Few things can cause a crowd of people to simultaneously and with reckless abandon, launch overpriced, lukewarm beers into the air with no consideration of the consequence. A World Cup goal is one of those rare occasions that can cause such a response. That and a cattle prod in a Wetherspoons.
However, at a time when club football is becoming an all-consuming juggernaut of broadcast deals, record transfer fees and elite squads, the international game increasingly feels like it is stepping on its toes. An unwanted accoutrement that survives on past glories alone.
And whilst there are too many dull, lifeless friendlies and qualifying seems like an endless slog wherein Denmark play Ireland fifteen times with each encounter duller than the last, the World Cup remains a rarity in modern football. It is a tournament with so much prestige, history and meaning that merely taking part is still regarded by many as the pinnacle of a footballing career.
Winning the World Cup remains the greatest achievement in football, despite what people may say about the fourth Champions League spot. The list of World Cup winners is truly a pantheon of footballing greats.
But who are the best/worst of the best?
21. Uruguay 1950
Comparing cross-generational sides is a thankless task. As with comparing Messi, Ronaldo, Maradona and Pelé, the sheer volume of variables and factors that separate the modern game from football’s sepia-tinged past make comparisons nigh on impossible.
But whilst this Uruguay side are perhaps not amongst the greatest of World Cup winners, their story is certainly one of the best.
Fans might assume that the World Cup format of today has been the same since 1930. However, the 1950 tournament in Brazil was unlike any other. Following a first group stage round, the winner of each group entered a final group stage round, in a round-robin format, with the most points collected determining the champions.
Going into the de facto final, Brazil were favourites to an almost ludicrous level. Ali versus a punching bag for the footballing world. The media had literally dubbed Brazil champions and the atmosphere around Brazil was that of actual World Champions, with the Seleção needing simply to avoid defeat. A World Cup final that echoed a final day relegation scrap.
Uruguay on the other hand, needed to win and having only drawn against Spain and narrowly defeated Sweden in the previous games, Brazil’s optimism whilst feverish and disrespectful was hardly misplaced.
So, when a defensively resolute Uruguay, through goals from Schiaffino and Ghiggia, cancelled out Friaça’s opener to win the game and the tournament, Brazil were left stunned.
The term Maracanazo has since been used to describe the match, translated loosely as “The Agony of Maracanã”. So, although this Uruguay side was perhaps not exceptionally talented and certainly benefited from a truncated format, their quality is often underestimated and to have inspired a word describing one of football’s greatest upsets, surely places their story if not their squad amongst the World Cup’s greats.