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While Pele became the greatest footballer in Brazil’s storied history, one man inspired him to become a legend – Zizinho, and this is his tale 

Zizinho might not have been better than Pele, but he wasn’t worse.

Brazil coach at the 1950 FIFA World Cup, Flavio Costa

Whenever the word Brazil is uttered, the first thing comes to mind is football, secondly their fans, who trigger a carnival atmosphere wherever the Samba Boys go to play and finally, the golden sons of Brazilian soil, who have worn the yellow shirt with utmost pride over the last hundred years or so to create an impact on world football, which other teams can only dream of.

Pele, Garrincha, Didi, Vava, Jairzinho, Carlos Alberto, Tostao, Rivelino, Zico, Socrates, Falcao, Romario, Bebeto, Cafu, Roberto Carlos, Rivaldo, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Kaka etc. etc…..the list of legendary Brazilian footballers is too lengthy to fit here. The land washed by the Amazon river and blessed with an eye-refreshing greeneries has not produced just one Diego Maradona or Lionel Messi, but the number of shining stars is so many that many other stars have gotten overshadowed.

One of them is Thomaz Soares da Silva, more popularly known as Zizinho. Before the arrival of Pele and Garrincha and after Leonidas da Silva, Zizinho was the ultimate hero for the Canarinhos.

The young talent

In 1939 during a training match at Rio, the legendary Leonidas was replaced by a teenager named Zizinho in the tenth minute. He scored twice and was signed up. In the 1940s, he was Rio’s main attraction and helped the club win the Rio Championships in 1942, 1943 and 1944. Zizinho caught the imagination of common Brazilians who dreamed of ruling the roost, but the Second World War broke out in 1939 and lasted until 1945, which only denied the rest of the world the enjoyment of the dazzling skills and all-round abilities of this diamond.

A young Zizinho with Leonidas. Image Courtesy: Ativa FM

After the war, FIFA selected Brazil as the hosts for the 1950 World Cup. At that time, Zizinho was more experienced and at the height of his powers. Brazil’s hopes of making the tournament all their own, rested upon Zizinho. He would be aided by the likes of Edemir, Jair, Baltazar, Julinho and others – all fast, acrobatic and happy-style footballers.

The shining star of World Cup 1950

Brazil started off the tournament in a rollicking fashion. They gunned down Mexico by 4-0, but drew in a rather controversial match against Switzerland. In the all-important last group game against Yugoslavia, Zizinho unleashed his magic. He had not only marshalled the midfield and created opportunities but stepped up to score goals as well. Brazil beat the strong Yugoslavian side by 2-0 and topped the group to advance into the final round. Mind you, only one team could go forward, where four top teams from each group would play each other in a round-robin league format and the top side would be presented the Jules Rimet Trophy.

Zizinho in action during World Cup 1950. Image Courtesy: Pin Interest

In the final round, Brazil were simply unstoppable. Zizinho wandered around the field like a flying Canarinho. The 3-2-3-2 formation suited Zizinho’s style of play enormously. In the first game against Sweden, Brazil crushed Sweden by 7-1 with Ademir scoring four goals. Most of the assists came from Zizinho and he was the centre of attention in the next game against Spain where the Samba Boys won 6-1. Zizinho popped up in the 67th minute, while Ademir, Jair and Chico were also among the scorers.

Heartbreak at Maracana

Brazil and Zizinho were invincible. Critics thought hardly anyone could stop the Brazilian juggernaut. But Uruguay had other plans. In the last game, Brazil needed only a draw to have their hands at the Jules Rimet trophy. In front of a world record attendance (199,854)  at Estádio do Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro, Ghiggia dashed the dreams of millions of Brazilians. Some Heartbroken fans either committed suicide or suffered a fatal heart attack. Uruguay lifted the trophy at Maracana.

Danilo Alvim in tears after the tragic defeat at Maracana against Uruguay, 1950. Image Courtesy: v-brazil.com

Zizinho left the stadium in tears.

He was devastated like the fans. He was a lost soul.

An inspiration for many

Somewhere in Sao Paolo, a middle-aged man was in tears in front of the radio. His nine-year-old son, Edson Arantes do Nascimento aka Pele promised his father, one day he would bring the cup back to Brazil. The nine-year-old was inspired by Zizinho to become a professional footballer and eight years later, he kept his word. Pele was inspired by Maracanzo and Zizinho.

According to Pele, “I idolised Zizinho more than any other player. His passing, shooting and positioning were frighteningly good. He did everything so well and he was the complete player. He could play in midfield or up front and he could defend well too. He was a brilliant header of the ball and there weren’t many who could dribble like him either. He was a born creator. And on top of all that, he wasn’t scared to play dirty. He could be tough when he needed to.”

Zizinho with young Pele. Image Courtesy: UOL

According to FIFA.com, “In writing their glowing testimonies, Zizinho’s admirers would often resort to poetry in expressing their wonder at his repertoire of skills, as if he were an artist rather than a sportsman. Sadly for the modern-day football fan, there is no surviving footage of the man in action. All we have to remember him by are these glowing accounts”.

By reading the above lines you can understand how great a footballer he was. He was just an institution of his own and created a legacy which was further carried on by the likes of Pele and Garrincha. “It’s a shame, and he’ll perhaps always be remembered as the greatest Brazilian never to have won the World Cup,” said O Rei. “Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t around when television and videotape arrived. If he had, people would remember him a lot more than they do,” he added.

The forgotten legend

And, unfortunately, he did not win the World Cup and was part of a team, which had to bear the tags of tragic heroes still today. The Brazilians worship the World Cup winners more than those who did not lift the trophy. And they are not ready to remember the boys of Maracanzo. Had Brazil not won the World Cup in 1958 in Sweden, perhaps, the legend of Zizinho might have stayed for a while.

Zizinho. Image Courtesy: Fox Sports Brazil

Fortunately, Zizinho was not fully blamed for the tragedy at Maracana but the goalkeeper Barbosa, and the left-back and left-half received the wrath of the public more. For a long time, he would disconnect his phone on July 16, the anniversary of Maracanazo. “Otherwise, it rings all day”, he would say, “from people all over Brazil, asking why we lost the World Cup”.

A legendary footballer and the strongest personality of that Brazilian side of 1950 had to spend his life with the scar of Maracanazo in his heart. The bruise never healed. Brazil’s dawn broke in the late 50s, and with the passage of time, people forgot Zizinho.

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