The sand of the desert is sodden red
Red with the wreck of a square that broke
The Gatling’s jammed and the Colonel’s dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed his banks,
And England’s far and honour a name;
But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks:
‘Play up! Play up! And play the game!
Vitai Lmapada, Henry Newbolt
In the late nineteenth century Brazil was a major inroad to South America. Brazil was considered to be a country blessed with plenty of natural resources and opportunities. The British Raj set foot on Brazil and started to spread their culture and business in the land of music and joy.
In 1894, a British named Charles Miller, whose Brazilian mother of English descent, returned to Brazil. He would bring with him two round objects named football and Hampshire FA Rules in his suitcase FA to pass his time. His pass-time friends would attract the Brazilians surrounding him and in the coming days, Brazil would become the pioneers of the game of the people.
In 1884 Miller was sent to the Banister Court public school in Southampton, England where he learned to play football and cricket. Whilst at school, he played for and against both the Corinthians and St. Mary’s (now Southampton FC). He was recorded in the 1891 English Census whilst a boarder at Millbrook School.
Miller wished to plant the seed of football in Brazil even though someone like Graciliano Ramos thought, “Football will not catch on here. It is like borrowing clothes that do not fit. For a foreign custom to establish itself in another country it must be in harmony with the people’s way of life, and we already have the corn straw ball game”.
But Miller went on and was instrumental in setting up the football team of the São Paulo Athletic Club (SPAC) and the Liga Paulista, the first football league in Brazil.
Miller ensured football remains a matter of joy and harmony for Brazil.
He became the father of Brazil Football.
While the Selecao would pay rich tribute to the dream and efforts of their footballing father.
A tragedy to inspire a generation
Back in those days, Brazil were still lagging behind when football became a revolution in Latin America. Uruguay and Argentina were the top sides, who could challenge the might of European powers like Italy, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Austria, Russia, and England. In the twentieth century football became an obsession beyond Europe. It was not just a pass-time sport for North and South America, Asia, and Africa. Gradually it was becoming a professional sport and the Olympics included football to decide the best team in the world.
Watching the massive popularity of football Jules Rimet established FIFA and introduced the World Cup. Uruguay won the rights for staging the first-ever Greatest Show on Earth. Ultimately two best sides of the event – Uruguay and Argentina logged horns in the finals where Uruguay won.
Brazil were just an “also contested” side in Uruguay and four years later in Italy, there were the same until Leonidas arrived in France in 1938. Italy and Austria were the ultimate favourites, but riding on the skill and goal-scoring abilities of the charismatic Leonidas, Brazil would win the hearts in Paris and the whole of France.
The emergence of Leonidas inspired a whole new generation of Brazilian footballers who would take the world by storm when the World Cup returned after the war. Brazil would stage the show and the hype was extremely high throughout Brazil regarding their boys – Adermir, Zizinho, Jair, Baltazar, Chico, Maneca, Danilo, and co. Their 3-2-3-2 format mesmerized top oppositions like Spain and Sweden in the final round, while Uruguay struggled in the same.
On the final match of that round, Brazil faced Uruguay. Ultimately it was regarded as the World Cup Finals in the coming days.
Brazil needed only a draw to win the title, but Ghiggia of Uruguay would stab through the heart of each and every Brazilian.
The golden team would be forgotten once and for all.
Brazil football would never be the same again.
Back in Sao Paolo, a kid Edenson Arantes do Nascimento aka Pele was following the match on radio with his father. He watched his father cry after the match ended. He watched the sad face of Brazil.
He promised his father, he would win the World Cup for him.
Eight years later in Sweden, Pele would team up with people like Garrincha, Didi, Bellini, Mario Zagallo, Vava, Nilton Santos, Djalma Santos, and Zito to unleash the dominance of Brazil in world football.
Neither The Greatest Show on Earth was only about the presence of Magical Magayers, Italian Football, Scientific Football of USSR nor about the touch British or German; but the presence of Selecao became a must and their demand became huge throughout the world.
Until 1966, Brazil hardly lost a match.
But the tragedy in England 1966, made everyone thought an era had come to an end.
Brazil would regroup.
Saldanha leaves, Zagallo takes over
The 1964 Brazilian coup d’état was a series of events in Brazil from March 31 to April 1 that led to the overthrow of President João Goulart by members of the Brazilian Armed Forces. In the following years, Brazil experienced an enormous amount of political unrest throughout the country. The opposition faced tragic consequences, while their football took a bit of a setback.
Legendary figures like Garrincha, Bellini, Zito, and Djalma Santos passed their heydays and new blood was coming, who required proper grooming.
