Obdulio Varela
(Uruguay)



     Known as the “Negro Jefe” (Black Chief), Obdulio Jacinto Varela emerged as a centerhalf and senior player at Deportivo Juventud. He got his nickname in the River Plate region ever since, contradicting every tip, Uruguay beat Brazil in the World Cup final of 1950 in the Maracana stadium in Rio. Varela was captain of the team and drove it to victory against all odds. The tournament was decided over a mini-league in a final pool and Brazil only needed a draw to become champions and even lead 1-0 at one stage. Uruguay came back and scored twice to win the title in front of a world-record 200.000 spectators.

     That win is recalled as a miracle and made Obdulio Varela immortal in the eyes of the Uruguayan people. In 1940, 1946 and 1948, the Uruguayan team led by him had won the Baron de Rio Branco Cup and his club team Peñarol had won the Uruguayan league championship on six occasions. He was 37 when the national team travelled to Switzerland to defend their title in 1954. Varela was then the oldest ever player to have appeared in a World Cup, but that didn’t affect his game. Czechoslovakia and Scotland were beaten comfortably in the first round before Uruguay also beat England 4-2 in the quarterfinal when Varela picked up a leg injury. There were no substitutions back then so he had to play the full 90 minutes heavily bandaged.

     Varela and two other key players did not get fit for the semifinal against Hungary which Uruguay lost 4-2 after extra time. Obdulio ended his World Cup career unbeaten in seven matches and many people believe a full strength Uruguay team would have beaten the magic Hungarians. A natural, street-wise and self-made man, he made the most of what he had and became a soccer legend and one of the best captains in the sport ever.

 

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