This past August 2 marked the 13th anniversary of the passing of Obdulio Varela. Although not a household name around the world, Varela remains one of biggest sports heroes in his native Uruguay. As with many players of his era, his deeds are often overlooked and ignored by today's sports media. If you are not aware of his story, Varela captained the Uruguayan team that defeated Brazil in the final game of the mystical 1950 World Cup held in Brazil, the now legendary "Maracanazo". Varela was the inspiration and driving force that led Uruguay to a come from behind 2-1 victory in front of 200,000 people who had packed the month-old Maracana stadium.
Varela is not as well know around the world as the two men who scored in that final game, Juan Alberto Schiaffino and Alcides Ghiggia, since both of these men played the majority of their carrers in Italy's Seria A while Vareal remained at Montevideo's Peñarol. Varela however is still revered in Uruguay, affectionately nicknamed "El Negro Jefe" or the Black Chief due to his dark complexion and dominant personality. It was this personality that lifted the Uruguay team. Brazil came into the new stadium brimming with confidence, after dominating the round robin style tournament, they only needed a tie to claim the Jules Rimet cup. Playing in front of a capacity home crowd, a victory was almost a given. As Brazil took the lead in the early second half on a goal by Friaça, Varela took the ball from the net and ran it to the center line and famously screamed at his teammates “ahora sí, vamos a ganar el partido” ("Now we're going to win the game") and cemented his legacy in the pantheon of legends of football.
Varela's defensive prowess choked the life out of the Brazilian attack and his ball distribution lead to the two goals scored by Schiaffino and Ghiggia. When the whistle blew the silence was ominous; as Rimet himself, who was in attendance, put it "The silence was morbid, sometimes too difficult to bear."
Like many of the footballers of that age, Varela made little money during his playing days and lived a modest life (bordering on poverty) after his retirement but was a beloved and respected figure in his native Uruguay. He passed away at age 78 on August 2, 1996.