I had the chance to see 'Heleno' (for free!) at MoMA's 'Premiere Brazil!' film festival a few months back.
Aside from the soccer angle, I was excited to see this movie because it stars Rodrigo Santoro, perhaps best known in America as the hot tech guy Laura Linney inexplicably fails to get it on with in 'Love Actually'. Seriously, Laura. Family is not everything:
My shallow side was sad to discover, however, that he looks like this through most of 'Heleno':
Despite this tragedy, 'Heleno' is a movie worth seeing. It skips back and forth chronologically, though from the very beginning, you know where the titular character is going to end up. Filmed beautifully in black and white, the rest of the movie is an exploration of how he got there. It takes us through the highs and lows of soccer's original bad boy, touching on his time with Botafogo, his various loves and vices, and the single dream that drives him - to play in Maracanã stadium. It's not a happy movie, and I wasn't 100% sure it was one I'd recommend until the very end. But there are at least two moments that anyone (soccer fans perhaps moreso) will feel keenly, for which no subtitles are necessary.
Also tipping the balance - Santoro does look like this for a while as well:
The director, José Enrique Fonseca, was on hand to answer questions once the film had ended. Part of the reason he had an interest in making a film about Heleno was that he was the first Brazilian superstar, and yet no one in Brazil remembers him today. Still, according to Mr. Fonseca, players of Heleno's caliber were what led to Maracanã being built.
(There was also a fun moment when an audience member asked if Fonseca would ever consider filming a movie about Socrates, and the MoMA moderator added, "the philosopher," when she repeated the question, much to the amusement of soccer fans in the audience.)
Anyway, on the subject of Maracanã (see that smooth transition? Oh yeah), I wanted to present a primer on Brazil's history as World Cup hosts. Despite winning the trophy five times, Brazil has only hosted the tournament once before, in 1950. It was the first World Cup to be held in 12 years, thanks to World War II. Europe was still recovering from the war, so it was decided the tournament would be held in South America for the first time since the inaugural World Cup had been held in Uruguay twenty years earlier. Brazil was soccer-crazy then as now. They had a brand new sparkly stadium built in Rio for the occasion, the famous Estádio do Maracanã.
FIFA practically had to beg teams outside South America to take part in the tournament. This had been a problem in past tournaments as well - Holland, Italy, Spain, and Sweden all boycotted the Uruguay World Cup in 1930 on the basis that thier bids to host had been rejected. Uruguay returned Italy's snub in 1934 by refusing to go to Europe. To be fair, both sides had a point - in the thirties, the only way teams could cross the ocean was by boat, which meant that these players would be away from their clubs (or their employers, if they were amateurs, as many were) for at least two months.
Back to 1950 - travel was easier now, but it was still expensive, and soccer was not a priority for most of the countries affected by the war. The Soviet Union and all of Eastern Europe (except Yugoslavia) declined an invite. Germany was banned. Austria, who had been invaded by Germany shortly before the '34 World Cup, were now allowed to play under their own flag, but also declined. Portugal and France were invited instead. Portugal said no outright, and France balked once they discovered how much travel they would have to undertake once they got to Brazil. (I feel you, France.)
In the end, only 13 teams participated in the 1950 World Cup. This odd number ended up skewing the groups - Brazil, Mexico, Switzerland, and Yugoslavia made the first group of four; England, Chile, Spain, and the USA made the second. Italy, Paraguay, and Sweden were drawn in a third group of three (India withdrew last minute), and finally, Uruguay and Bolivia were drawn in a group of their own. Uruguay, champions in 1930, were given an easy group in part because they were having financial problems, and Brazil decided to be nice. This kindness would come back to bite them in the ass.
It was the first World Cup in which England had played. After drama throughout the thirties, they'd rejoined FIFA five years earlier. The other teams were in awe of the creators of the modern game. And then the USA beat them 1-0, but that's a whole other story... With England not living up to their potential, Brazil were the favorites to win the whole thing. Brazil had beaten Mexico handily, and then had suffered a bit of a crisis when Switzerland (LOL) managed to keep them to a 2-2 draw. The entire country rallied to offer the team support via newspaper and radio. Brazil beat Yugoslavia 2-0. It was on to the final round.
Rather than having an actual final, the 1950 World Cup was to be decided by a second round-robin-style group. The top teams from the first round groups would enter this smaller tourny, with the leader being crowned World Cup champions on points (wins worth 2, ties worth 1, at the time). It was a fairly horrible idea, but it was thwarted when the last game of the group, between Uruguay and Brazil, ended up serving as a final anyway. Before the game on July 16th, the standings looked like this:
Spain: 1 point, played 3
Sweden: 2 points, played 3
Uruguay: 3 points, played 2
Brazil: 4 points, played 2
Brazil had beat Sweden 7-1, and Spain 6-1. Uruguay had racked up the far more modest scores of 2-2 versus Spain and 3-2 versus Sweden. And now all Brazil had to do was tie. They didn't even have to win. A tie would give them 5 points, while Uruguay would still be sitting pretty with 4.
The day of the tournament arrived. Approximately 200,000 people streamed in to the stadium to watch Brazil trounce Uruguay. It was a party.
Meanwhile, Uruguay was in the locker room listening to their coach tell them that they had to employ a defensive strategy to have any chance of winning. After he left, team captain Obdulio Varela stepped in, and reportedly gave a stirring speech that would put most sports movies to shame. He ended it with the words, "Muchachos, los de afuera son de palo. Que empiece la función," - Boys, outsiders don't play. Let's start the show. Less romantically, he also had them piss on newspapers which had been printed early and already proclaimed Brazil world champions.
Brazil attacked the Uruguay goal for the entire first half, but frustratingly enough for the home team, nothing went in. The Uruguayan defense and their goalie, Roque Maspoli, were up to the challenge. Finally, right after halftime, Friaça scored for Brazil. But rather than accepting their defeat, Uruguay began to look stronger, and Brazil began to look nervous. Twenty minutes later, Juan Schiaffino of Uruguay put the ball in the net and tied the game.
No big. Brazil would still win with a tie. Schiaffino was knocked down in the penalty box, and the entire stadium held its breath - but the ref waved play on. Uruguay had another narrow miss as the ball hit the post off a shot from Miguez. Then, in the 79th minute, Alcides Ghiggia of Uruguay scored, and the stadium fell quiet - or as quiet as approximately 200,000 people can be. Schiaffino was later quoted as saying, "That's when I knew we were going to win. When I heard that silence."
The rest of the game ticked by, excrutiating for both sides. In a make-shift ceremony (plans had only been formulated for a Brazil win), FIFA president Jules Rimet handed the trophy to Varela. The stadium was half-empty; fans had either already filed out, or remained sitting in stunned silence. The day became known as "Maracanãzo" - the Maracanã blow.
Watch this super dramatic and informative video for vintage flavor:
Eight years later, a strong Brazil side, including this 17 year-old kid named Pelé, went to Sweden and won Brazil's first World Cup trophy. They repeated the feat in 1962, and again in 1970, with the team some consider to be the best national side ever. They waited out the Maradona years, then went on to beat Italy on penalty kicks for the '94 final. Ronaldo, mach 1, smashed records and helped lead the team to victory for a fifth time in 2002.
But oh-how-amazing would it be to witness a Brazil win in Maracanã?
Maybe, in two years time, we'll get to see.