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Brazil 1950

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Let's look back at the fourth World Cup, held in Brazil in 1950 after a break of 12 years due to WWII and won by Uruguay, the second country to win it twice. The World Cup as a concept truly arrived in 1950. There was a huge following in the press and public.

The first game between the hosts and Mexico was played on June 24 in front of a massive crowd at the not-quite finished Maracana Stadium. When Brazil opened the scoring, fifteen radio commentators and dozens of reporters invaded the pitch to conduct on-the-spot interviews.

1950 marked the first time that England, the inventors of the game, competed. This was partly due to a long-running dispute between their FA and FIFA over payments to amateur players, but also in large part to the English sense of superiority - they were the best in the world - they saw no need to compete.

England won their first game against Chile 2-0. Their next game was against the USA, 500-1 outsiders to win the Cup. England were expected to win easily; their manager cabled home that the game would be good match practice. The shock 0-1 loss to the USA still rates as one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history. In England the result was greeted with disbelief. The Daily Express, no doubt harking back to the Ashes, reported on the death of English football. One editor assumed the score was a mis-print and went to press with a 10-1 English victory. In the USA the reaction was similar. The New York Times assumed the scoreline was a wind-up and at first refused to report it. In Scotland, the result was embraced like a home victory. England lost their third game 0-1 to Spain and went home deeply embarrassed.

FIFA had struggled to get 16 teams to compete, with Germany banned, Japan under occupation, etc. but to their credit pulled this off (mostly by softening the qualification criteria). Sensibly they also introduced the group stage (4 groups of 4) to guarantee each team three games. Then things started to go awry.

India had qualified for what has turned out to be the only time. Many of the Indian players played without boots. At the 1948 London Olympics, India sensationally pushed France to the limit, just going down 1-2, mostly without boots. FIFA dropped in a "compulsory footwear" rule at the eleventh hour. India, hampered by lack of funds, opted to pull out rather than buy boots.

Burma declined FIFA's invitation to replace India. Turkey withdrew, but were replaced by France. Then, with both teams qualified, Scotland met England in their final (but moot) qualification match. Scotland lost 0-1 and then withdrew claiming that qualifying by finishing second didn't seem right. Portugal declined to replace Scotland. France, a replacement team themselves, sensing the tournament lacked 'va va voom' withdrew.

The upshot of all this meant Group 4 now had two teams, Uruguay and Bolivia. FIFA then made one of those decisions that had characterised their mis-management of the World Cup to date. They decided there was no need for a re-drawing of the groups. Uruguay (one of the favourites) smashed Bolivia (arguably the worst team) 8-0 to go straight into final group stage.

As it turned out, the final match of this group, between Brazil and Uruguay, would decide the Cup. Brazil only needed a draw to top the group, while Uruguay had to win. Perhaps due to their easy first round, Uruguay came from a goal down to defeat the hosts 2-1 in front of a record crowd of 199,854 to claim the trophy.