After a painful eight-year wait from the Maracanazo a bold, beautiful Brazil reinvented football at the World Cup in Sweden 


A day before the final game at Maracana between Brazil and Uruguay in 1950, São Paulo’s Gazeta Esportiva newspaper proclaimed: “Tomorrow we will beat Uruguay!” Rio’s O Mundo printed a photo of the Brazilian squad accompanied by the caption: “These are the world champions”.

Such was the confidence of Brazilians throughout the country before that eventful day at Maracana where almost the whole of Brazil gathered to welcome their heroes even before the final whistle was blown. But they left the stadium shattered and devastated.

Slick-haired with a pencil-thin moustache over his lips, Alcides Ghiggia silenced the Maracana to script one of the greatest tragedies in the history of World Cup football – Maracanazo.

“There was complete silence. The crowd was frozen still. It was like they weren’t even breathing”, Ghiggia recalled. “They couldn’t even raise their voices to cheer on Brazil. That was when I realised they weren’t going to do it and that we’d won”.

The whole of Brazil was stunned. The atmosphere was dull and gloomy.

Vilified by their fans, many of the players from that glorious Brazil squad of 1950 decided to call it a day; others were never selected again. With the home strip, a white shirt with a blue-collar, now considered jinxed, Brazil then adopted its famous yellow and green uniform.

The Brazilians travelled to Switzerland to bury the ghost of 1950, but they failed to do so as Hungary would prove to be the better side in Bern.

Vincente Feola and his innovative moves

Brazil travelled to Sweden four years later.

Brazil’s coach was Vincente Feola, who was a supervisor, doctor, dentist, psychologist, administrator, scout, trainer and a tactical genius. The team doctor, Hilton Gosling, was also assigned the task of choosing the team hotel. He took into account numerous factors when selecting an appropriate base for the team, including its distance from the matchday stadiums, the quality of the local training facilities, and even the local climate.

Rumour has it that he also requested that the hotel’s female staff be replaced with men so that the players wouldn’t be distracted by too many non-football activities. However, the nearby nudist beach was probably enough of a distraction in that sense, and after just one day in Gothenburg, some players had already invested in a pair of binoculars.

Vincente Feola with Djalma Santos, Zito and Pele. Image Courtesy:

Perhaps the most innovative addition to a World Cup staff was the sports psychiatrist, João Carvalhaes. Having begun his career working with boxers and bus drivers, he swapped the ring and bus depot for the football pitch, treating local referees and São Paulo players before being called upon to travel with the Brazil squad to Sweden. Carvalhaes carried out tests which assessed the players’ mentality, which found Pelé lacking “the responsibility necessary for a team game.”

Feola decided to shun the old-fashioned W-M formation and 3-2-3-2 of 1950. He unleashed the 4-2-4 formation – an innovative move, which redefined Brazilian football.

The Brazilian squad in 1958. Image Courtesy:

According to Blizzard, “By the time Feola took the reins of the national team in 1958, the 4-2-4 had already overtaken the diagonal as the most widespread formation in Brazil.

One of the main obstacles to the acceptance of WM amongst Brazilian players was its man-marking system: the reality of two teams, invariably aligned 3-2-2-3 when facing each other, meant that marking duties became symmetrical and reciprocal but not reactive; the system was not equipped to counter unorthodox positional play. In that respect, it was different to the man-marking systems of the verrou and catenaccio, in which players were expected to mark certain opponents regardless of how those opponents were distributed or adjusted their collective movement on the pitch”.

Vincente Feola’s 4-24 formation. Image Courtesy: clicRBS

In that front four, the 17-year-old Pele played a slightly withdrawn role, which enabled him to combine effectively with forwards and midfielders, forming part of a central spine with Vava at the head, and captain Bellini at the base. Alongside Bellini was the excellent Orlando Peçanha, who had a reading of the game to compliment his defensive partner’s leadership and brawn. Garrincha’s club-mate, mentor, and fellow Botafogo legend Nílton Santos operated on the left of defence, while Djalma Santos did a similar job on the right.

Both fullbacks looked to support their wingers in the attack, but maintained a narrow position at times when in possession, allowing them to sweep up on either side of defensive midfielder Zito – mind you, the concept of a defensive midfielder was still in its early days and major teams were not much interested in engaging destroyers in midfield.

Zito and Pele. Image Courtesy:

Zito’s role would be known as the volante in Brazil – a phrase has its origins at Flamengo, where, as far back as 1941, they were employing Carlos Volante in a defensive midfield role alongside a slightly more attacking partner, in a variation of the WM formation.

Then there was Zagallo, who moved up and down the pitch whenever it was needed and played a big ole when the team did not have the ball at their feet – he would purely perform as a defensive player. His agility on the left-flank provided Brazil with many important moves. Especially, the equalizer against Sweden in the World Cup final.

