Alcides Ghiggia still remembers the shocked hush in the Maracana stadium, packed with more than 200,000 people, after he scored the goal that felled football’s superpower.
It was a “great, stunning silence,” Ghiggia, the only surviving player from the Uruguayan and Brazilian teams that disputed the decisive 1950 World Cup game, told AFP in an exclusive interview.
Sixty-four years on, there is enduring agony in Brazil over his goal as the country races to be ready to host the World Cup finals again. Ghiggia, now 87, said it took him years to appreciate the importance of his heroics.
Barely 10 minutes from the end of the game that Brazil only needed to draw to win the tournament, Ghiggia escaped his marker on the right wing and shot into the net before Brazilian goalkeeper Moacir Barbosa had dived.
There were only a few dozen Uruguayans in the legendary stadium, where the attendance of more than 200,000 people has never been surpassed at a sporting event.
“After the match we Uruguayans felt joy (but) there was this silence in the stadium and people crying,” he added.
Ghiggia has since repeatedly told eager audiences, “Only three people have reduced the Maracana to silence: Frank Sinatra, the Pope and me.”
“I first said that in an interview with Globo TV in the 1960s. I was asked about the ‘Maracanazo’ and the phrase just came to me, it wasn’t scripted.”
Brazilians call the humiliating 2-1 defeat the ‘Maracanazo’ and are still obsessed with the goal, even though their country has won the World Cup five times since.
Barbosa felt he was treated like a near criminal right up to his death in 2000.
Ghiggia is treated like a war hero but denies he is one like a soldier.
“I did something for my country,” he said. But he will never forget that goal.
“It remains burned on my memory. I had to decide in a few seconds what I was going to do in that move. I was lucky enough to drive it home inside the post and score the second goal.
“It was a joyous moment as I thought of my family, my friends. That is the most intimate memory I retain of this goal.”
Ghiggia said he was too young, 23 at the time, to understand the significance of his goal when he claimed his World Cup medal in the stunned stadium.
“Not at the time, as I was very young. I only realised its impact several years later when people started writing books on the subject and asking me about it.”
Brazilians say the legacy of the defeat is like a ghost in the Maracana, which will be used again for this year’s World Cup final on July 13.
Ghiggia, who has left an impression of his feet on the Maracana walk of fame, denies that he is the phantom.
“It was journalists who came up with that idea, not me. I wouldn’t know if the ghost of Maracana is me or someone else,” he laughed.
Uruguay are back at the finals again, having narrowly qualified. But they have one of the world’s great strikers in Luis Suarez.
Despite his patriotism and Brazil’s role as favourites, Germany are Ghiggia’s tip to win in 2014.