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Start Believing: Cuba's clairvoyant keeper

Start Believing: Cuba's clairvoyant keeper

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The story of how Benito Carvajales successfully predicted his side's victory over Romania in the 1938 World Cup features in the latest of our series chronicling the power of belief

It’s fair to say that only a clairvoyant would have predicted that the baseball mad island of Cuba would have made it to the 1938 World Cup to become the first Caribbean country to play at the finals. Perhaps the only member of the team not surprised to see the Cubans head for France was their goalkeeper Benito Carvajales, whose apparent gift of predicting the future would make him an unlikely star of the ’38 series.

Hopes for even a respectable showing at the tournament weren’t high, and only the presence of the Dutch East Indies relieved Cuba of the label of tournament “whipping boys”. But where there was Carvajales between the sticks, there was hope. The 1938 tournament was a straight knockout, and the Cubans excelled themselves to earn a 3-3 draw in extra time with Romania.

Gentlemen, I shall not be playing, but we shall win the replay, that’s certain. The Romanian game has no more secrets for us. I say to you that we shall score twice, they will score only once. Adios

The Cuban coach announced that Carvajales would be dropped for the replay, but Carvajales piqued the interest of the European press corps by dramatically calling a press conference in the aftermath of the match. “Gentlemen, I shall not be playing, but we shall win the replay, that’s certain. The Romanian game has no more secrets for us. I say to you that we shall score twice, they will score only once. Adios, Caballeros.”

In Toulouse on June 5, 1938, that’s exactly what happened. Romania led 1-0 at half time, but the Cubans roared back to win 2-1, their winner coming after a linesman flagged for offside but the referee allowed it to stand anyway. Carvajales, recalled for the next match, had accurately predicted the first bona fide World Cup shock, but oddly, he kept his thoughts to himself for the quarter final match in Sweden.

Perhaps he had a portend of things to come, as the Swedes rattled eight goals past him without reply. His team-mates claimed they’d been hammered “due to unforeseen circumstances.” Hmmmm.

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