring bad luck.
In an unlikely twist following his retirement from the game in 1962, Barbosa actually took on a
position at the Maracana as a supervisor. Shortly after returning to the scene of the crime an unusual opportunity presented itself and unlike that day in 1950, he was perfectly positioned to grab it firmly with both hands.
Barbosa invited the few family and friends that had stuck by him through adversity to a barbecue. Procured from the stadium thanks to his contacts and placed alongside the usual Brazilian meat feast were the very Maracana goalposts that had stood firm and watched Gigghia’s shot pass by.
With the symbolic act of burning the goalposts, he hoped to free himself of the demons that had haunted him for so many years. Moacyr Barbosa died in 2000, never actually attaining the emancipation that he craved.
Although each game of football is made up of split second decisions, actions and reactions, the story of his life shows that for some, those seconds can last lifetimes.
I eventually managed to get the firepit glowing and toasted the marshmallows to make our sugary S’mores. They didn’t last long and once gone, our group lamented the end of the summer.
Unfortunately for Moacyr Barbosa, the sweet taste of redemption that he must have felt as he burned away the goalposts did not linger long, either.
RELATED POSTS: BRAZIL 2014