So there were big expectations as England went to their first World Cup with a team that was undoubtedly one of the best of the world at the time, and entered the tournament as one of the favourites to take the title. Their team counted many stars of the top English clubs, as well as the notable Stanley Matthews, who was considered the best player in the world at the time.
England started the tournament by defeating Chile 2-0, and confident ahead of the game against the US, the team selector (who was oddly not the same as the coach, Arthur Winterbottom), Arthur Drewry, decided not to select Stanley Matthews for the match in Belo Horizonte. Still, the English team was awesome, with players such as such as Roy Bentley, Stanley Mortensen, Billy Wright, Alf Ramsey and Tom Finney.
The US was a completely unknown side, composed wholly of amateurs and part-time players, three of them who didn’t even have US citizenship (the US rules at the times allowed this). The game of soccer had no interest in the US, and only one US journalist was present at Belo Horizonte for a match whose result everyone took for granted. Harry Keogh, a surviving players from the US 1950 side has said how they were just expecting to fight to limit their defeat: "We would have been happy with a 2-0 loss. In our wildest dreams we didn't think we'd ever win. We just thought, `Well do the best we can and hope for a good result'."
This was in line with the first match that the US had played against Spain, who although not as strong as England, had many difficulties in defeating the US side by 3-1, being held at 0-1 until ten minutes before the end of the match.
Still, aboslutely nobody thought that the US stood a chance as the two teams ran on the pitch in Belo Horizonte, where 10,000 Brazilians were there mainly to see the English stars, who had taken a day off before the match.
England started like they had to by attacking the US mercilessly. Within half and hour minutes they many clear shots on goal, with two of them hitting the post and one the crossbar, but unable to convert against the outstanding US goalkeeper, Frank Borghi, an ex-baseball player who had excellent reflexes and strong arms, but avoided kicking the ball.
The Americans were nevertheless fighting hard, but unable to get on the offense, when suddenly in the 38th minute of the match, the US spectacularly scored on one of their first chances: Walter Bahr made a long cross from the right into the far post in the English area. The English goalkeeper Bert Williams jumped for the ball, but Joe Gaetjens came across and deflected the ball into the English goal to give the US a surprising lead.
The Brazilian spectators, supporting the American underedogs, exploded in support of the Americans, who seemed to have renewed strength and faith in their abilities as they entered the second half. They even managed to create a few more chances on counter-attacks as the English attacked more.
In the last ten minutes of the match England had a great chance as Stanley Mortensen was brought down by Charlie Colombo at the edge of the penalty area. On the following free-kick Frank Borghi made a spectacular save on a header by Jimmy Mullen who was sure the ball would be going in.
As the game ended, the Brazilian spectactors ran unto the pitch to carry the vioctorious Americans as the English watched incredulously on at their defeat. Some English newspapers who received the result by telegraph believed that the result of 0-1 was a typing error, and instead publicized the result of 10-1 for England, which before the match would perhaps not have been unbelievable.
A humbled English side subsequently lost their last match to Spain, and were out of their first World Cup.
The heroes of the US travelled home to their normal jobs to a country that in 1950 barely noticed the prowess. In later years, as the sport has grown in the US, many of the players have been homaged, and even a book, “The Game of their Lives”, by Geoffrey Douglas, was also made into a film in 2005. There have been many upsets in World Cup history, but this is surely the biggest. Its immensity may not be properly understood by many today, but is similar to the Andorra defeating Spain in a World Cup match. It is a one in a million event, and it happened in 1950.
- 29th June, 1950, Estádio Independência, Belo Horizonte
- Attendance: 10,000
- Referee: Datilo (Italy)
Goals: Gaetjaens (38)
USA: Borghi; Keough, Maca, Bahr, McIlvenny, Wallace, Colombo, Pariani, Gaetjaens, J. Souza, E. Souza
England: Williams; Ramsey, Aston, Wright, Hughes, Dickinson, Finney, Mullen, Mannion, Bentley, Mortensen