With the euphoria of the recent fourth place in the South Africa World Cup, Uruguay celebrated on Friday July 16th the 60th anniversary of the country’s main sport greatest feat ever: winning the World Soccer Cup in Brazil in 1950.
The Rio do Janeiro stadium and its 200.000 fans went numb on 16 July 1950 when Uruguay defeated Brazil 2-1 after having been under most of the first half. The feat is still remembered in Brazil and in Uruguay as the “Maracanazo”.
“I was only 22 at the time, I didn’t give the importance it should had”, said Alcides Ghiggia who struck the decisive goal.
He recalls “it was all very nice, great, I made the goal, we had won the World Cup and that was it. Only later as time went by did I realize the dimension of that victory for Uruguay and for all of us”.
Ghiggia, 83 and the second goalie Anibal Paz are the only survivors of the 1959 winning team.
Following on that feat Uruguay managed a fourth place in the World Cup played in Switzerland and later in Mexico 1970, which were considered failures given the background of a national team used to the great improbable victories.
After decades of ostracism Uruguay worked to the fourth place in South Africa, four consecutive victories and knocking out of the semi-finals the only representative from the host continent, Ghana.
It has been decades since such a performance, triggering unexpected celebrations particularly among the young that had herd from their parents and grandparents the huge success of the country’s team in years gone by but had never experienced it.
Tens of thousands turned out to the streets in spite of freezing temperatures to cheer and express their gratitude to a team that had left for South Africa with not much hopes.
The celebration in Montevideo to honour the Uruguayan team, the coach Oscar Tabarez and the Best Player of the Cup, Diego Forlán ended in a huge stage next to Parliament building with President Jose Mujica, the cabinet and other top officials.
An estimated 10% of the Uruguayan population of 3.5 million turned out at the different ceremonies, including Montevideo and the birth cities of the different players.
As Uruguayan president underlined “you have given us a lesson in courage and given us the hope to dream”.
For Uruguay compressed by huge neighbours Argentina and Brazil, football is more than a passion: it’s a national feeling of autonomy and defeating any of the two soccer world powers a most tasteful satisfaction.
Precisely in the South African Cup Uruguay just lost to the two European teams that knocked out Brazil and Argentina, leaving it as the sole South American representative in the semi-finals.
Uruguay’s 2-3 against Holland and Germany were among the best matches of the Cup which did not see any great team excel or a display by an undisputable winner.