How Brazil got their colours

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The bright yellow shirts, blue shorts, and white socks of Brazil are one of the most recognized football kits in the world.  Indeed the image invokes memories of bright blue skies, a hot day with a large stadium full to capacity, and the likes of Pele, Garrincha, Zico, Socrates, Ronaldo, and Kaka producing breath-taking skills that has the crowd in awe at these footballing Gods.  Indeed a World Cup without Brazil wearing those famous colours would be like Paris without the EiffelTower or Coronation Street without Ken Barlow.

However there was a time that Brazil actually played in white and it was their 2-1 defeat to Uruguay in their first World Cup Final that had such a devastating effect on the nation that they felt the need to change their strip.  Even fifty-nine years on, the defeat is still debated and is commonly referred to as the ‘Maracanzo,’ translated as the ‘Maracana blow.’

The 1950 World Cup Finals

 With the impact of the Second World War still reverberating across the globe, Brazil was the only realistic bid submitted and consequently granted to be the hosts of the 1950 World Cup Final by FIFA.

A relatively new nation, Brazil saw this has an opportunity to be at the forefront of International affairs through their footballing prowess.  Indeed they had every right to be confident with the likes of Zizinho, Ademir, and Chico in the team.  To prove that this would be the best and most extravagant World Cup the construction of the Maracana started in 1948 and was completed in record time.  It was also the biggest stadium of that era as it held 183,000 which was 43,000 more than Hampden Park which had previously held that record.

In anticipation of the World Cup Finals, posters went up around the country, commemorative stamps were issued, and in the Rio carnival a float illustrating the world cup was paraded.  Consequently when the Finals did start, Brazilians were more than optimistic thanks to the media and hype that their team would be World Champions.

The format of the competition was to be different to any other World Cup’s namely that there was to be no knock out stage.  Instead the thirteen teams were drawn into four groups with the winners forming a final group of four teams with the trophy to be awarded to the first placed team.

Brazil got off to an emphatic start by thrashing Mexico 4-0 and although they had a slight wobble by conceding a late goal to draw two all with Switzerland, a two nil win against Yugoslavia was enough to send the hosts through to the final group alongside Spain, Sweden, and Uruguay.  (Incidentally England had failed to qualify with defeats to Spain and the infamous 1-0 defeat to the USA).

Walloping Sweden 7-1 and Spain 6-1 by playing scintillating football with Alex Bello’s the author of the fantastic book ‘Futebol, the Brazilian way of life,’ stating that the crowd started to wave white flags after going 3-0 up against Spain shouting ‘Ole!’ and singing ‘bullfight of Madrid,’ with the official brass band joining in.  It was a patriotic mood of pride and belief that Brazil were the best football team and that the world would look on with envy and begrudging respect.

With Uruguay drawing 2-2 with Spain and snatching two late goals to beat Sweden, the last game against Brazil had now become a final in itself although Brazil only had to draw to be crowned World Champions.

Expectations were not only sky-high but it was presumed that the trophy would be collected by Brazil in front of an adoring Maracana.  Newspapers proclaimed them to be already Champions on the eve of the game with the Mayor of Rio De Janeiro proclaiming them to have no rivals and ‘would be proclaimed victors of the World.’

The Maracana blow

The match kicked off in front of an official crowd of 199,954 and although Brazil were relentlessly attacking the Uruguayan’s goal the first half ended nil-nil.  Two minutes into the second half and Friaca gave Brazil the lead with the Maracana erupting with joy and belief that the game would now be a formality with even more goals going in their favour.

With twenty four minutes left on the clock the Maracana was silenced briefly as Schiaffino drilled the ball past the Brazilian keeper Barbosa.  Aware that their team would still be winners the crowd cheered on their team again.

Eleven minutes now remained.  The Uruguayan Gigghia dribbled past Bigode like he did before to set up the equaliser this time shot and the ball went in off the near post.  It was like a knife through the heart as the Maracana was stunned into deathly silence as they looked on in disbelief wondering or praying that they had wrongly seen Uruguay take the lead.  Gigghia would later go on to say ‘that only three people have silenced the Maracana.  Frank Sinatra, Pope John Paul II and me.’  The goal was enough to win the game for Uruguay making them the World Champions for a second time.

Brazilian’s stumbled out of the stadium in complete shock.  Ninety minutes beforehand it was a carnival mood, with the match against Uruguay seen as a coronation for Brazil to be crowned the Kings of football.  Instead they had seen their ‘invincible’ Champions knocked out on the canvas.  To many it must have been like seeing Goliath being beaten by David.

Aftermath

 The post-mortem of the defeat turned into a lot of soul-searching for the Brazilian’s.  Incident’s in the match such as Uruguay’s Obdulio hitting Bigode earlier on the match were debated as to whether Uruguay had gained the psychological edge over Brazil or even if their team had the physical fight against such roughhouse tactics.

A victory for Brazil was the only result expected.  After all the mood had been one of national euphoria and pride in being a Brazilian at being crowned world champions as the rest of the globe would look on in awe.  This was also meant to be symbolic of their identity and that Brazil was a leading nation that deserved to be treated with respect.

Instead the defeat installed an inferiority complex of humiliation and shame.  The players were also held accountable with many not playing for Brazil again, but there were also racist views that the three black players Barbosa, Bigode, and Juvenal were symptomatic of the lack of national character due to the diversity in Brazilian society.

Brazilian’s also questioned the white kit that they had played the final in.  Many felt that it was not a patriotic colour and as a result lacked any kind of national identity.  Consequently the Brazilian FA gave the Rio newspaper Correio da Manha the job of launching a new football kit using all the colours of the Brazilian flag, green, blue, yellow, and white.

Aldyr Garcia Schlee decided to enter the competition and his design of a yellow shirt with green collar and cuffs, blue shorts with white vertical stripes, and white shorts was the winning entry.  Ironically Aldyr Garcia Schlee supported Uruguay.

Brazil first took to the field with their new strip at the Maracana in 1954 beating Chile 1-0.  Four years later they were to win their first world cup against Sweden 5-2 although this was to be in their away strip of blue shirts and white shorts.  Nevertheless the yellow shirts and the flamboyant football played added to the vibrant, colourful image that many people have of Brazil.

Despite future success of winning four more world cups (1962, 1970, 1994, 2002), that defeat against Uruguay still lingers on such was the impact on national pride.  However if they had won Brazil may never have decided to change the colours and it wouldn’t seem Brazil without those yellow shirts.

Brian Benjamin