BBC SPORT | WORLD CUP 2002    BBC Sport >>   High Graphics >>
Front Page | Team Pages | Features | Other News | Sports Talk | History |
Wednesday, 3 April, 2002, 09:27 GMT 10:27 UK

Their finest footballing hour

29 June 1950: USA 1-0 England

It was in in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, that a part-time dishwasher and student accountant produced one of the largest shocks in the history of international football.

Thirty-nine minutes into the United States' World Cup match with England, at the Estadio Independencia in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Joe Gaetjens latched on to a strike from Walter Bahr to give the Americans a 1-0 lead.

" Nine times out of 10 they would have beaten us, but that game was our game "
Walter Bahr

Gaetjens barely glanced Bahr's shot with his head but it was enough to wrongfoot, and find its way past, Bert Williams, the Wolves and England goalkeeper.

Despite relentless English pressure, there was to be no further score in the next 51 minutes and the USA duly completed the most famous victory in their history.

One London bookmaker had offered odds of 500-1 on such a result.

England had arrived in Brazil for their first World Cup finals as one of the four pre-tournament favourites.

They were being talked about alongside Sweden, Italy and Brazil as winners of the first ever Jules Rimet Trophy, and were certainly expected to cruise through their group.

Things did not exactly go to plan from the start, however, as they laboured in the oppressive heat of the Maracana before eventually beating Chile 2-0 in their opening match.

Then the initial stutter turned into a catastrophic disaster as they took on a United States side boasting just one full-time professional - Ed McIlvenny.

England's sole team selector, Arthur Drewry, rested several of England's key players for what was expected to be a walkover.

There was no place for Stanley Matthews, an omission for which Drewry was later heavily criticised, although Billy Wright and Tom Finney did keep their places.

But, even without Matthews' influence, England were expected to ease past their lowly opponents, who had lost 5-0 to club side Besiktas the previous month and 9-0 to Italy in a warm-up game.

The USA, however, despite being written off by their coach Bill Jeffrey, had other ideas.

Bahr, creator Gaetjens' all-important strike, returned to the stadium where the USA made their name some 48 years after the event.

Speaking ahead of the 1998 World Cup, he said: "We knew it was an upset. Of course we were excited about it.

"Things went our way and, in the run of play, they should have won the game but they didn't score.

"As the game went on, we got a little bit better and they got a little bit more panicky.

"Nine times out of 10 they would have beaten us. But that game was our game."

The Americans were carried off the pitch and the footballing world on one side of the Atlantic was shaken to the core.

England's 1950 record

  • England 2-0 Chile (Mortensen, Mannion)
  • England 0-1 USA
  • England 0-1 Spain
  • The England national team have avoided wearing blue shirts, like the ones they donned that day, ever since.

    In the States, however, such was the national indifference to soccer that the triumph went largely unreported until the 1970s, by which time Gaetjens was dead.

    Mystery still surrounds exactly what happened to the goalscorer, who hailed from Haiti, but reports suggest he was shot in Port-au-Prince on 10 July 1964.

    His family apparently worked for Louis Dejoie, a rival of Haiti dictator Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, and he was arrested by Duvalier's militia and never seen again.

    In 1976 he was inducted into the US Soccer Hall of Fame.

    Despite their triumph, the USA still finished bottom of the group on goal difference, going out with England and Chile.

    It was 40 years before they returned to the world stage, at Italia 90, where they lost all three games.

    Their next, and only subsequent, victory came four years later, when they hosted the tournament.

    And the 2-1 victory over Colombia proved even more shocking, with the subsequent murder of Andres Escobar.

    Tragedy, it seems, has followed all too readily in the wake of the USA's finest hours.


    ^ Back to top   © BBC