In 1950 the United States soccer team were not expected to do particularly well when they traveled down to Brazil to compete in the World Cup finals, in an attempt to lift the coveted Jules Rimet trophy. Despite not lifting the World Cup trophy as World Champions they did come away as heroes, in what has become known as "the Miracle on Grass."
The US team had gone to the tournament with major injury problems and hadn't won an international match in their previous seven attempts. In comparison, the "Kings of Football" as England were known, had an impressive record of 23 wins, three draws, and only four loses, since the end of the Second World War.
The Englishmen who had come through arguably the hardest route to the finals at that time, had won the renown British Home International Championship, over Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and looked every bit the World Champions in waiting.
The majority of the England side had been involved in a Great Britain side that had destroyed a rest of Europe side 6-1 in an exhibition match. The England team had some of the best players in World Football at that period in history, with Alf Ramsey, Stan Mortensen, Wilf Mannion, Tom Finney and Billy Wright (Captain), as the nucleus of the side.
However, for the US team it was a very different situation. They weren't well prepared for the tournament, with the whole team only managing to all meet up once prior to leaving for Brazil. They were part timers, unlike their English opponents. There was a school teacher, a couple of mail men and even a dishwasher in the team so juggling practice time with work was extra difficult for the team.
Three members of the team only managed to join the team after they were in Brazil, and one of them was to provide the difference between the two countries in the match. The half German, half Haitian striker Joe Gaetjens would be the player to etch his name in US Soccer history. He had been allowed to play for the US as one of three players that were in the process of gaining their US citizenship.
The match kicked off at 18:00 Brazilian Time, at the Estadio Independencia, Belo Horizonte, when Italian referee, Generoso Datillo blew his whistle in front of approximately 10,000 fans.
The opening exchanges were all England, with the US keeper Frank Borghi in fine form, preventing England striker, Roy Bentley from scoring within the first two minutes. In the first 15 minutes, England had six clear shots on goal with two hitting the woodwork, one going over the cross bar and Borghi saving another.
It took the Americans twenty five minutes to make their first attempt on goal with the England keeper Bert Williams having no problems with the shot. The English then had three shots on goal in three minutes as Mortensen shot over the cross bar twice and Finney having a header tipped over the bar by an acrobatic Borghi save.
The experienced American midfielder Walter Bahr took a speculative strike on goal from over 25 yards out which Williams attempted to get a hand too, but Gaetjens managed to get a glancing deflection as he dived head first to get to the ball, and did enough to get the ball past Williams and into the back of the English net. On the 37 minutes the US were beating England 1-0 and the Brazilian crowd erupted.
Just as the half time whistle blew, Finney had a shot but it was too late for England as they headed into the dressing room unexpectedly one down.
The second half commenced with the Americans looking like a different team, they were full of confidence, and went close again ten minutes into the second half but their new found confidence wasn't to last, as England applied pressure and looked set to bring the game level.
On the hour Mortensen had a direct free kick well saved by Borghi, and it would be another fifteen minutes before the Americans would get another chance on the England goal due the sustained pressure from the English.
As the clock rolled to 80 minutes Charlie Colombo brought down Mortensen on the end of the American penalty box. The English players protesting with the Italian referee, saying that the foul had happened in the box, and they deserved a penalty, but he wasn't swayed by the English remonstrations.
From the free kick Jimmy Mullen, got a great header on goal and thought he had done enough to draw level but he didn't bank on the wonderful save from Borghi who once again managed to keep the English at bay as he tipped the ball away at the last second.
As Datillo blew for the end of the game the crowd once again erupted in celebration at witnessing one of the greatest upsets in World Football.
The inside forward, Wilf Manion is reported to have said of the shock defeat, "Bloody ridiculous. Can't we play them again tomorrow?"
The American defender Harry Keough said of the historic victory that day, "Boy, I feel sorry for these bastards. How are they ever going to live down the fact we beat them?"
In an interesting twist, America's hero that day Joe Gaetjens never became a US citizen.
The whole team was later inducted into the US National Soccer Hall of Fame for their heroics in Brazil in 1950.
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