In this transition phase, Brazil Football think tank appointed Joao Saldanha as the manager to lead Brazil in the South American Qualifying for the World Cup 1970. It is alleged that the then President Joao Havelange appointed him in the hope that journalists would be less critical of the national team if one of their own was in charge.
Under him, Brazil played like a beast and remained unbeaten.
The Selecao were known as “Saldanha’s Beast”!
But Saldanha was a temperamental guy. For his arrogant and rough behaviour he was receiving harsh criticisms from media and football critics.
Saldanha was publicly criticized by Dorival Yustrich, the coach of Flamengo. Saldanha responded by confronting him while brandishing a revolver. Saldanha was said to have fallen out of favour because of his unwillingness to select players who were personal favourites of President Emílio Garrastazu Médici, in particular striker Dario.
It is reported that Saldanha, after being told that President Médici would be pleased to see Dario in the team, answered, “well, I also have some suggestions to give in the President’s ministry choices”.
He fell in a dispute with Havelange and then termed Pele as “myopic”.
The last straw came when the assistant manager resigned, saying that Saldanha was impossible to work with.
With the World Cup just 75 days away and Brazil being gifted the “Group of Death,” Saldanha was sacked.
Dino Sani, from the 1958 side, turned the job down. Otto Gloria, who had coached Portugal in 1966, was in the frame. But the position ended up going to Mario Zagallo, just 38, who had played on the left-wing in the World-Cup-winning sides of 1958 and 62.
Recollecting the memories of that eventful day Zagallo said to FIFA.com, “It was everything I wanted. It was around 4 o’clock in the afternoon. When I was with Botafogo, the CBF officials turned up at training and I was told by our physical trainer, ‘Go over to that car. You’re being called to lead the Selecao’. The squad was already at a training camp. They took me home, I grabbed some clothes and off we went. It was what I wanted the most in my life. It was funny because when [Joao] Saldanha took over the Selecao the previous year, I took over his radio show, and when he left the Selecao, I replaced him there”.
Zagallo starts working
After taking the charge, Zagallo ensured that his men would play with a certain amount of freedom, and each and every member would play as friends in a manner as if they are enjoying a game in the streets of Sao Paolo or Rio.
He brought some changes in the team of Saldanha.
Zagallo noticed he had five players in the side who played as the number 10 at the club level.
They were: Pele, Gerson, Rivellino, Tostao and Jairzinho.
Among the above-mentioned names, Saldanha did not play Rivellino in any of the qualifying matches.
Zagallo decided to fit all the number 10s in one unit.
While speaking to FIFA.com he said, “When I took over the Selecao, I had it in my head that’s what I was going to do. The changes I made were moving Piazza to play as a center-back, bringing Clodoaldo into the team and managing to field all those No10s: Rivellino, Tostao, Pele, Jairzinho and Gerson. They said it would be impossible, in such a short time, to make them all gel, but we won the World Cup”.
He would put Wilson Piazza at the back with the big Brito from midfield. At that time, Piazza would play the role of today’s ball-playing-defender – orchestrate attacks.
Zagallo had Carlos Alberto at the right-back position, who was extremely attack-minded, and thus he would put Everaldo on the left-back position. Everaldo was a very reserved left-back and hardly advanced forward like Nilton Santos or Roberto Carlos. Everaldo along with Brito and Piazza would give Carlos Alberto the freedom to bombard on the right.
At the center of the park, Clodoaldo was employed more as a ball-winning central midfielder rather than a destroyer like Zito or Dunga. He would be accompanied by Gerson on the left of central midfield.
Gerson was supposed to be the playing as an attacking midfielder on the left because of his golden left-foot, but his vision, accurate passing and pull the strings together from the midfield led Zagallao to give him the role which Didi played in 1958 and 1962 – A complete Regista!
Rivellino was played out of position on the left and inadvertently solved a defensive weakness down the left flank by sitting narrow and deep and only went wide once he had the ball.
This helped plug the gap between midfield and defence.
The left foot of Gerson might have art, but that of Rivellino had the power to destroy.
Again, his flip-flap dribble was a bonus for Brazil.
Jairzinho had been nicknamed ‘Furacao’ (meaning ‘Hurricane’) for a reason, his explosive pace, and acceleration.
He was almost like an out-and-out striker at times due to how far up the pitch he was.
Again at club level he was another creator but was more than capable of running at defenders and giving them all kinds of headaches.
Zagallo decided to play him the role which Garrincha played in 1958 and 1962 – a ferocious right-winger who would link-up with Carlos Alberto and devastate the opposition left-half.
Then, Zagallo would play Tostao as a false number 9, which created a lot of hype at the start of last decade. Many fans credit Pep Guardiola and Spain for this concept of false 9, but back in 1970, Zagallo exploited this concept with great success.
