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On 29 June 1950, at the 1950 FIFA World Cup in Brazilmarker, the United States defeated England 1–0 in a group match. The event is also known as the "Miracle on Grass". The match was played in Belo Horizontemarker at Estádio Independênciamarker. The game and the U.S. team were profiled by author Geoffrey Douglas in his book The Game of Their Lives (ISBN 0-8050-3875-2), which was made into a film of the same name (later renamed to The Miracle Match).

Background

At the time, the English considered themselves the "Kings of Football", with a post-war record of 23 wins, 4 losses, and 3 draws. Conversely, the Americans had lost their last seven international matches (including the 1934 World Cup and 1948 Summer Olympics) by the combined score of 45–2. The odds were 3–1 the English would win the Cup, and 500–1 for the U.S.

England had Stanley Matthews available, whom they considered the best player in the world at the time, but he had not played with the English team in the three international matches prior to the World Cup (in fact, he had joined the team late, having been touring Canadamarker as part of another group of English internationals). As such, the selection committee (consisting of one man, Arthur Drewry), opted to stay with the team that had just defeated Chile. As there were no substitutes allowed in those days, Matthews watched the game with the other reserves. Drewry, at one time the Football League president, would become the Secretary of FIFAmarker following the death of Jules Rimet.

Meanwhile, the American team consisted of semi-professional players, most of whom had other jobs to support their families. Walter Bahr was a high school teacher, and others worked as mail carriers or dishwashers. "We have no chance," recently-appointed coach Bill Jeffrey told the press.

First half

England won the toss and elected to kick off. Within ninety seconds, Stanley Mortensen sent a cross from the left wing to Roy Bentley, who let off a shot that was barely pushed aside by U.S. goalkeeper Frank Borghi. By the twelfth minute, England had six clear shots on goal but could not convert, with two shots hitting the post, one just going over the top, and another brilliantly saved by Borghi.

The U.S. struggled to move to the offense, and finally managed a shot on goal in the twenty-fifth minute, which was blocked by British goalkeeper Bert Williams. The English counterattacked with three successive clear shots at the goal in minutes 30, 31, and 32, but failed to score. Mortensen twice went over the crossbar, and Tom Finney's header to the top corner was tipped away by Borghi.

In the thirty-seventh minute, Bahr crossed the ball from approximately twenty-five yards out, but as Williams moved to intercept, Joe Gaetjens dove headlong and grazed the ball enough to put it past the reach of the English goalkeeper and into the back of the net. The crowd exploded as the U.S. improbably led 1–0. As the half drew to a close, Finney had a chance to tie the score, but the whistle blew before he could shoot.

Second half

With renewed confidence, the U.S. played tougher as the second half opened, creating another scoring opportunity in the 54th minute. In the 59th minute England was awarded a direct free kick but Mortensen's shot was well saved by Borghi. But England began threatening again, and it was fifteen minutes before the Americans were able to get another shot. With eight minutes left, Charlie Colombo brought down Mortensen with an illegal tackle at the edge of the penalty area. England pleaded for a penalty kick, but the referee ruled it was outside the box. On the resulting free kick, Jimmy Mullen headed the ball for what he thought was a goal, failing to notice that Borghi had tipped it away at the last second, denying the English on their chance to tie the game.

England had no more chances on goal and the game ended in victory for the U.S. team. England then lost their next match and failed to qualify for the final round. The U.S. team was able to score two goals against Chile, but still lost that match 5–2 to end their World Cup run. They would not qualify for the World Cup again until 1990.

John Souza, the U.S. inside right forward, was selected to a World Cup All-Star team by the Brazilianmarker sports newspaper Mundo Esportivo, and remained the only American player ever selected to a World Cup All-Star team until Claudio Reyna in 2002.

Aftermath

Around the world, newspaper headlines trumpeted the shocking upset, except, oddly enough, in the United States and England. In fact, only one American journalist was even at the World Cup (Dent McSkimming of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch who could not get the newspaper to pay for the trip, and took time off of work to cover the event), and his report of the match was the only one to appear in any major American newspaper. In Englandmarker, the top story was the English cricket team's first ever defeat by the West Indies, which happened the same day. So unexpected was the result that, among some English publications, it was presumed that the 1-0 scoreline was a typing error and so it was reported that England had won on a scoreline of 10-0.

Afterwards, a number of books and newspapers in England suggested that the U.S. team had arrived "through Ellis Islandmarker", meaning that the team was made up of imported players, but eight of the starting eleven were American-born. The other three, Gaetjens, Ed McIlvenny, and Joe Maca, were not U.S. citizens but had declared their intentions to gain citizenship and according to the rules of the United States Soccer Football Association at the time were allowed to play. The U.S. was cleared of any wrongdoing by FIFAmarker in a hearing on 2 December 1950.

USA v England 1950

Squads







USA 1 (1)
White shirts/Blue shorts/Blue socks



Frank Borghi
Harry Keough
Joe Maca
Walter Bahr
Ed McIlvenny (C)
Charlie Colombo
Frank Wallace
Gino Pariani
Joe Gaetjens
John Souza
Ed Souza
Manager:
William Jeffrey
ENGLAND 0 (0)
Blue shirts/White shorts/Navey socks (with white turn-over)



Bert Williams
Alf Ramsey
John Aston
Billy Wright (C)
Laurie Hughes
Jimmy Dickinson
Wilf Mannion
Tom Finney
Jimmy Mullen
Stanley Mortensen
Roy Bentley
Manager:
Walter Winterbottom


Quotes

  • Wilf Mannion: "Bloody ridiculous. Can't we play them again tomorrow?"
  • Harry Keough: "Boy, I feel sorry for these bastards. How are they ever going to live down the fact we beat them?"


Footnotes

See also

The Game of Their Lives

Further reading



References


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