Host country Brazil looms as an unbackable favourite in the lead up to the 2014 World Cup, much as they were the last time Brazil hosted it, in 1950.
That time, however, Brazil fell at the final hurdle to Uruguay, who won their second World Cup. The final game of the tournament was not a final as such, given a different format applied that year, but Uruguay’s 2-1 victory in front of nearly 200,000 fans at the Maracanã is viewed as a final.
The disappointment of 1950 was a precursor to Brazil’s first golden age, when it won three World Cups in 12 years (1958, 1962 and 1970), and names such as Pele and Garrincha became known across the world.
Brazil was permanently awarded the Jules Rimet trophy, named after the founder of the World Cup, for being the first country to win the trophy three times.
If Brazil were to break through for a home win in 2014, we could rightly refer to a second golden age, representing a third World Cup win in the last two decades.
My interest today is more the period between the two golden ages, when Brazilian football was forced to learn a valuable lesson. This is one which would allow it to enter that second golden age, but even more it represented a significant change in world football and how we came to perceive the game.
When Brazil defeated Italy 4-1 in the altitude of Mexico City in 1970, it was as if Brazil’s bright, bubbly, beautiful approach to the game, joga bonito, had triumphed permanently over Italy’s cold, calculating, cynical catenaccio. The Italian approach was centred purely on a difficult to break down defensive structure, with attacking forays being a secondary consideration.
However, Brazil’s triumph in the 1970 World Cup was not a new dawn, in fact, it marked the end of their golden age – a last hurrah if you like. The cynical European approach to football would start to slowly permeate all corners of the globe, a process which continues today.
Brazil held out firm. It held out longest. But the day would finally come when they too would be forced to concede that joga bonito had become a liability in the modern world.
Which brings us to 1982. Spain was the host, and once again, Brazil entered the tournament as an unbackable favourite. That Brazil team was like no other at the time, absolutely bursting at the seams with talent. With their languid style, always intent on pushing numbers forward, always confident in their ability to outscore the opposition, out and out stars of the game such as Sócrates, Falcão, Zico, Serginho and Éder were without peer anywhere in the world.
Brazil scored 10 goals in the first round. In their opening game against the USSR, Brazil fell behind in the first half when a harmless long range attempt at goal ricocheted off the hapless Peres’ chest into the back of the net. Predictably, the Soviets dropped back in numbers for the whole of the second half, but the Brazilians were always confident of pegging them back, and finally hit the lead with an Eder special in the 87th.
In the second round, still in cruise control, Brazil eased past their old rivals, La Albiceleste (Argentina), 3-1, setting up a tasty encounter with the Azzurri, with the significance of a knock-out quarter-final, except that Brazil only needed to draw the game to progress to the semi-final.
In what is now viewed as one of the all-time classic World Cup games, Italy won 3-2 on its way to winning its third World Cup.
However, it’s worth reminding ourselves how that game panned out, noting again that Brazil only needed to draw to progress. On three occasions during the game, the scoreline was such that Brazil would progress (nil-all, 1-1 and 2-2).
But all three times Brazil allowed Italy to score a goal which on closer inspection should never have been scored.
The wily Italian manager at the time, Enzo Bearzot, made the selection of the tournament when he brought Paulo Rossi into the starting line-up for the game against Brazil.
Actually, Rossi was a last-minute call-up to the World Cup squad, having just finished serving a two-year suspension for match fixing (reduced from the original three years).
Bearzot had observed that Brazil’s weakness was directly in front of their goals – the keeper, Peres, and the two centre-halves. Rossi was not overly skilled, but he was the archetypal poacher, one to feast on the mistakes of his opponents within range of their goal.
It proved to be an inspired selection as Rossi would score all three goals that day – all three from defensive errors.
Italy’s first goal came from a harmless enough cross into the box, from the left-back, Cabrini, which any half-competent defence should have dealt with. You will see in the video the amount of space Rossi has to run onto the ball, unimpeded, but just prior to the cross, you can see how lackadaisical the Brazilian defenders are.
It didn’t take long for Brazil to create an equaliser, through their inspirational, athletic and talented captain, Sócrates. He plays the ball in the middle of the park to the great no. 10, Zico, who holds it up just long enough to spot up Socrates with a deft touch past a pack of Italian defenders.
He managed to squeeze the ball past Zoff from the tightest of angles.
Having equalised, the Brazilians fell back to their inimitable languid style, the Brazilians cheerily pushed the ball around inside their own half, not a care in the world, and as the gap between the two centre-halves widened.
Rossi the poacher pounced on a wayward pass. The Brazilians were slow to realise the danger and Rossi raced into the box to thump the ball past Peres.
The score sat at 2-1 in Italy’s favour at half-time, good enough for Italy to progress.
Brazil’s second equaliser came from a wonderful individual effort from Falcão (who was playing in the Serie A at the time). He took advantage of Italy’s propensity to guard the box, much in the same way as a basketball team guards the key.
Watch carefully as a yellow shirt makes a quick darting run to Falcão’s right. Two Italians follow, giving him a chance to inch closer to the edge of the box and unleash a furious shot on goal which Zoff could not get to.
It’s worthwhile having a close look at the box to watch Zoff stretch and miss the shot – there are at least four yellow shirts in the box ahead of Falcão – little wonder the Italians are momentarily like rabbits in the headlights.
At this point, Azzurri fans may have been thinking that their chance to progress had already been snuffed out. In the first round in games against lesser lights Poland, Peru and Cameroon, Italy had failed to score more than one goal.
Surely the Azzurri could not conjure a third goal, even with the master poacher in fine form?
Alas, it did happen, and once again, from a seemingly innocuous moment. It was Italy’s first corner for the game (it may even have been their only corner for the game). The wonderful Italian winger, Bruno Conti, puts the ball into the hot spot with his sweet left foot, but it’s cleared. Under normal circumstances, that would be the end of it, but watch carefully, a lone Brazilian defender keeps Rossi and another Italian onside, and Rossi turns the wayward shot into the net.
On each occasion, the great Brazilian side was caught out with sub-par defending and they allowed the Italians back into the game.
Brazil was in mourning – no one believed it possible.
The great Pele said simply that he could not believe Brazil was out of the World Cup.
After the match, one of the Brazilian players commented that they had tried to put on a show – that sums it up well. That is the valuable lesson that Brazil was to learn – putting on a show was no longer the be all and end all.
Joga Bonito was dead. The modern professional age demanded a harder edge. Pragmatism took over from form and beauty.
Fast forward to 1994 and Brazil meets Italy again in a World Cup and this time defeats Italy.
The lessons of 1982 had been learned and implemented – much to the disappointment of football fans all over the world.
The carnival was over.