Tragedy at Turin
In the 80th minute of a torrid match that witnessed the Argentinean defence withstand a barrage of Brazil attacks, Maradona found himself with the ball at his feet just inside his own half.
Being surrounded by four Brazilian players didn’t seem to faze him as he carried the ball forward; shrugging off a robust attempt to dispossess him from behind, but with the second quartet of yellow shirts stationed between him and the penalty area there seemed to be no immediate threat.
With one of the four remaining defenders now closing in to try and muscle Maradona off the ball and the attention of the other three fixed intently upon him, nobody seemed to notice Claudio Caniggia charging between them and into space beyond.
With his last touch as he finally loses his balance, Maradona manages to slot the ball perfectly through the legs of one defender, catching him so completely off-guard that he actually runs straight into one of his team-mates.
As the bamboozled eyes of the Brazil defenders follow the ball they are horrified to see an unmarked Caniggia running onto it with just the goalkeeper Taffarel to beat.
As Taffarel stepped out, a deft sweep of the leg keeps the ball just beyond his reach as Caniggia rounds him and calmly dinked the ball into the net.
That was it!
Argentina were through to the quarterfinals by surviving the threat of the hot favourites of the event – Brazil.
Even though the treachery of Maradona – The Holy Water Scandal – rocked world football later on, but that result in Turin could not be overturned.
Yet again, tears were shed by the Brazil fans.
The fans exhibited angry reactions.
Back home, the manager, Sebastiao Lazaroni was given a harsh welcome.
Lazaroni is well known in Brazil as the manager who tried to introduce the libero position in Brazilian football. He used the 3–5–2 scheme during the 1990 FIFA World Cup, but it was a failure!
When he was the Brazil national team head coach, in 35 matches, he won 21, drew seven, and lost seven.
He would become the forgotten man, who broke the jinx of an international trophy after 19 years just a year ago by winning the Copa America at home.
The prophets of doom and gloom would engulf Brazil football for the next few years!
Falcao appointed as the new coach
Lazaroni was sacked and former Brazilian legend Paolo Roberto Falcao was given the task to regroup the Men in the Yellow Shirt. The Brazilian public was much opposed to Lazaroni’s ‘Europeanization’ of Brazilian Football and clamored for Falcao for a return to ‘Joga Bonito’. This must have been assumed due to his association with Tele Santana’s 1982 side.
Falcao was relatively young for a Manager (almost 37 years old) and had absolutely no coaching experience.
The Brazilian Football Federation appeared to be borrowing a page from the new World Cup Champions West Germany.
They had just won the World Cup with former star Franz Beckenbauer (who also had no coaching experience prior to taking over).
The Brazil Management were hoping for something similar by appointing a talented star of their own, hoping he could rework the same magic on the bench.
Falcao accepted the challenge after seeing so many polls favorable to his appointment.
He signed a contract valid until February 1992. This date was the end of the mandate of the current CBF President Ricardo Teixeira – son-in-law of FIFA President Joao Havelange.
There had been a specter of negativity around the National Team not only due to the early exit but because of the alleged indiscipline and drama off the field between the players and the Federation during the World Cup.
The foreign-based players were designated as scapegoats for Brazil’s failure in the World Cup.
As a result, Falcao’s hands were tied upon taking over as the Management decided to ban the foreign-based players as punishment.
Teixeira stated, “Falcao will lead a long-term rebuilding project and his team will be made up of players who play their football in this country, here in Brazil.”
Falcao reassured that this was temporary by stating, ”This does not mean we will not pick foreign-based players for future competitions. We are trying to create something new, trying to motivate the talented players we have here but haven’t had the chance to make the breakthrough to international Football… What’s most important is not changing the coach but changing the mentality”.
The ban meant no place for the likes of Romario, Careca, Muller, Dunga, Ricardo Gomes, Taffarel, Branco, and Alemao, who was blacklisted after making critical comments about the Management to a Sao Paulo newspaper.
The Brazil of Falcao – a dark period
Falcao’s new-look Brazil was to be built around the players from local clubs. He made Neto the captain and plenty of new players were seen. His first test was against Spain, where Brazil lost badly – a 3-0 drubbing was hard to digest.
