Uruguayan footballer whose winning goal in the 1950 World Cup caused devastation in Brazil
Published 26/07/2015 | 02:30
Alcides Ghiggia, who has died aged 88, scored the goal which won Uruguay the 1950 World Cup.
"Only three people have silenced the Maracana," Ghiggia liked to quip, referring to the 200,000-capacity stadium built for the tournament: "The Pope, Frank Sinatra - and me." That year, the format used to decide the destination of the trophy was a round-robin series between the four winners of the pool games. Hosts Brazil went into the last match, against neighbours Uruguay in Rio de Janeiro, needing only a draw to win the competition.
Having swept aside all opposition, the Brazilians were hot favourites. A leading Brazilian newspaper went so far as to print a photograph of the side on the morning before the match captioned "Champions of the World". But Uruguay's captain Obdulio Varela made a rousing speech and then invited the players to urinate on the offending newsprint.
Brazil took the lead shortly after half-time through Friaca. But on the right wing Ghiggia - all moustaches and tango dancer's poise - was certain that he had the measure of the full-back Bigode. In the 68th minute, he slid in a cross for Juan Alberto Schiaffino to equalise.
Then with 11 minutes remaining, he skipped around Bigode and into the penalty box. "The goalkeeper, Moacir Barbosa, thought that I was going to cross it, like with the first goal," he recalled. "So he left a gap between himself and the near post. I just had a second, so I shot low between the keeper and the post.
"There was complete silence. It was like the crowd was frozen still. It was like they weren't even breathing. That was when I realised that they weren't going to do it and we'd won." Brazil's defeat was regarded as a national humiliation. Pele afterwards said that it was the first time that he saw his father cry, and several suicides were reported.
The blame was spread widely and even the team's white strip was replaced by the now familiar gold-and-green. Barbosa was ostracised, complaining five decades on that he had served 20 years more than the maximum prison sentence. He eventually bought the goalposts from the Maracana and held a barbecue over them.
Ghiggia was set upon after the game and returned home on crutches. More than fifty years later, he was passing through customs at Rio when the young official examining his passport asked him if he was the Ghiggia who had scored the winning goal. "I said: 'Yes, but it was a long time ago.' And she put her hand on her heart and said: "No, no, it still hurts us here."
Alcides Edgardo Ghiggia was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1926. After starting to study electronics at university, he joined the leading club Penarol in 1946. He forged a formidable partnership with Schiaffino in a strikeforce which in 1949 won the championship after scoring 62 goals in 18 matches.
After claiming another domestic title in 1951, he was banned from Uruguayan football for a year after thumping a referee and decided to move to Italy to rebuild his career. He played for Roma for eight seasons - tucking a photograph of his mother inside his socks - and made the most of his time there in the era of the Dolce Vita. He owned three Alfa Romeos and became friends with Gina Lollobrigida. In 1957, he was made team captain, but soon after was caught in a car in compromising circumstances with a 14-year-old girl who later that year bore him a child. He was given a two-month sentence for lewd conduct.
After winning the Fairs Cup with Roma in 1961, Ghiggia moved to Milan. He only played four matches for them but these qualified him for a champions medal that season. His forebears had come from the Ticino region of northern Italy and after being naturalised in record time he also played five games in 1958 for the national side, in which he was reunited with Schiaffino.
Ghiggia returned to Uruguay and played in the top flight until he was 42. His jobs thereafter included being an inspector at Montevideo's casino and manager of a supermarket. At 85, he survived a crash with a lorry which put him in a coma for a month.
In 2010, Ghiggia was honoured with a ceremony at the Maracana in which a mould of his feet was placed alongside those of Pele, Eusebio and Beckenbauer. He died on July 16, the 65th anniversary of his most famous match, while talking - his son said - about football.
His first marriage ended in divorce and his second wife predeceased him. He is survived by his third wife, Beatriz, and two sons.