“Brazil had an unbelievable team. They had magnificent players, they seemed to play telepathically, they had such creative ideas, they could improvise and they had an excellent coach in Tele”
Cesar Luis Menotti
June 13, 1982 – Camp Nou, Barcelona dished out a spectacular opening ceremony for the twelfth FIFA World Cup. For the first time, 24 teams would compete in a tournament that would shape the story of a nation, who always wished to win with great panache and style. It would also be the tournament of scoring jaw-dropping goals, drama and shocks.
The young Belgian unit made the sensation of the tournament – Diego Armando Maradona an unknown figure on the pitch. With Maradona left isolated and lost in the forest of Belgium, Argentina suffered a shocking defeat and from there on, they would not be able to pick up the momentum – Mardaona proved to be a troubled child, who was yet to come of age.
Then Algeria stunned the Euro Champions Germany, England thrashed the French side of Michel Platini, one of the favourites, Spain were struggling, Poland looked bright while Italy were playing in a fashion as if they were a ship without radar.
While Argentina, Maradona and the rest of the heavyweights were left thinking about their shortcomings and self-doubts; Brazil landed in Spain with one of the greatest sides ever since 1970.
And, they brought with them an army of passionate fans, who created a festive atmosphere that added extra flavour to the kind of beautiful football Brazil played in Spain.
In Spain Brazil had been the epitome of footballing excellence that drove the world crazy.
After 1970 Brazil Football lost its edge a bit and the beauty was missing a bit but it was Tele Santana who revolutionized the Joga Bonito in Spain.
When his playing days came to an end, he cut his teeth in management with Fluminense’s youth sides, enjoying three successful years at the helm of the academy before being handed his first senior job with Atletico Mineiro.
Santana was motivated by Joga Bonito and thus he chose to drill his philosophy into his players.
He would not stop until they shared his vision, but once they did, the results were outstanding.
He led Atletico Mineiro to the league title in 1971 which, for many years, stood as his only competition victory. Spells with various Brazilian sides followed, and it was not until 1980 that Santana fought his way back into the limelight.
He was appointed as the manager of Selecao.
At the time, fans had grown frustrated with former boss Claudio Coutinho, who favoured results over attractive football. They needed something new, and the belief was that Santana could provide it.
His start was scratchy, with fans booing his side off the field just 45 minutes into his reign.
The fans were less than excited about his tactics, whilst his team selection often left many supporters scratching their heads.
Santana called for patience from fans, and things soon turned positive. Players began to understand his desire for attacking football, and his impressive performances at the 1980 Mundialito tournament had earned him plenty of fans across the world.
The free-flowing style of Brazil was back and he started building the side with players like Zico, Socrates, Eder, Junior, Serginho, Cerezo, Leandro, Careca, Dirceu, Toninho Cerezo, Oscar and Reinaldo.
He gave players the freedom to express themselves and play the brand of football that the world wishes to see from the Samba Boys – the Ginga was back and while the Selecao was touring Europe, the topsides were left clueless by their dashing style.
The topsides like Germany, England, France, Uruguay, Argentina and USSR experienced the dazzling display of Brazil and gradually, they became the favourites of Espana 82.
The summer of 1982 would always be remembered for two things: Paolo Rossi and the Brazil of Tele Santana.
The tactics of Tele Santana
Tele Santana’s team lined up in a 4-2-2-2 fashion, but actually, it was more than that.
At times the almost chaotic and cavalier commitment to attacking football was presented as a 2-7-1 formation, with two centre-halves staying back, while the full-backs provided width to a midfield five, leaving just a lone striker at the top of the formation.
So with essentially a fluid 4-5-1 formation assembled, the tournament favourites could begin their campaign to reclaim their world title.
The players interchanged their positions which baffled the oppositions. While their passing abilities and creativity surpassed the imagination of the football romantics.
