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On This Date in Sports June 29, 1950: Miracle on Grass

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 Team USA stuns England 1-0 at the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. The Americans hardly a soccer power beat one of the top-ranked teams in the world as Joe Gaetjens scores the game’s only goal in the 38th minute. Though it was England’s first appearance in the World Cup, they were considered the “Kings of Football” while Team USA had lost their last seven international matches by a combined score of 45-2.   

After 12 years, mostly due to World War II, the World Cup was back on track. Uruguay won the inaugural tournament in 1930, while Italy won the World Cup in 1934 and 1938 before the long pause. Team USA had a good showing in their first tournament, reaching the semifinals. Few European teams were in that first tournament as England considered by many to be the best in the world refused to participate over payouts. Team USA would go winless at the 1934 World Cup and withdrew from the 1938 tournament as tensions in Europe were on the rise. 

When the World Cup resumed in 1950, England finally settled their dispute with FIFA and agreed to participate. The entered the tournament as a 3-1 favorite to win the World Cup. Team USA was considered the weakest team in the field as they came into Brazil listed at 500-1. Despite their qualifying win over Cuba, the Americans had been terrible on the international stage since 1930. They had lost their last seven matches in the World Cup and the Olympics by a combined score of 45-2. This included a 3-1 loss to Spain in their World Cup opener. England meanwhile had an impressive 2-0 win over Chile. 

The Americans were not unfamiliar with England, having played a pre-tournament friendly on Randall’s Island in New York on June 19th. England won that game 1-0 and was expected to waltz all over Team USA when they played in Belo Horizonte. England was confident and rested Stanley Matthews for their match against Spain. Matthews was considered the top player in the world but had just finished a tour of Canada. At the time, there no substitutions in World Cup play, and Matthews could only watch from the bench. 

England controlled the action from the start as goalkeeper Frank Borghi made a big save in the 12th minute, while England failed to convert on six clear shots at the goal. Team USA would not get its first shot until the 25th minute. The English continued the attack getting three more clear shots as Borghi made another big save on a header by Tom Finney. In the 38th minute, England goalkeeper Bert Williams moved to intercept a pass. This would open the door for Joe Gaetjens to make a diving header to put the ball in the goal as Williams was out of position to make the save. 

As Team USA grabbed the lead, the crowd in Brazil began to back the underdog. The second half would be tight defense affair as the Americans sought to protect their lead, while England feeling the pressure continued to be off the mark on their attempts at the net. When England was able to make the shot, Frank Borghi was able to make the save, including a big save against Jimmy Mullen. That save would symbolize the day for England who protested the ball crossed the goal line before being deflected out by the American goalie.  Team USA’s 1-0 win is still considered one of the greatest upsets in the history of the World Cup.

Team USA would come comeback to earth losing their next match to Chile 5-4, while England was eliminated with 1-0 win to Spain, who advanced to the round-robin final round. Team USA would not make another World Cup appearance until 1990. They would not get another World Cup win until 1994. Several members of the Team USA were not Americans. At the time, the rules of FIFA were loose, and players like goal scorer Joe Gaetjens a Haitian, working and studying in the USA were allowed on the American team. He later returned to Hatti and was murdered by the totalitarian Papa Doc regime in 1964.