Tostao was a very intelligent footballer who had an eye for goal yet he sacrificed a bit of his game for the national side at times. He would drop deep in search of the ball and dropping off the defence to create space for his strike partner.
The nucleus of the team was Pele.
Zagallo gave him the best of freedom in Mexico.
In Mexico, Pele was not just about a goal-scoring striker or an inside-out-forward on the left like 1958, but he would be the leader of men.
He dropped deep, which surprised the opposition players and commentators, he would join the defence, he would command from the midfield and dictate play along with Gerson, he would carry on the right and left-wing with intelligent interchanging between him and Tostao, he would create plenty of opportunities for goals, he would assist and he would score goals.
In his last World Cup, Pele would conquer the world.
Brazil’s goalkeeper Felix was considered as a weak link, but with so many extraordinary players upfront, that weakness became irrelevant.
Brazil maintained the innovative 4-2-4 system, which helped them to win the tournament in 1958. They had to shift it to 4-3-3 in 1962 because Pele was injured, which forced Zagallo to join midfield.
Flavio Costa, then the Brazilian national coach, published an article in the newspaper O Cruzeiro in which he explained, with the aid of schematic diagrams, what he then called the ‘diagonal system’.
It was to be a precursor of the 4-2-4. Modern football, according to Costa, “has lost its improvisation”, and he made it his motto that a team should “defend well so that they can attack even better”.
A version of the French maxim “reculer pour mieux sauter” (take a step back if you want to jump better). Zeze Moreira, another respected figure in South America at that time, also proposed a system for covering the penalty area, whose aim was: “let in fewer goals, score more”.
It seemed that the Brazilian experts were influenced by the Hungarian style of play but the Brazilian plans were already being discussed as the Hungarians first really began their rise to fame with victory in the Olympic Games in Helsinki in the summer of 1952.
The 4-2-4 was a follower of the WM system, which is not used anywhere in the world today.
Anyhow, Zagallo put the players on a 4-2-4 system with the defenders lying flat at the back.
One central midfielder remaining static, while the other moving and the front four engaging in a marvelous interchange of play.
As the game progressed the formation was designed for some tactical flexibility. As seen below, one of the center-backs was allowed to freely carry the ball forward and join the midfield as a prototype ball-playing center-half.
This midfield would then link up with a center-forward (usually Pele) and a left-winger (Rivellino) who had dropped deep to build the attack and create space in the opposition backline.
This was in contrast to the right side of the forward line where a more advanced striker – Tostao – would act as the lead point of the attack while the right-winger Jairzinho – would cut in and attack the goal directly when he had the ball or a space to run into.
The 4-2-4 formation fitted well with the increased pace of the game and the general improvement in technical skills. On the other hand, it demanded a certain level of skill, mental and tactical maturity, and also proved to be capable of adaptation when needed.
The formation took various shapes according to the demand of the situation: 4-2-4 changed to 4-3-3 or 4-4-2.
The Mexican adventure
When Brazil arrived in Mexico, the mood was cheerful even though back home the expectations were very low. The controversies off the field and the fear of the army regime had minimized the hopes of winning the third title.
Rivellino said, “We honestly never imagined that. The truth is that when we left for Mexico, no-one thought we had a chance. We had a disappointing World Cup in 1966 and we had been drawn in a really strong group with the defending champions England, and Czechoslovakia and Romania, who were both seen as dark horses. Obviously, we had Pelé and some great players. But did we have a team? Nobody knew for certain what would happen”.
When the fans saw that defending champions England and two European Powerhouses – Czechoslovakia and Romania were pitted against the Selecao, the fans and critics gave up totally.
Brazil would play all their matches at Guadalajara and in their first encounter against the Czechs, Brazil would go behind.
But Rivellino would breach the Czech wall and equalize.
Then Pele and Jairzinho ensured that the Czechs are completely buried.
It was a start, which none expected.
Then arrived the most exciting match for which each and every fan had been waiting since the World Cup draw – England vs Brazil.
In a sultry afternoon, Brazil and England scripted a classic, which would become a matter of analysis for the coaches in years to come.
Brazil won by 1-0 and the confidence of the team grew.
According to Rivellino, “The first match against Czechoslovakia was very important. It calmed us down. That’s why I say that one of the most important goals of my career was the first against them. They went ahead very early, and I equalized. Before we knew it, we were winning 4-1. It gave us lots of confidence. Then came the match against England. It was an epic match and it could easily have gone either way. It was the most difficult game of the finals for us. They had a great team. What was great about our team was that we improved game by game. In the end, I believe that we could have even beaten an all-star team from the World Cup. It was a terrific tournament”.