One might witness Socrates as the central attacking midfielder or dropping deeper as the pure playmaker by pulling the strings from deep. While Zico would take the more central role and when man-marked, he would be aided by Socrates and Eder – Careca was the devastator upfront and even the centre backs would position themselves in a centre forward position to score while the wing-backs were just out of this world.
“Everyone has the freedom to play how they wish as long as they perform certain basic functions. As amazing as that might seem, it works. It comes … from improvisation, but also from the knowledge that was acquired in two years of working together,” said Socrates.
“I play on the wing, I am a centre-forward, a sweeper, holding midfielder … it depends on how the game is going. Even if we don’t win the title, we’ll have altered the traditional schemes of 4-2-4 and 4-3-3 and whatever else they have invented.”
Since early 1980, when Santana’s reign began, Brazil had played 33 games, three of them against state or youth selects, and lost just twice, to the Soviet Union and Uruguay, both times by a single goal. They scored in every game bar one, at an average of 2.5 goals per game.
The football they played was quick and one-touch, with all of the players comfortable on the ball and most of them eager to get forward.
It was an ultra-attacking unit – the defence was never taken seriously.
The Samba Boys of Santana
Careca hadn’t played for Brazil heading into 1982, but the 21-year-old sensation had meteorically established himself as their first-choice striker by the time Tele Santana named his Spain 1982 squad, starting three of their last four friendlies, including their last two. Then disaster struck three days before it kicked off when the Guarani player suffered a thigh injury in training and was ruled out of the tournament.
It was a big blow that forced Santana to use Serginho in front of Zico and Socrates.
Serginho still figures as Sao Paulo FC’s all-time top goalscorer, with 242 goals in 401 games, and, although he was never as graceful on the pitch as many of his contemporaries, he still managed to be a threat with both feet, in the air and at set-pieces.
But apart from questions about his tactical suitability within the team, there were also fears about Serginho’s behaviour.
He had missed the chance to play in the 1978 World Cup thanks to a 14-month suspension for kicking a linesman and in the 1981 Campeonato Brasileiro final, he caused a national outcry for putting a boot to the goalkeeper Leao’s face.
The same Leao who had also been called up to the World Cup squad and needless to say, Santana felt it necessary to have several pep talks with Serginho in order to try to tame that side of his character and so prevent the striker from adding to his collection of red cards – a move that, in hindsight, would actually neuter his performances.
For the first time ever Brazil included overseas-based players in a World Cup squad: Paulo Roberto Falcao of Roma and Atletico Madrid’s Dirceu.
The likes of Julinho Botelho (Fiorentina), Evaristo de Macedo (Barcelona), Dino Sani, Mazzola (both AC Milan) and Canario (Real Madrid) had previously been excluded.
There would be no place for Reinaldo – the dynamic striker who could have been the ideal replacement of Careca, but he was ignored, perhaps, because of his undisciplined lifestyle.
The inclusion of Falcao changed the dynamism of the Brazilian midfield.
In an interview, Santana said, “As soon as he came in things changed drastically.”
“Playing for a Selecao became a lot more fun. He wanted us to play intuitively and not systematically. He urged the fullbacks to attack. He didn’t want central midfielders who only knew how to stop the opposition – he wanted ones who knew what to do with the ball. He gave us the freedom to try what we wanted. He always wanted us to put on a spectacular show.”
The captain of Santana’s team was Socrates – a chain-smoking and alcoholic medical professional, who decided to feature for Brazil instead of his medical profession because of the greatest show on earth.
Utterly unique – in appearance, personality and play – ‘Doctor’ was an immeasurably elegant playmaker. At almost 6ft 4ins, in a trademark headband, he would surgically slice open defences with his through-balls, hypnotize opponents with his feints, and is probably the greatest exponent of the back-heel in football history. He could hit the bulls-eye with his right boot too – from anywhere.
