Conquered by palm trees about Juventus 70 years ago, Copa Rio became a reality thanks to the direct efforts of Italian engineer Ottorino Barassi, right-hand man of then FIFA president Jules Rimet. The director’s participation in the organization of the tournament was one of the facts that guided the dossier that the Verdão board sent to the entity that regulates world football, in 2006, so that the competition was recognized as the first interclub world championship in history, remembered today with a red star on his club uniform.
The dossier was produced with the support of Roberto Frizzo, former vice president of the club under Arnaldo Tirone (2011-2013). The file was published in four languages, in addition to Portuguese, and has testimonies from former players who were on the field at the tournament. Among them, Jair Rosa Pinto, the Italian and Juventus idol, Giampiero Boniperti, and the Brazilian Yeso Amalfi, who defended the Frenchman Nice in 1951, stand out.
The document shows that the dispute for a world championship of clubs was an old dream of Jules Rimet. The intention of the first representative in FIFA history was to organize the debut tournament in 1939, but the outbreak of World War II (1939-1945) postponed the plans by 12 years. It fell to Barassi to fulfill Rimet’s ambitions.
Barassi had been a member of the Italian football referee board since 1913. Before becoming involved with Copa Rio, the manager worked as president of the Organizing Committee of the 1934 World Cup and headed the Italian Football Federation. The confidence that FIFA had in Barassi was such that he was chosen to protect the Jules Rimet Cup during World War II.
After the war, Barassi was one of the organizers who gave life to the 1950 World Cup. The tournament, played in Brazil, was a success with the public and income and showed FIFA that the country was the best indication to host the Copa Rio With the approval of the entity – and the presence of Barassi -, an Executive Committee was formed and decided that the competition would be played between June and July 1951, with offices in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
The initial plan was to have 16 teams, but logistical difficulties and the high cost of travel to South America led the organization to invite eight clubs. As there was no official ranking, the teams were chosen according to their technical capacity, whether they were national champions or served as the basis for the selections of their respective countries.
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Rodolphe William Seeldrayers, FIFA vice president, personally committed himself to the task of securing the release of the Red Star of Belgrade for the tournament. Base of the selection of the former Yugoslavia, Olympic runner-up in London 1948, the team was part of the Soviet bloc that did not participate in the qualifiers to the 1950 World Cup. Confirmation that the team would play the Copa Rio, at the beginning of the Cold War, it marked the pioneering spirit in the integration of other European socialist countries in national team or club championships.
By decision of FIFA and the Brazilian Sports Confederation (CBD, predecessor of the CBF), the ball chosen for the Copa Rio was the Superball, which had been used in the 1950 World Cup. In São Paulo, the São Paulo Football Federation interrupted the Campeonato Paulista – the main tournament in the country – for Palmeiras to participate in the world championship. The same measure was adopted by the Uruguayan Football Federation, which paralyzed the local tournament for the Nacional’s trip to Rio de Janeiro.
Palmeiras would become world champion on July 22, 1951, after drawing 2-2 with Juventus, at Maracanã – Verdão had won the first game 1-0. The success of Copa Rio was such that Barassi was inspired in it to create, in 1955, the first version of the current European Champions League, dubbed the European Champion Clubs’ Cup.
For Barassi, Copa Rio was the “first big meeting of champion clubs in the history of football”, according to a statement by the Italian newspaper TuttoSport reproduced at the time. Giampiero Boniperti, one of the greatest athletes who have ever played for Juventus, played against Palmeiras in the two final games and confirmed the importance of the competition at world level.
“I believe it was really a tournament that was meant to be a world tournament, with the biggest clubs in the world. We remember this Copa Rio with great passion and esteem. We had an extraordinary campaign with my Juventus”, said the Italian, called up for the World Cups of the World of 1950 and 1954, in testimony to the dossier from Palma.
Yeso Amalfi, considered a pioneer in Brazil for having played for several European clubs, followed in the same line when recalling the experience he had wearing the colors of Nice. “The Copa Rio was considered the first World Cup between clubs, like a normal World Cup between countries,” he said.
Jair Rosa Pinto, Copa Rio champion with Palmeiras, saw in the competition a chance to redeem Brazilian football for the world title that the Brazilian team had lost to Uruguay at Maracanazo. “Brazil was not champion in 1950. So, this cup that we won for me represented the World Cup,” he declared.
On May 23, the inclusion of a red star above the symbol on the Palmeiras uniform was officially approved by the Association’s Deliberative Council. The honor was already provided for in the club’s statute, but it was not being fulfilled.
“The red star is a demonstration of respect for the achievement, our fans, our idols and our history. We are doing this to value ourselves. We respect any opinion, but what matters is the feeling, and the feeling is that this is the greatest title in the history of Palmeiras and we will value that”, said President Maurício Galiotte.
On its official website, the Palmeiras paid tribute to Liminha, fundamental in winning the Copa Rio. To rebuild the player’s memory, the club listened to his 89-year-old wife Adélia, who recalled her husband’s humility. The striker, who played for Verdão between 1951 and 1955, scored the second and decisive goal in the 2-2 draw against Juventus, which guaranteed the title to Palmeiras.
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