Zagallo said to FIFA.com, “The game was really difficult, the most difficult one. But I was talking to Tostao and he thinks the toughest game was against Uruguay. Uruguay went 1-0 up and I was thinking about bringing on Paulo Cesar Caju and moving Rivellino into central midfield. But I got lucky because the player I was going to take off was Clodoaldo and he equalized in the 45th minute – just in time! I went mad that day at half-time. I went mad at the whole team. I told them they did not have to do anything different from what they knew how to, but that they weren’t doing that against Uruguay”.
After a close encounter against Romania, Brazil overcame the threats of Peru and Uruguay.
11-second is the time between Jairzinho winning possession 73 meters from goal and netting from inside the opposition area in the 3-1 win over Uruguay in the semifinals.
The stage was set for the grand final at Azteca.
The majority of the people present at the stadium were supporting Brazil and the Samba Boys never felt that they were playing away from home.
They were chanting “Brazil! Brazil” so loudly that even the Soviet Astronauts could listen to it from the moon.
Italy along with England, Czechoslovakia, Germany, and Uruguay had the best defence in Mexico.
But after crushing the Czechs and Uruguay, Brazil were confident against the tough defenders of Italy.
In the 17th minute who else but Pele gave Brazil the opening with a header.
He said in an interview with FIFA.com, “We used to work on that one in training. Not the whole move, obviously, but definitely the positioning. We had a throw-in and we knew that, instead of drifting towards the ball like most players, we should pull off to the far side and wait. When the move went down the left flank, I waited a little further back on the right. Rivellino and I combined for that one. In the end, it happened by chance, but we’d worked on it a fair bit”.
A mistake by Clodolado would give Bonensegna the opportunity to equalize.
But a powerful shot from Gerson would bring Brazil back into the game.
Pele assisted Jairzinho to make it 3-1.
Jairzinho would become the first player ever in the history of the World Cup to score in every match.
Then came the most iconic goal!
With four minutes left, Carlos Alberto would score the fourth.
In an interview to FourFourTwo he described the iconic goal this way:
“I noticed there could be a chance seconds after we stopped Italy and started that counter; Zagallo had told us that Italy would leave their left flank open if Jairzinho, Tostao, and Pele moved to our left all at once.”
“When Clodoaldo dribbled through four Italians I started moving slowly forward. When Rivelino passed to Jairzinho it was very clear that the three brought their markers to the left. It was the only time [it happened] in the whole 90 minutes”.
“When Jairzinho had the ball on the left edge of the box, I ran as far as I could. I knew Pele would come into action. In a different moment, he could have used Tostao, just next to him, but he also knew the right flank would be free.”
“It was only that good because the ball bounced on the pitch before I hit it and the stride was perfect. I think of that moment every day.”
It is important to note that, 4 players in four seconds is what Clodoaldo danced past en route to Carlos Alberto’s iconic goal in the Final. He employed rapid footwork, hip–shakes, and shimmies to deceive Gianni Rivera, Angelo Domenghini, Giancarlo De Sisti, and Antonio Juliano – within a seemingly non-existent space. All but two of Brazil’s outfield players – Everaldo and Wilson Piazza – were involved in the move, which culminated in O Capitão galloping down the right and lashing Pele’s pass into the bottom corner.
Brazil had won the World Cup for the third time and they would keep the Jules Rimet Trophy forever. Pele would be the best player in the World Cup.
The crowd went crazy as soon as the final whistle was blown.
They were stripping the shirts of Brazil players and keep it as a memory.
It led to a stampede-like situation where Rivellino suffered hypoxia and needed medical attention.
No one ever witnessed such craze about a team, which mixed method with art, technique with joy, and music with every move they made.
This was a team that prayed together throughout the course of the tournament.
They prayed so that no one gets injured.
God had listened to them and helped them to unleash their very best and became a part of football’s folklore.
For Pele, that afternoon at Azteca proved that they were greater than the considerable sum of their individual abilities.
Some of their best goals in that tournament were proper team-goals, where a teammate selflessly set up for another, like the goal Jairzinho scored versus England when Tostao could have taken a shot at goal from his position but chose instead to pass.
19-goal was what Brazil scored in Mexico – the second-highest total by a World Cup winner after West Germany in 1954 (25 goals). With four goals and six assists, Pele was involved in over half of them. No player has since managed as many assists in one edition of the tournament – Robert Gadocha, Pierre Littbarski, Diego Maradona, Thomas Hassler registered five.
When Carlos Alberto lifted the World Cup, the thought in the minds of many that Brazil was needed to lose badly in 1966 to bounce back in this fashion.
The Brazil team of 1970 is the best in the history of football.
Charles Miller would have been a proud man on that afternoon at Azteca!