Before the World Cup in Spain, he gave up the bad habits to increase his stamina so that he could play full ninety minutes,
“If Socrates looked after himself like Zico, who doesn’t smoke, he would be the best player in Brazil,” Telê said. “For now, Sócrates makes up for his physical deficiencies with youth and an undeniable class. But time marches on and the way he smokes I don’t know if he’ll manage to keep that up by the time the World Cup comes around.”
Tele singled out Socrates but he was far from being the only footballer of the time to enjoy a puff – much less a drink. One in five of all Brazilian players admitted to smoking – the true number was undoubtedly much higher – and Junior, Luizinho, Serginho and Batista were just a few of those in the World Cup squad who also enjoyed a cigarette.
Almost all the players enjoyed a beer and Cerezo used to take a quick nip of cachaca after a shower because he thought it helped him avoid catching a cold.
Socrates took what was for him the traumatic decision to give up cigarettes at the start of 1982 after a long conversation with trainer Gilberto Tim.
A staunch nationalist like Socrates, Tim was the great motivator in the Brazil camp, and he told the captain that if he stopped smoking then he could take the world by storm.
After returning from his summer holidays eight kilos overweight, Tim, with the help of Corinthians trainer Helio Maffia, put him on a strict fitness regime designed to turn that fat into muscle. He quickly shed two kilos to stabilize his weight at 84 kilos, which was more appropriate for someone who stood six-foot-four.
The changes transformed him into a stronger and quicker footballer. When team doctors measured the players’ physical performance before the tournament began, Socrates did especially well given his history.
After five months of hard work in the gym and on the training ground, his chest, biceps, thighs and hamstrings all got bigger, while his waist stayed the same size.
Then there was Zico – the best of the best at that time. He was known as the White Pele and back in Flamengo, he was known as the Rooster. He could excel from anywhere in the field like Socrates.
A classic number 10, Zico usually played as an attacking midfielder, although he was also capable of playing in several other attacking and midfield positions, and was also deployed as a central midfielder, as a second striker or inside forward, or even as an outright forward.
A diminutive playmaker, with a small, slender physique, although he was naturally right-footed, he was essentially a two-footed player, who was known for his flair, speed, exceptional technique, ball control, and dribbling skills, as well as his use of tricks and feints to beat opponents with the ball.
And, he was a free-kick specialist – Zico’s unique free-kick technique, which saw him place significant importance on his standing foot, often saw him lean back and raise his knee at a very high angle when hitting the ball with his instep, thus enabling him to lift it high over the wall, before it dropped back down again; his method of striking the ball allowed him to score free kicks even from close range, within 20 to 16 metres from the goal, or even from just outside the penalty area.
“In my career I always tried to improve to become one of the great players, because I felt I had received a gift from God and I had to make good use of it, to become worthy of having received this talent,” said Zico to BBC in an interview.
“Maradona was up there, but Zico was sensational. You couldn’t even get near enough to foul him,” said Graeme Souness on the best player he ever faced.
The left-footed Eder was another monster when the matter was about taking long-range free-kicks.
He arrived at the World Cup known as ‘The Vespasiano Bomb’ and ‘The Cannon’, billed as the hardest-shooting player in the sport.
With Falcao, there was Toninho Cerezo in the midfield, who was a wonderful playmaker and formed a great partnership with the Roma star.
The Brazilian full-backs were Junior and Leandro.
Having someone who would have surely been one of the best No10s in history in the No6 shirt seemingly wasn’t cheating in 1982. Junior – battler, leader and ball-lord – was exceptional in Spain, while another man – Leandro – whose astronomical ability belied his position. Leandro and Junior formed arguably the finest fullback pairing in football history – in the rubro-negro of Flamengo and the canarinho of Brazil.
Oscar and Luizinho – two European-style centre-backs were chosen, while the selection of Waldir Perez as the goalkeeper was debatable.
Junior released a samba track, Povo Feliz (Happy People), which was better known as Voa, Canarinho (Fly, Canary-Yellows), shortly before the global finals with composers Memeco and Nono do Jacarezinho. It was a huge hit in Brazil and even in the stadiums, the music of the song could be heard.