The next clash was against Chile – This was part of a two-match series between the Nations with the second match scheduled the following month on Brazilian soil. The goal for these matches was not only to serve as preparation but also for reasons of Football Diplomacy to ‘Normalize Relations’. These two matches were intended to heal the wounds between the two respective teams following the ‘Firecracker’ incident in a World Cup qualifier, the previous year that had led to Chile’s ban for the next World Cup.
Both at home and away Brazil ended up with a goalless affair.
Even in the fiftieth birthday anniversary of the great Pele, Brazil lost against the World XI.
Brazil ended 1990 with another goalless affair against Mexico.
In his first five matches, Falcao remained unimpressive and those who shouted in support of him started to doubt his abilities as the coach.
In 1991 Falcao decided to call up the players playing in Europe.
Romario and Aldair were not given permission from their respective clubs.
He realized, football has changed over the years, and dreaming of scripting another Tele Santana like Brazil would not fetch results, rather, it would be better to utilize players, who would win matches and are well-equipped to gel well with the modern football.
Brazil failed to win against the international friendly against Paraguay. Then Brazil traveled to Buenos Aires, where they clashed in an ill-tempered encounter against the arch-rivals Argentina, which ended in a 3-3 draw.
Falcao tasted victory against a weak Romanian side and it was a hard-fought one and against another weaker side Bulgaria, Brazil bagged a 3-0 win. Then at Curitiba, Brazil faced Argentina, which ended in a 1-1 draw.
The Copa America came up and just days before the start of the Tournament, Bebeto walked out of the team in anger since Falcao would not guarantee him a starting position in the Team. Bebeto also accused Falcao of treating him like a newcomer instead of an established player that he was.
Brazil were in Group B along with Colombia, Ecuador, Uruguay, and Bolivia.
They won against Bolivia and Ecuador; drew against Uruguay and lost against Colombia, who were at the height of their powers during that time.
Brazil started the Final Round against Argentina at Santiago in a violent match that would result in five sending offs. Many felt tensions had been carried over from the previous friendly a year back. A strong Argentina unit defeated Brazil by 3-2. They did beat Colombia and hosts Chile, but fell short to Argentina by one point.
Falcao was heavily criticized for his tactics. Rather than bringing back the fluid football, he relied on negative tactics, which were not welcomed back home and abroad. Lack of availability of the foreign players and reliance on home-grown players, who were never up to the mark like the 70s and 80s, essayed a dark period in Brazil football.
He was sacked on August 21, 1991.
Carlos Alberto Parreira arrives
In 1967, a 23-year-old Parreira was a student of physical education in Rio de Janeiro, and he was amongst the top students at the university.
At the same time, Ghana found itself looking for a new manager. As part of their search, they contacted the Brazilian foreign ministry to see if they had any exciting young coaches to take up the role. Their search led them to Rio’s State University – the only in Brazil which taught physical education – and the institution recommended Parreira.
He quickly accepted the offer to become Ghana’s new manager and wasted little time in showcasing the kind of techniques which would make him famous further down the line. He soon formed bonds with the players, who responded well to his academic approach to management.
However, his time with Ghana did not last long, as he left to move to Hanover to further his coaching studies. Yet again, he excelled, and it was not long before he was offered the chance to become a fitness coach for Brazil’s 1970 World Cup run.
As part of the backroom staff for perhaps the finest international side of all time, Parreira’s desire to become a manager soon became clear.
He spent a few years at the helm of favourite side Fluminense, before an opportunity to return to international management appeared.
He accepted the offer from Kuwait in 1978. At the time, Kuwait hardly even had a team, but Parreira saw it as the perfect chance to build something special.
He drastically changed the organization, arranging plenty of matches, and implementing his tactical and strategic methods to galvanize the unit. His players became fitter and better, and they stunned the world by qualifying for the 1982 World Cup, which remains their only involvement to this day.
Not only did they turn up, but they showed everyone what they were about. They finished bottom of their group, but managed a stunning 1-1 draw with Czechoslovakia in their opening fixture. A narrow defeat to England and a comprehensive loss against France followed, but Kuwait, and Parreira, had left their mark on the world.
Then he accepted the offer from UAE, but the outcome was not satisfactory in Italia 90 like Kuwait.
The Brazilian hierarchy was searching for another manager, who could bring back the stability within the team and make them look better than the previous regime of Falcao.
CBF tracked Parreira and found his boldness and innovative idea productive.
He was appointed as the coach of a side, which he always dreamed of coaching,
But as a part of his tactical upheaval, Parreira opted to drop legendary striker Romario, which drew the fury of fans across the country.
