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World Cup Rivalries: Brazil vs. Uruguay

Today, the first round of knockout games will begin. There isn't a pair of famous international foes lined up for the round of 16 this time, but that may well not apply for the next round, assuming that results fall into place. In the first set of matches, Brazil will play Chile in Belo Horizonte, while Uruguay and Colombia face off in Rio de Janeiro. Brazilians will be terrified of a Uruguay win. Little scares Brazilians more than the prospect of a repeat of the Maracanazo.

In 1950, the World Cup had finally made it to Brazil. Due to World War II, it had taken eight years longer than planned while the World Cup was on hiatus, but the World Cup would finally return to South America, the first time since the debut of the tournament in Uruguay 1930. The centerpiece for Brazil's World Cup would be the Estádio do Maracanã, a gigantic concrete coliseum designed to fit nearly 200,000 people (it has since been renovated, sitting in excess of 78,000 today).

Due the costs of travel and odd scheduling, the tournament featured 13 teams that would compete in two rounds that featured group play. The top finishers from the four groups in the first round would go on to play against each other in another group to determine the winner. Due to blind luck in withdrawals and the inability to reorganize the tournament, Uruguay progressed to the final round by winning just one game (8-0 against Bolivia). In contrast, Brazil beat Yugoslavia and Mexico, as well as drawing with Switzerland, to get to the last round. Brazil was favored so heavily, preparations for an impromptu carnival was underway to celebrate the expected Brazilian victory.

In the final group stage, Brazil beat Spain and Sweden, while Uruguay won and drew one against the same teams. This set up an effective final between the two South American nations. All Brazil had to was earn a draw and they would win their first World Cup trophy. For Uruguay, a team that was considered to be way out of their depth, nothing but a win was good enough. Brazil donned their customary white kit, Uruguay in their pale blue, and set out to play beneath the roar of an estimated 210,000 Brazilian fans. At the start, the game went as expected, with Brazil attacking relentlessly. However, Uruguay's back line held up until half time. Brazil would take the lead in the 47th minute. However, Uruguay then came to life. They scored in the 66th and 79th, leaving the crowd stunned silent. 2-1 would remain the scoreline when the referee blew his whistle eleven minutes later.

The loss sent Brazil into turmoil and hysteria and became known as the Maracanazo, and the resulting uproar transformed and redefined the team into what it is today. The squad was panned across Brazil, forcing many of the players into retirement. The national team completely changed its image, forever dropping the now-cursed white shirts for the, now iconic, bright yellow. To this day, no game of football stands larger in history for Brazilians than the Maracanazo. None of the five World Championships can compare. Up until 2010, Brazil had been the only nation that had won the World Cup to never have seen success while hosting. All this history has also defined the rivalry between Brazil and Uruguay. Brazil remains scarred from that day, neurotically fearing every single time the so-called Phantom of the 50 has so much as a chance to emerge. On the other hand, Uruguay recognize Brazil's dose of traumatic history and never fail to remind their foes, or take heart in their fear.

If Brazil and Uruguay make it to the next round, they will not be playing in the historic Maracana. Instead, the match will take place in Fortaleza. Whether that brings comfort to Brazilians, I do not know, but I doubt it. With Brazil feeling the weight of expectations of the world's only five time champions, the weight of the Maracanazo, the weight of a people whose government has chosen football over hospitals, the Brazilian National team has to overcome a great deal to reach the finish line. With their team failing to impress through much of the group stage, it's quite possible that a visit from the Phantom of the 50 could send them flailing. But it also represents a great chance for Brazil to exorcise their demons and finally find redemption for the Maracanazo.