Fantasy football in Spain
Brazil’s first test was against one of the giants from Eastern Europe – the USSR at Seville.
With 34 minutes gone against the USSR, a long-distance speculative shot by Andrei Bal went pathetically through Brazil goalkeeper Waldir Peres’s legs.
Brazil played Dirceu instead of Cerezo, who was serving a suspension.
Renat Desayev was like a wall while the Soviet defenders had stretched Brazil.
It required an individual moment of genius – stepped up Socrates.
In the 65th minute, Socrates escaped two markers and scored with a wondrous long-distance shot.
Cutting in from the left, twice Socrates dropped his shoulder, before letting a shot fly that rose into Dasayev’s top right-hand corner.
The excellent keeper managed to get his hand to Socrates’ strike, but it was simply too good, too powerful, and too accurate to keep out.
“We had to deal with the anxiety of being behind for most of the game,” Socrates recalled.
“We tried everything to get near the Russian goal. A sure defence and a magnificent goalkeeper looked like they would stop us from making our dream come true. And then the ball fell to me. There was a wall of red shirts ready to spill their own blood to stop me. I feinted to shoot and jinked to the right. A space opened up. I feinted again and an even bigger space appeared. I put everything I had into my shot. And the scream came: Goooallll. No, not a goal. An endless orgasm. It was unforgettable.”
With three minutes remaining, Falcao’s dummy through his legs saw Eder collect the ball at a pace just outside the box. Flicking the ball up with his left foot, Eder then volleyed a dipping shot past the unsighted Dasayev, a training ground goal scored in the cut and thrust of a World Cup match.
Next up it was Scotland, who halted Brazil in 1974 and stunned Holland in 1978.
The Scottish were a brilliant side and they left Brazil stunned when David Nery fired a devastating shot to take the lead.
Brazil maintained their composure and always threatened to score.
At the stroke of halftime, they were awarded a free-kick and Zico curled one over the Scotland wall to wake up Brazil.
Zico’s curling effort was so sharp that it clipped the post before going into a fabulous fashion!
Oscar made it 2-1 and then Eder produced a moment of magic.
Serginho passed the ball to Eder and he chipped over Alan Rough to make it 3-1.
Poor Alan Rough. There was very little the Scotland goalkeeper could do when beaten for a third time on the evening, apart from looking skywards and follow the ball in bewilderment as Eder’s delicious chip drifted into the net.
Then Falcao completed the coup by smashing the fourth after a delicate interplay between Cerezo and Socrates.
Then New Zealand were taken to the cleaners.
Zico scored twice and the first goal was jaw-dropping.
Leandro crossed the ball and Zico scripted a bicycle kick – well, that would be the best goal against any opposition.
Three wins out of three.
10 goals were scored and the Brazilian carnival travelled to Barcelona for the second-round clash.
Argentina gunned down
A noisy welcome waited for the Brazilians in Barcelona.
To get to the semifinals Brazil would have to see off Argentina and Italy. In 1980 Italian football was plunged head-first into controversy when a match-fixing scandal involving five top-flight teams was uncovered. Players were arrested in dressing rooms and investigations led to severe punishments. Among those banned was Paolo Rossi, then the most expensive player in the world. Initially suspended for three years, he had his suspension reduced to two on appeal.
That meant Rossi did not play a single game until two months before the World Cup and few people in Italy expected Enzo Bearzot to include the striker in his World Cup squad.
Bearzot did more than that: Rossi was named in the starting XI for the first game.
His impact, however, was negligible.
Italy drew all their group stage matches and neither of their two goals was scored by Rossi.
Their campaign had been pitiful and they only managed to edge past Cameroon for the second spot in Group One on goals scored. Lambasted by their media, the Italian players decided to stop talking to the press and the mood was not good by the time they came to prepare for their match against Argentina.
A 2-1 win suggested that Italy might have started to gain momentum.
