In the final game of the 1950 World Cup, an honest mistake by a man called Moacir Barbosa condemned him to spend the rest of his life being vilified by millions.
The tournament’s last game saw Brazil and Uruguay engaged for the right to call themselves World Champions. Before the match began the Brazillian national team – known locally as the Seleção – were given solid gold watches stating: ‘For the World Champions’.
“Football is the ballet of the masses.” – Dmitri Shostakovich
Only one player has achieved the dream of all Brazilians – scoring in a World Cup Final for the Seleção on home soil at the famed Maracana stadium. A minute into the second-half Albino Friaça Cardoso realised that fantasy. It was his only goal for Brazil. It was to be the only goal Brazil scored that fateful day. The Uruguayan jet-heeled right winger, Ghiggia from Montevideo, surged down the line crossing the ball for Schiaffino to equalise past Barbosa. Thirteen minutes later, Ghiggia surged down the line again. This time he was to ruin Moacir Barbosa’s life forever.
Footage exists of 4.33pm, 16th July 1950: the worst moment of all Barbosa’s days on earth. What is a second in a lifetime of existence? For Moacir this instant would shape the rest of his 50 years.
“The first World Cup I remember was in the 1950 when I was 9 or 10 years old. My father was a soccer player, and there was a big party, and when Brazil lost to Uruguay, I saw my father crying.” – Pele
The official attendance was 173,850 – some say 200,000 – making it the largest football crowd ever. Yet they all fell quiet at Barbosa’s error. As Ghiggia said years after his goal that won Uruguay a World Cup: “Only three people have silenced the Maracana: Sinatra, Pope John-Paul II and me”. It was said without any fear of contradiction.
Brazilians – never opting for stoicism when flamboyant exhortations suffice, variously described the defeat as ‘the greatest tragedy in Brazilian history’.
For Moacir Barbosa, 16th July 1950 was not an exercise in extravagant self-flagellation: it started a living nightmare. He was never forgiven. Life treated him harshly. He never played for Brazil again. People spat at him or abused him. He was denied coaching jobs after he retired. Having black skin didn’t help in a racially-divided country.
Once he visited the Seleção to wish them well. He was denied, fearing bad luck. He was even refused a commentator’s job.
After his wife died a friend revealed “he even cried on my shoulder – until the end he used to always say: ‘I’m not guilty. There were 11 of us.’”
An elderly Barbosa lamented, ‘In Brazil, the most you get for any crime is 30 years. For 50 years I’ve been paying for a crime I did not commit. Even a criminal when he has paid his debt is forgiven. But I have never been forgiven.”
In 2000, penniless and close to death, he recalled his memory of 1970 – in the year when the greatest-ever Brazil team won the World Cup, a mother pointed him out to her child in a market saying: ‘Look at him. He was the man who made all of Brazil cry’.
Heart failure caused Moacir Barbosa to die in 2000, aged 79. Some say it was a broken heart that killed him.