Gino Pariani, 79, forward in famed US World Cup upset
ST. LOUIS -- Gino Pariani, a key player for the United States on the 1950 team that produced one of the greatest upsets in World Cup history, has died. He was 79.
He died Wednesday after having bone cancer for two years, his family said.
Mr. Pariani, the son of Italian immigrants, grew up playing soccer in St. Louis's famed Italian neighborhood, "The Hill." He was part of the mostly amateur team that jolted the soccer world with its 1-0 defeat of powerful England in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
A few days after he married, Mr. Pariani boarded a plane for Brazil with his St. Louis teammates. The Americans won on a header by Joe Gaetjens in the 37th minute.
The English team featured the likes of Alf Ramsey, who would become England's 1966 World Cup-winning coach, and Tom Finney. Both were eventually knighted for their soccer exploits. England was so deep in talent, the great Stanley Matthews did not play that day.
Mr. Pariani, a forward, had one goal in five games with the national team, scoring against Spain in the Americans' 3-1 loss in their World Cup opener round. Despite beating England, the Americans never got out of the first round of that tournament, which was won by Uruguay.
Mr. Pariani and four other players from St. Louis were part of the starting lineup.
With his death, only four players from that team are still alive. The story of the 1950 squad was told in the 2005 film, "The Game of Their Lives."
Mr. Pariani, a member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame, also played on the US Olympic team in 1948.
He was the inside right forward for the 1950 team and played a key role in the upset, maintaining ball possession for the United States and sending fellow St. Louis native Frank "Pee-Wee" Wallace on a breakaway in the second half, a Hall of Fame spokesman said. "Gino was probably more appreciated by his teammates than the fans," World Cup teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Walter Bahr said. "Always reliable, always gave a good game -- you could depend upon him to do his job well."
Daughter Denise Steen said her father never boasted about those heady days, but pictures of the team throughout the house were a constant reminder.
"He loved the game, loved watching and playing," she said.
He and fellow World Cup team member Frank Borghi grew up on Daggett Street, where a sidewalk plaque marks their celebrity.
Borghi, now 82, described his lifelong friend as an "excellent soccer player and a fine human being.
"He was an excellent inside right," he said. "He loved the game."
Mr. Pariani said in 2003, during filming of the movie, that soccer "was a poor kid's game.
"All you needed was a ball," he said. "With baseball, you needed bats and gloves."
The World Cup team was selected from all over the United States, but the St. Louis players said their time together helped their efforts.
It wasn't until the book "The Game of Their Lives," followed by the 2005 release of the movie that Mr. Pariani and his former teammates enjoyed renewed celebrity.
"He was on a never-ending Disney World ride," Steen said.
She said her father and his teammates Borghi and Harry Keough were treated like kings during filming of the movie in St. Louis, and each had his own director's chair.
"He really enjoyed life," Steen said of her father. "He wasn't malicious. He didn't cuss."
In addition to his daughter, Mr. Pariani leaves his wife, Janet, six other children, 10 grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.