In 1950, two goalkeepers were at the center of the soccer universe
When Spain and Chile meet in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday, both goalkeepers will be the focus of attention, just as they were when the two countries clashed in their first-ever match, in the 1950 World Cup at the Maracanã stadium, where this game will also take place.
Spain won 2–0 with goals from Estanislao Basora and Telmo Zarra—and they’ve gone undefeated against the Chileans in 10 match-ups since then, winning eight and drawing two—but that 1950 match is mostly remembered as the international debut of legendary Barcelona goalkeeper Antoni Ramallets.
Long-serving national captain Ignacio Eizaguirre had started Spain’s first game of the tournament, a 3–1 win over the United States, but was dropped after an error-strewn display. Ramallets came in against Chile and was outstanding, making a string of superb saves, even after banging his head making a particularly brave stop. One tip around the post was so good a number of Chile players immediately ran over to congratulate their tormentor.
sang his praises.“The marvellous performance of Ramallets against Chile this Thursday afternoon will form part of the greatest history of Spanish football,” correspondent Carlos Pardo wrote. “He played with extraordinary style, security and efficiency.”
This was not just post-game hyperbole. The Catalan was soon nicknamed “The Cat of Maracanã,” and went on to spend over a decade as Spain and Barcelona’s undisputed number one.
Iker Casillas’s woes during Friday’s 5–1 defeat by Holland mean the idea of replacing a long-serving captain after a disappointing display has again arisen in Spain ahead of Wednesday’s match with Chile at the very same Maracanã. The Antoni Ramallets of today is David de Gea, a younger keeper eager to play his first competitive international. But Manchester United’s De Gea injured a hip muscle in training last weekend, so this part of history won’t repeat itself.
Pardo’s match report from 1950 also picked out something else instantly recognizable to today’s La Roja watchers: that version of the team could also play lovely passes around the box, while lacking a real cutting edge up front. “Our forwards, knowing their quality, entertained themselves sometimes to excess with pretty patterns,” Pardo wrote all those years ago. “Even still the very confident and spectacular Livingstone had a very good game.”
This Livingstone was Sergio Roberto Livingstone Pohlhammer, the Chilean goalkeeper. Livingstone was his country’s first football superstar, winning 52 international caps over 15 years. Then after retirement he became a much-loved presenter for four decades on national TV.
In a last twist of fate, Livingstone’s current successor as Chile captain and goalkeeper is Real Sociedad’s Claudio Bravo, who is widely expected to join Barcelona after the tournament, and thereby next season inherit the Camp Nou number one jersey once worn by Ramallets.
Bravo and Casillas may or may not be aware of all the precedents as they prepare for Wednesday’s game. But 64 years after the first World Cup meeting of Spain and Chile at the Maracanã, all eyes will again be on the goalkeepers.