Mario Zagallo. Image Courtesy: Pin Interest

Brazil were looking for defensive solidity going into this tournament and had abandoned the old WM formation in favour of something more flexible when it came to the transitions from attack to defence, and vice versa. Zagallo’s defensive duties were part of a wider plan which saw the early use of a back four, a midfield duo including a volante, and a deep-lying forward.

Djalma Santos, Gilma and Nilton Santos. Image Courtesy: Blog Por Simas

The scoring duties depended on Vava, who was known as the best striker of his generation – smart and technically gifted. He had the eye to spot the position of the ball like a hawk and had the habit of scoring goals whenever Brazil needed.

Vava used to play as an inside-left. Feola decided to change his role a bit so that his 4-2-4 formation becomes much more devastating. The entre forward Mazzola had been unsettled by transfer speculation. Bowing to pressure from his players, coach Vicente Feola switched Vava from his usual position at inside-left to the centre and brought in the 17-year-old Pele on the left flank.

Hawk-nosed, stocky, intelligent and brave, Vava was an excellent goal scorer. He rarely wasted chances, possessing both a ferocious shot and immense strength – his nickname was “peito de aco” or “chest of steel” – which allowed him to hold off defenders. He also had the knack of converting important opportunities – his role against the Soviet Union, France and Sweden only prove such.

Garrincha, who was written-off earlier in the tournament because of failing a psychological test, was like a bird on the right flank and since his debut against the Soviet Union, no defenders could handle his dribbling abilities which looked devastating due to sheer pace. Behind him, Djalma Santos would ensure him the freedom and on the left side, Nilton Santos would stay as a fort to allow Pele, Didi and Zagallo do their jobs according to the demand of the situation.

But it was Didi who would go on to win the trophy of the best player of the tournament as because, he proved to be the marshall on the field and orchestrated most of the attacks from that central midfield. His ability to take the ball from the opposition player and then provide silky smooth passes to his colleagues from testing positions aided the front four in the best possible way.

Nevertheless, Brazil’s goal was guarded by one of the best keepers of the late 50s, Gilmar, who was acrobatic and hardly had the habit of conceding easy goals.

Brazil bury the ghost of 1950

Brazil were placed in the group of death along with England, semi-finalists of 1954, Austria and the new powerhouse of world football, the Soviet Union. But Brazil advanced into the next round without defeat. In the game against the Soviet Union, football was enriched by the injection of Pele and Garrincha and in the quarterfinals against the tournament’s surprise package Wales, a young Pele made his mark, while Garrincha created an impact in the match against the Russians. Then Brazil blew away France in the semi-final with Pele scripting a hat-trick and in that eventful evening at Stockholm, Brazil overwhelmed the hosts to bury the ghosts of 1950 at Maracana.

Mulliken’s 1958 Sports Illustrated article, released after Brazil won the World Cup for the first time, repeated this condescending characterization, ”The artistic, dazzling Brazilians, who do not like a hard-tackling type of defence, which characterizes European soccer, were expected to be troubled by the vigour of the straight-shooting Swedes (Mulliken)”.

Bellini lifts the trophy after beating Sweden 5-2 in World Cup final 1958. Image Courtesy: Botafogo Star

As Bellini, the captain of the team lifted the trophy in Stockholm, the emotions ran high in Rio, Sao Paolo and the whole of Brazil. One journalist in Brazil described: “Here in Brazil, at the same time, every one of us wanted to sit on the curb and cry. Every grown man lost the shame to mourn his own happiness. Some would try to stay dry, parched like a tap from the Zona Sul. And, now, with the arrival of the immortal team, the tears fall anew. We admit that this scratch (a term of endearment for the Brazilian national team) deserves them.

An emotional Pele after the final. Image Courtesy: Fourfourtwo

They deserved everything: not just for soccer, which was the most beautiful mortal eyes have ever seen, but also for its marvellous discipline. Until this championship, the Brazilian was judged a boar – born and bred. He would hear English and envy it. He thought the Englishman the finest, the soberest type of man, with unspeakable politeness and ceremony [in this championship] the following became clear: the Englishman, as we conceived of him, does not exist. The only Englishman that appeared, in the World Cup, was the Brazilian. For these reasons, we will not be ashamed! We are going to sit on the curb and cry. Because it is a joy to be Brazilian, friends (Rodrigues 62)”!


Brazil had arrived in world football and since 1958, football would never be the same. The world would demand “Jogo Bonito” more and more while the Samba Boys would be everyone’s favourite team. Each and everyone wanted to sit back and enjoy Brazil for the whole day after the triumph of 1958.

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