Monday, June 29, 2009

29 June 1950 - The Miracle On Grass

On 29 June 1950, the United States pulled off one of the most improbable upsets in football, defeating England 1-0 in a World Cup group stage match before a crowd of over 10,000 at the Estádio Raimundo Sampaio in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

England had dominated international football after World War II, winning 23 matches, drawing three and losing only four. They also had forward Stanley Matthews, considered by many to be the best footballer of the era. The 1950 tournament was England's first World Cup, as they had not entered the previous tournaments, and expectations were high. Oddsmakers pegged England as 3-1 favorites to win the title.

The United States, by contrast, had lost their last seven matches (a series stretching back to the 1934 World Cup) by the combined score of 45-2, including a 3-1 loss to Spain four days prior. Eight of the US starting 11 were US-born citizens, while the other three - forward Joe Gaetjens, defender Joe Maca, and the US captain, midfielder Ed McIlvenny - were citizens of Haiti, Belgium, and Scotland, respectively, who qualified under the rules at the time by declaring their intent to apply for US citizenship (though, of the three, only Maca eventually became a US citizen).

Matthews had missed England's first match, a 2-0 win against Chile, and was left on the bench against the US, as England's selection committee, over the manager's objection, opted not to change a winning side. The decision was heavily scrutinized after the match; however, even without Matthews, England appeared to be in control, dominating possession and taking 20 shots to the US's one.

It was the one that mattered, though. In the 38th minute, American defender Walter Bahr sent a high, arcing ball into the England penalty area. As English keeper Bert Williams rushed to collect it, Gaetjens ducked, sending the ball off the back of his head and into the net. England applied frantic pressure in an attempt to equalize, but were denied by a combination of the woodwork and the sensational play of American keeper Frank Borghi.

Although the US were eliminated from the tournament after their next match, a 5-2 loss to Chile, and did not qualify for another World Cup until 1990, the 1-0 victory over England is considered a pivotal moment for the US national team.

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