The Brazilians, however, were understandably more worried about facing a wounded Argentina.
After the defeat by Italy, Diego Maradona and co would have to beat their neighbours to stay alive and that was enough to focus the minds of the Samba Boys.
Just before kick-off, Argentina’s midfielder Daniel Bertoni, who played for Fiorentina and had a cordial relationship with Falcão, whispered a warning to his fellow Italy-based South American: Mind your legs, mate!
Eder stood up to take a long-range free-kick.
Eder’s bending thunderbolt of a free-kick from about 35 yards was actually tipped on to the bar by Argentina keeper Fillol before Zico narrowly beat Serginho to the rebound.
It was one of the greatest free-kicks that didn’t go in.
A wonderful display during transition put Brazil under control and Eder passed the ball to Zico, who passed the ball in between the Argentine defenders to Falcao – he crossed and Serginho beat Fillol to make it 2-0.
A Zico pass split the Argentina defence for Junior to slot the ball through the goalkeeper’s legs; he celebrated the third goal with some samba steps for the crowd. Ramón Díaz pulled back a consolation for Argentina in the 89th minute.
Argentina’s World Cup ended in shame as Maradona was shown a red card for kicking Batista.
But that goal by Diaz was an alarming sign for Brazil to be careful about their next match against Italy.
“In the dressing room before the game against Italy, Tele mentioned the fact that a draw would be enough to see us through – but only to remind us not to relax,” Zico recalled.
“He would never tell us to hold back. Our commitment was always to go for the win. That was the true Brazilian way.”
“You play there. Is there anything you want to say about them?” Santana had waited until the end of his team talk to address Falcao.
“Some of the lads were teasing me and saying it must have been quite easy to earn a living in Serie A,” he remembered.
“But I did tell them Italy were a much better team than their results suggested.”
Falcao was anxious because he was a Serie A player and would be meeting the teammates of Roma and for which he could feel the pressure on him.
Rossi had yet to score and the Italian media were screaming for Bearzot to drop him.
The striker’s confidence had not been helped by Brazil’s momentum.
“They did not look from this planet,” Rossi would say.
“That Brazil side was the best I had seen. Those players could have worn blindfolds and they would still have known where each other were. As for me, I felt like I was still learning to play football again after the two-year suspension.”
Italy started to attack and pressurize the Brazilian backline.
They looked for an early breakthrough because if they strike first, the Brazilians would go for goals and that will leave their defence vulnerable.
The plan worked.
Bruno Conti dribbled through the Brazilian midfield and created space – passed the ball to the left flank where Antonio Cabrini received the ball in acres of space and crossed the ball to Rossi, who woke up from his nightmare.
Zico, chased relentlessly by the notorious defender Claudio Gentile, who was like a second shadow, would finish the first half with his shirt torn after it had been tugged so much by his marker.
But in a rare escape in the 12th minute, Zico provided Socrates with a perfect assist for the equalizer.
Socrates ran all the way after receiving the relay pass and put the ball through the legs of Dino Zoff.
A classic goal by a classic player.
The Italians, though, were rattling Brazil and disturbing the fluidity of movement in midfield that had been so crucial to the previous success. Under pressure from the swarming defence, Cerezo managed to mis-hit a pass in the 27th minute that worked as an assist for Rossi, who fired the ball past Waldir Peres to put Italy back into the lead.
The fact that Brazil could still rely on the draw was encouraging for those watching the game but the dressing room had a charged atmosphere at half-time. Frustration and anger were accompanied by Cerezo’s tears. The midfielder was so distraught and only calmed down after a long pep-talk by Socrates.
On 68 minutes, the momentum swung again.
A great sequence of moves by Zico and Cerezo pulled Italy’s defence out of shape and opened space for Falcao, who fired a thunderbolt past Dino Zoff to equalize.
His emotional celebration became almost as iconic as the powerful left-foot shot that looked to be sending Brazil to the semis.
