Remembering the greatest goal in World Cup history

Gareth Hunter Roar Rookie

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    June 29th, 1950 at the Estádio Independência, Belo Horizonte, Brazil. It’s a Group B match between second world ranked England versus the 45th world ranked USA squad.

    England was coming off a 2-0 win over Chile, while the USA was coming off a dismal performance against Spain, losing 1-3. The match between England and USA was so overlooked, that it was played at Estadio Independencia over five hours away from Rio.

    With an attendance of just 10,151, none of the spectators would realise what a historical event would take place that day. The crowd mainly consisting of locals from surrounding towns, Brazilian journalists and one American journalist.

    Why was England so heavily favoured over the USA?
    Heading into 1950 FIFA World Cup, England was ranked second in the world. England was the highest ranked squad in the whole tournament. While USA was ranked 45 and only qualified because over five teams withdrew due to financial issues, political unrest or disqualified for breaking FIFA rules.

    To say it kindly, USA were there to fill gaps, make up the numbers. England also possessed arguably the greatest player in the world at the point in time, Stanley Matthews, but England chose not to name him in the squad after missing the previous three internationals. They kept their line-up unchanged after defeating Chile.

    What was the background of the eventual hero of the game, Joe Gaetjens?
    Dishwasher and Haitian native, Joe Gaetjens was approached by the USA team to fill a void at the Center-forward position.

    Although not an actual citizen of USA, Gaetjens was allowed to participate as a USA squad member, due to the rules at the point stating that if a player announces their intentions for becoming a citizen of a certain country, that is allowed. Gaetjens previously represented Haiti previously but failed to reach success.

    Gaetjens initially declined the offer to represent the USA, citing he could not afford to lose his job over Football. Gaetjens was then made aware that he would earn $100 a week, and also $5 a day for food allowance. Gaetjens straight away gelled with the USA team players such as Walter Bahr and Frank Borghi. The USA went into the tournament with confidence that they would at least be competitive.

    The goal that surprised and left worldwide fans in awe!
    It was the 38th minute of the first half between England and USA. Walter Bahr took an optimistic shot from 25 yards out as the English goalkeeper, Bert Williams, went diving to the right to intercept. Gaetjens dived unexpectantly and headed the ball that caused it to spin to the left of Williams with the shot hitting the back of the net.

    The crowd of just over 10,000 erupted as both teams were left in shock and awe. The commentators and journalists could not believe what had just happened. Even though the USA scored just before half time, everyone expected England to bounce back in the second half and win back the deficit.

    How did the USA hold on to win?
    Going into the second half, the USA had all the confidence as they had nothing to lose. The USA even had the next scoring opportunity, but just missed. from there on out, England looked more and more dangerous. With a lot of shots hitting the crossbar or just being cleared in time by the USA defence. It was the 59th minute, England had a direct free kick which they were guaranteed to score from.

    USA’s goalkeeper, Frank Borgi made a thrilling save to keep the red-white and blue in the lead. USA’s sniper, Charlie Columbo illegally took down England’s Stan Mortensen. Again, England was in a moment they should have thrived on, but in turn, Frank Borgi just tipped it away from the net. England pleaded that it was over, but the referee denied them the goal that would have squared everything up.

    The final whistle blew, the crowd erupted, England was brought to their hands and knees in shock and disappointment, while the USA celebrated like they would never celebrate again.

    Did the USA go on to further success in the 1950 World Cup?
    Unfortunately, the USA would go on to lose 2-5 against Chile in their third and final match. England also went on to lose their final match against Spain, losing by a single goal once again. The USA forward John Souza was named in the 1950 World Cup All-Star team.

    He remained the sole American representative of a World Cup All-Star team until Claudio Reyna in 2002. The whole USA team went on to be inducted into the USA Football Hall of Fame.

    What ever happened to USA hero Joe Gaetjens?
    After scoring arguably the greatest goal in USA history, Gaetjens went back to his native country of Haiti. He later represented Haiti at international level but did not exceed the success he found in 1950.

    Sadly the whereabouts and final moments of Joe Gaetjens will never be uncovered. In 1963, Haitian President Francois Duvalier was met with an uprising of exiles which included two of Joe’s brothers. Although Gaetjens was not present in any politics in Haiti, he was captured by Duvalier’s army and taken to prison Fort Dimanche.

    Gaetjens was never heard or seen of again. Gaetjens legacy lives through his son Lesly, who wrote a book about his father’s goal titled The Shot Heard Around the World: The Joe Gaetjens Story.

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