In 1992, Romario came to Brazil from Holland to feature in an international friendly. But Parreira decided not to include him.
The World Cup qualifiers for USA 94 took off.
Brazil were drawn in a Group along with Uruguay, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela.
In the first match against Ecuador, it was a goalless draw.
Parreira must have been pleased with an away point as the standards across the continent had improved and ‘easy’ matches were rare.
Brazil made their perilous journey to the high altitude of La Paz to face Bolivia.
Spanish Manager Xabier Azkargorta had instilled a sense of confidence in the Bolivians who were ambitious to qualify. A week earlier, they had trounced Venezuela (7-1) in an away match. Bolivia’s main star was Marco Antonio Etcheverry, who was earning praise across the continent rare for a Bolivian footballer.
After the disappointing draw against Ecuador, the Press had criticized Parrerira on his tactics and choice of players.
He modified his team, but Brazil would experience a shocking 2-0 defeat, that left the press and fans stunned and furious.
Media and fans demanded the sacking of Parreira immediately.
Amid the blame game and hostility, Brazil secured a 5-1 victory against Venezuela.
Careca partnered Bebeto upfront, but the crowd chanted Romario each and every time he touched the ball.
But troubles did not seem to leave Brazil.
Back-up goalkeeper Zetti, along with the Bolivian Miguel Rimba were temporarily suspended after drug tests revealed traces of cocaine. Both players insisted upon their innocence and said that they had been drinking tea with coca leaves – a remedy for altitude sickness.
Zetti was highly regarded as a keeper and his loss was not taken easily.
Their next encounter was against Uruguay in an away match, where they returned with a hard-fought 1-1 draw.
Brazil hosted Ecuador and Bolivia and won convincingly. Then Venezuela were thrashed again.
But the points table became complex because teams like Uruguay and Bolivia had been good and as it stood out, in the last group match against Uruguay at Marcana would turn out to be a do or die clash for the Selecao.
A victory would ensure a sure-entry in the World Cups whereas a defeat would mean, for the first time in the history of the World Cup, Brazil would not feature in the greatest show on earth.
Romario becomes the king of Maracana
Parreira decided it was time to mend fences with Romario and re-integrate him into the National Team.
For this vital qualifier, Brazil would present its strongest squad with all its key elements including Dunga back from suspension and Romario upfront with Bebeto. At the back, Ricardo Gomes paired with Ricardo Rocha. Branco and Jorginho were the full-backs. Mauro Silva would pair with Dunga in the deep midfield, whereas Rai would join Zinho in the attacking midfield option. Taffarel was the shot-stopper.
Clearly, at that time, Romario was rated among the best players in the world alongside Roberto Baggio, Lothar Matthaus, Hristo Stoichkov, Gheorghe Hagi, Dennis Bergkamp, Jurgen Klinsmann, Tomas Brolin, Carlos Valdrrama and Gabriel Batistuta.
After spending a successful stint with PSV, he joined the dream team Johan Cruyff in Camp Nou. Along with Hristo Stoichkov, Pep Guardiola, Ronald Koeman, and others, Romario set the stage on fire with the skills of his quick little feet and brilliant goal-scoring abilities.
People in Brazil watched his brilliance on television and the demands to include the five-feet-and-six-inches pocket-sized dynamo in the side gathered momentum.
They staged protests outside the head office of CBF and wrote “Bexinha” on the walls of the streets.
Still, Parreira was adamant not to include him, but an injury to Muller, who had been partnering Bebeto up front, got injured and the Brazilian coach had no options, but include Romario in the side.
In front of a vociferous crowd, Romario was welcomed with cheers.
Brazil were in an attacking mood and poured down attacks after attack at the Uruguayan goal. But the desired goal was not coming with the game becoming 70 minutes old.
In the 72nd-minute Bebeto crossed the ball from the right and Romario headed to give Brazil the lead and then 10 minutes later, Romario was in a one-to-one position against the Uruguayan goalkeeper, but with a Samba-style body movement, he outsmarted the goalkeeper and scored the second.
Brazil would win the match and top the group.
Romario was the hero of the night and it seemed the heavens showered flowers upon him.
Brazil would not only feature in the World Cup in USA but went on to win the tournament after 24 years and it had a positive impact on Brazil Football for a brief period.