It took just three minutes in Gothenburg, Sweden, for the history of football to be rewritten and a golden era for Brazil to begin, thanks to Garrincha 


During the World Cup 1958, Group 4 was dubbed as one of the toughest. Brazil were placed with the Soviet Union – Olympic champions – bronze medal winners of World Cup 1954, Austria, and England, who despite being weakened by the Munich air disaster, were still considered a formidable unit.

The Samba Boys started off the journey with a bang by thrashing Austria 3-0, but in the second match, a 0-0 draw against England meant it was the first time in World Cup history that a game ended scoreless. The next match against the Soviet Union was a do or die for Brazil as England’s 2-2 draw against Austria meant that the winner of the match would qualify directly for the quarter-finals and the losers had to endure the hurdle of a play-off. Although the sums said Brazil needed only a draw, the Samba Boys did not wish to play for that result.

The Brazilian coach Vincent Feola decided to make some changes to the team keeping in mind the ‘scientific football’ of the Soviet Union. The opposition had enormous physical abilities, capable of running 180 minutes without getting tired. To disturb their rhythm, some extraordinary talent was required – unleashing players who would beat their physicality by means of pace and dribbling.

Feola included two unknown players named Pele and Garrincha, the talents of whom caught the attention of the manager. It was a risky decision, but in case of extraordinary talents, you cannot wait too long.

Just before the game had started, Feola told Didi: “Don’t forget, the first ball goes to Garrincha.”

The Russians kicked-off but Brazil won possession quickly and Didi passed the ball to Garrincha, who weaved magic in Ullevi, Gothenburg within three minutes.

Ney Bianchi, the reporter of Manchete Esportiva, described Garrincha’s three minutes in his match report more accurately than ever.

“Monsieur Guigue, a gendarme in his spare time, blows his whistle to start the match. Didi quickly pushes the ball out to the right; 15 seconds of the game gone.

Garrincha takes the ball with his instep: 20 seconds. Kuznetzov goes towards him. Garrincha feints left, but goes right. Kuznetzov falls to the ground to become the first João of the World Cup: 25 seconds.

Garrincha takes the ball round Kuznetzov again: 27 seconds. And again: 30 seconds. And once more. The fans are on their feet. A startled Kuznetzov is on the ground: 32 seconds.

Garrincha advances. Kuznetzov goes after him once more, this time supported by Voinov and Krijveski: 34 seconds. Garrincha pulls the ball this way, then that, and sets off with it down the right. The three Russians are scattered on the ground, Voinov with his backside in the air. The stadium bursts with laughter: 38 seconds.

Garrincha fires in a powerful shot from a tight angle. The ball rockets off Yashin’s left-hand post and goes out for a goal-kick: 40 seconds. The fans go mad. Garrincha returns to the middle of the park, as ungainly as ever. He is applauded.

A tense Lev Yashin looks at Garrincha’s shot. Image Courtesy: Pin Interest

The fans are on their feet again. Garrincha moves forward with the ball. João Kuznetzov takes another tumble. Didi asks for the ball. He sends a curved pass over Igor Netto and the ball falls at Pelé’s feet. Pelé gives it to Vavá. Vavá to Didi, to Garrincha, back to Pelé, Pele shoots, the ball hits the bar and goes over.

The pace is mind-boggling. As is Garrincha’s rhythm. Yashin’s shirt is soaked in sweat as if he’s already been on the field for hours. The wave of attacks continues.  Time after time Garrincha decimates the Russians. There is hysteria in the stadium. And an explosion when Vavá scores after exactly three minutes”.

Brazil took an early lead. In just three minutes, the ‘scientific football’ of the Soviet Union fell apart.

According to Castro, “And there were still 87 minutes to go. Had it gone on that way for the rest of the game the Soviets would have been looking at a season in Siberia. Their proud “scientific” football had never before been so demoralised, and by the most improbable source: a poor Brazilian peasant — dark-skinned, small as a bird, cock-eyed and with ridiculously crooked legs. Garrincha was a perfect example of anti-science; he was anti-Sputnik, anti-electronic brain, Kessarev, Krijveski, Voinov, Tsarev and especially Kuznetzov were all taken to the cleaners by the little man at some point during the game, either one at a time or in pairs or threes or sometimes even one after another.

At the start of the game, after those ferocious opening three minutes, the Soviets still thought their problem was with marking, and they began to fight among themselves. But if they did tighten up it wasn’t noticeable because Garrincha continued to run rings round them. Then the Soviets resorted to trying to bring him down, largely unsuccessfully. In one memorable incident, after leaving a defender on the ground Garrincha put his foot on the ball and with his back to the player offered his hand to help him up. He lifted, the player up and then started running again as it were the most natural thing in the world”.

Those three minutes had been described by the reputed French journalist Gabrile Honnot as the greatest three minutes in the history of world football. The Brazilian author Nelson Rodrigues supported Honnot’s judge and came up with this paragraph:

“Believe me, friends: the game Brazil v Russia was decided after just three minutes. I repeat: in the first three minutes of the battle, Garrincha, defeated colossal Russia with Siberia and everything else. And note: Brazil needed only a draw. But Garrincha does not believe in a draw. He launched himself into the opponent’s half like a bullet from a gun. He dribbled one, dribbled another, and in his fantastic penetration, he dribbled up to the beard of Rasputin.

Friends: the disintegration of the Russian defence began exactly the first time Garrincha touched the ball. I imagine the immense astonishment of the Russians before this bowlegged boy, coming to subvert all conceptions of European football. How to mark the unmarkable? How to feel impalpable? In his impotent indignation, his opponent looked at Garrincha, the bandy legs of Garrincha, and concluded: “It does not exist.”


Vava would score once again and Brazil went on to win the match by 2-0 and it all happened due to those magical three minutes scripted by Garrincha. Those three minutes changed Brazilian football forever!

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