Falcao ran towards the Brazilian bench to celebrate and almost choked on the gum he had been chewing.
“Some of the Italian players would later ask why I was scowling at them during the celebration, but I was just trying desperately to clear my throat,” he remembered with a smile.
With the scores level, it seemed that the Selecao would now settle down and play with an eye on securing the draw, but for six minutes they gave no impression of wanting to change tactics.
Santana replaced Serginho with Paulo Isidoro, which would in theory balance the defence a bit better, but Brazil still pressed for a winner, with the right-back Leandro playing almost as a centre-forward.
Italy’s creative midfielder Giancarlo Antognoni used the space created by Leandro pushing forward to win his team’s first corner of the game, in the 74th minute.
He took it and the poor clearance fell to Marco Tardelli. His shot was nothing special but still, made it to the Brazilian box, where Rossi had been left alone by a botched attempt to spring the offside trap; with time and space on his side, the striker made no mistake to secure his hat-trick, becoming only the second player ever to do so against the Selecao in a World Cup game.
In the dying moments, Dino Zoff produced an extraordinary save from the header of Oscar and that was it – Brazil, the favourites of everyone was out of the World Cup.
None could believe it.
Even the Italians were sad as well.
It was one of the best games in the history of the World Cup and deserves another separate piece to pen down in detail.
At the press conference, Santana was applauded when he arrived and when he departed. The manager did not offer any excuses and simply gave credit to Italy. In the desolation that had been the Brazilian dressing room, Santana had told the players they had to be proud: “The whole world was enchanted by you. Be aware of that.”
The fans also acknowledged it. They headed en masse to Rio de Janeiro’s international airport to welcome the team back home. Santana was particularly moved by the reception but, while he refused to publicly acknowledge his grief, especially when consoling some of his distraught players, inside the manager was heartbroken. So heartbroken that just a few weeks after returning from Spain he accepted an offer to work in Saudi Arabia.
“It was a self-imposed exile for my father who had been really shaken by that defeat,” explains Rene, his son.
Socrates was hit hard.
“We had a hell of a team and played with happiness. Then we came across the Italians. Rossi had three touches and scored a hat-trick. Football as we know it died that day,” he said.
“We lost that game but won a place in history,” wrote Falcao. “Of course all of us suffered a great deal with the defeat but I am also grateful that I was part of one the greatest games in the history of football and part of a team that is associated with great football. It was a privilege to play alongside those guys.”
Brazil had a fantastic team, recognized around the world, and everywhere we go people remind us about that team in 1982,” Zico told the Soccerex conference.
“If we had won that game, football would have been different. Instead, we started to create football based on getting the result at whatever cost, football based on breaking up the opposition’s move, and based on fouling the opposition.”
“That defeat for Brazil was not beneficial for world football.”
“If we had scored five goals that day, Italy would have scored six as they always found a way of capitalizing on our mistakes.”
Zico said Brazilian teams had become more interested in physical strength and doubted that he would be able to make it as a professional in the current game.
“Brazil is a fertile land for players but we have to change the mentality in the junior divisions of the clubs.”
“I’m sure that I went for a trial at a football club today, I would be rejected for being thin and small.”
“You don’t see Romario-type forwards in the youth divisions, (the centre forward) is always a big guy,” he said referring to the stocky striker who led their 1994 World Cup attack.
“That’s where the deterioration of Brazilian football begins. Clubs are worried about winning titles in the junior categories, rather than developing players.”
Many said that beautiful football in Brazil died after that. Many criticized by saying that a quality holding midfielder and lack of awareness about defence, but one thing can be said, Italy were the better side on that day.
During their five games, Brazil had scored 15 goals and seven different outfield players scored. But it wasn’t about the number of goals or the numerous sublime and artistic ways they found to put the ball in the net. It was about their philosophy and style of that side. Maybe unlucky, maybe a bit careless on the back, but when we talk about their style, such things become irrelevant.