Before he died on this date, 16 July 2015, Alcides Ghiggia, the Uruguayan scorer of the goal that denied Brazil a World Cup victory on this date 16 July 1950, spoke with FIFA.com.
Even though Ghiggia was touched by the affection he received after the 2-1 defeat of Brazil in 1950, he told fifa.com that he felt sorry for the inconsolable Brazilians
“Only three people have ever been able to silence the Maracana: the Pope, Frank Sinatra and me,” Alcides Ghiggia, flashing a playful grin, told FIFA.com at the Final Draw for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. He was soon to be 88 – the age at which he passed away – and he was back in the country he devastated, yet its people couldn’t help but love the former winger.
In this interview, Ghiggia discussed the goal that won Uruguay the World Cup, feeling sorry for the Brazilian fans, their affection for him thereafter, why his wife banned him from listening to commentary of the 1950 decider, and his deep love of football.
How does it feel to be back in Brazil?
It’s like a second home to me. There comes a point when people realise who I am and want to have a photo taken with me or get my autograph. That shows how much they [the Brazilian people] value me as a person. Every time I come back it makes me feel very happy.
Would you class that decisive win in 1950 as the greatest feat in World Cup history?
Well, it was a real feat, because no other host nation had ever lost in a World Cup Final before then (Brazil-Uruguay was the final game of the four-game mini-league that decided Brazil 1950). That was the first time and, what’s more, I was fortunate enough to score a goal. What I always say is that only three people have ever been able to silence the Maracana: the Pope, Frank Sinatra and me. The stadium went totally quiet, you couldn’t hear a sound.
Do you still vividly remember that winning goal from 16 July 1950?
Of course. Their keeper Barbosa thought I was going to do the same thing as for our first goal, when I cut the ball back. So, he made a move and left me a gap. I was on the run and had to make up my mind in a matter of seconds. I shot at goal and in it went, between the post and the keeper. I can still remember how I thought about my family, my friends and how my team-mates all came to hug me. I’d given my country something to celebrate, though I also brought sadness to Brazil.
What was the mood in the stands after the final whistle?
You could see people crying. Even though we were happy to have won the game, once you looked into the crowd you couldn’t help but feel sad! People were crying inconsolably, you know? But football’s like that, you win some you lose some. In Brazil they thought the game was won before it was played, the newspaper headlines were already written, saying ‘Brazil are world champions’, with just the score to be added later. But it all turned out differently. (smiles)
There are a lot of myths about that game, one of which goes that Charrúa skipper Obdulio Varela said: ‘Forget about everybody else, on the pitch we’ll be 11 versus 11’. Was that really the case?
That came about because on the Saturday evening three Uruguay directors went to speak to Obdulio, [Roque] Maspoli and [Schubert] Gambetta, who were our oldest and most experienced guys. They told them we’d done enough already, that we should just try to behave ourselves well out on the pitch, not cause any trouble, and that we should be happy to lose by three or four goals. We only found out about that in the tunnel on the way to the pitch. Obdulio stopped us, told us what had gone on, and that phrase was born.
Another story goes that some of the players went out for a few drinks after the game, where they ended up commiserating with Brazilian fans. Is that true?
Again, it was Obdulio who went out. He just went for a beer at a bar round the corner from the hotel. The Brazilian fans there recognised him and hugged him and everything, even though they were in tears. He himself told us what happened. And he also told me that ‘I didn’t pay for a drink either!’ (laughs)
How important was Varela to the team?
As a captain, he was quite severe. Us younger guys weren’t informal with him – we used to say ‘yes, Obdulio sir’. And out on the pitch he was like a coach – he’d tell you what to do. But he was very friendly with it and got on well with all the players.
In November 2013, a tribute was paid to you prior to the Intercontinental play-off, second leg against Jordan in Montevideo’s Estadio Centenario. Do you see it as justice being done for you and your team-mates?
Definitely. In my country, what we achieved in 1950 was hailed for a year or two, then faded somewhat. And sometimes all you have left are people’s memories, or what’s in the minds of young people who weren’t alive at the time but were told the stories by their dads or their uncles. It’s something that keeps you going, because you can’t live on memories alone. It was really beautiful and emotional when the goal was replayed on the stadium’s giant screen and everybody cheered. It was the first time something like that was done in Uruguay. Look, I’ve travelled a lot around the world and I’ve had more recognition from other countries than my own, which is why it made me very pleased.
Had it been a while since you’d watched that goal?
At home I’ve got three CDs with commentaries of the goal from three Uruguayan radio commentators from the time, but my wife doesn’t let me listen to them because she says they make me upset. And I tell her ‘What do you want from me?’ – I was young once. I won a World Cup; I scored a goal. It was phenomenal. But as the years go by the more sentimental you get about it. So it makes you sad, you know? You get tears in your eyes.
How do you think you’re remembered from your playing days?
A lot of different ways. I’m remembered as a hero, some call me ‘Maestro’. I tell them I’m no maestro, I’m just like everybody else. I was fortunate enough to play football, score a goal in the final [game] of a World Cup and that’s it – I’m not from another planet. But there’s nothing you can do to stop people praising you, hugging you… it’s really lovely, a lovely feeling.
What has football meant to your life?
It’s been like a bride to me: you see it, you fall in love and you get married. That’s how much it means to me. You have to get to know the ball, handle it well. It’s what you love most.