“Parreira had to win the World Cup, so he formed the team the way he wanted. It’s not necessarily the one the fans or me liked, but it did the trick”



The lean patch

Diego Armando Maradona produced one moment of individual genius during the Round of 16encounter against arch-rivals Brazil at Turin sent a ball through the legs of the puzzled Brazilian defenders towards Claudio Caniggia and he just put the Guillotine straight through the heart of Selecao, the whole nation and their billions of fans around the world. Brazil, the favourites, was out of the World Cup too early against a side that had nothing other than the leadership and cunningness of Maradona.

After the match, the story Holy Water Scandal broke out and many years later Maradona agreed with the incident, but that did not change the result of the match. The waiting game for a World Cup prolongs and in the coming years, Brazil Football would through a lean-patch.

While teams like Denmark, Sweden, Romania and Colombia were on the rise along with Germany, Argentina, Italy and Holland; in Latin America, one team was almost losing their glory days and that was Brazil.

Paulo Roberto Falcao. Image Courtesy: China Daily
Paulo Roberto Falcao. Image Courtesy: China Daily

The Brazilian Football hierarchy brought on Paulo Roberto Falcao – one of the all-time best legendary midfielders in the history of the game, as the coach, but under him, Brazil football hardly changed. Falcao adopted the European style whereas he was given the job to bring back the beautiful game. In the 1991 edition of Copa America, Brazil earned a lot of criticisms for their un-Brazilian style of play and even in the international matches, Brazil remained below-par.

The hierarchy was not satisfied along with the fans – who were annoyed.

Falcao was sacked.

Carlos Alberto Parreira and Mario Zagallo arrive

Ricardo Teixeira, the son-in-law of FIFA boss Joao Havelange and president of the Brazilian Football Federation (CBF), had other ideas. He decided to recall the duo who had masterminded the 1970 World Cup victory, this time with Parreira as head coach (in 1970 he was one of the team’s physicians) and Mario Zagallo, the former manager, as technical coordinator.

Parreira wanted Brazil to be disciplined and as part of his tactical upheaval, Parreira opted to drop legendary striker Romario, which drew the fury of fans across the country.

His football brain was sharp – always interested in learning something new, hard worker, well-prepared man and an avid reader of foreign football newspapers and magazines.

Methodical and conservative, Parreira believed that without forming a solid backline nothing could be achieved because, after 1970, Brazil suffered heavily due to loopholes in the defence.

Carlos Alberto Parreira and Mario Zagallo. Image Courtesy: ebiografia
Carlos Alberto Parreira and Mario Zagallo. Image Courtesy: ebiografia

Certainly, this was not the Brazilian style but when the world is changing, it was very important to adapt to the change.

Zagallo said, “We went through a lot. People indeed protested, saying that it wasn’t true Brazilian football. But we knew what we were doing: we were building a solid, competitive team, not to entertain, but to win the World Cup.”

At first, however, they couldn’t even win, let alone wow the public. In the build-up to the World Cup qualifying campaign, in 1993, Brazil drew with Graham Taylor’s England and surrendered a three-goal lead against Germany.

In Copa America, they fared a little better, losing to Argentina in the quarter-finals after a penalty shootout. In the US Cup, Parreira chose veterans like Taffarel, Jorginho, Branco and Careca; in Copa America, the squad was made up of domestic-based youngsters like Roberto Carlos, Edmundo and Cafu. Neither team clicked.

Carlos Dunga and Carlos Alberto Parreira. Image Courtesy: World Cup Saga
Carlos Dunga and Carlos Alberto Parreira. Image Courtesy: World Cup Saga

When the World Cup qualifiers came around, Parreira went with the more experienced players – including, to the public’s despair, Dunga.

At that time, the midfielder was the personification of all the un-Brazilian football.

He was blamed for the defeat against Argentina in 1990 and portrayed as ‘the lost Lazzaroni generation’ – the Dunga era was something Brazilians never expected to see the return.

The Dunga era, part II, kicked off in July 1993, with the beginning of the World Cup qualifiers and initially looked like being a sad rerun of the Lazzaroni fiasco. In the first two games, Brazil drew with Ecuador and lost to Bolivia – the Selecao’s first-ever defeat in a World Cup qualifier.

The press slaughtered Parreira’s ‘dinosaurs’. Playing in a predictable 4-4-2 and desperately in need of inspiration – Rai and Zinho were underperforming – Brazil needed an attacker who could do on his own what the 10 others couldn’t do between them.

They wanted Romario, except for Parreira.

The problem was that in December 1992, the PSV Eindhoven striker blasted the duo for not fielding him in a friendly against Germany.

“I can’t believe I came down from Holland to sit on the bench,” he fumed.

The Maracana epic

Meanwhile, Romario was creating havoc in Barcelona and the demands to include him in the side increased – Parreira called back Romario for the do-or-die match against Uruguay at Marcana.

FIFA stated, “No, I won’t recall Romario,” snapped Carlos Alberto Parreira. And he didn’t, despite Brazil facing nemesis Uruguay in a win-or-bust USA 1994 qualifier. Then Brazil’s injury crisis heightened, the racket for Romario’s recall erupted like never before, and Parreira relented not only by handing the Barcelona striker an 11th-hour call-up but by installing him in his starting XI.”

On that night, Romario owned Maracana and became the God by scoring twice.

Before the game against Uruguay, Romario said, “I already know what is going to happen. I am going to finish Uruguay”. He did exactly what he told which made Parreira comment later, “God sent Romario to the Maracana.”

Brazil entered the stadium by holding their hands together and they maintained the tradition for a long time.

That victory was a life saviour and the unity was restored even though his style of play never earned the accolades from any fans or critics in his own country.

After announcing the squad for the USA 94 – Parreira was heavily criticized for not including players like Roberto Carlos, Rivaldo, Edmundo, Evair etc in the squad, but he did a commendable job by including the 17-year old Ronaldo Nazario de Lima in the squad.

The Parreira tactics

Tim Vickery in one of his articles wrote, “It took Brazil more than two decades to hit on the response. In ’78, it tried to copy the Dutch. In ’82 and, to a lesser extent ’86, it tried to go with traditional strengths, and in ’90 it went with a sweeper system, a la Italy, or Argentina’s back three from ’86.”

“In ’94, the Brazilians found the formula. Coach Carlos Alberto Parreira fielded a 4-4-2 formation, with a back four — in other words, a system that kept with the tradition of Brazilian soccer, rather than attempting to copy something from elsewhere.”

“But there were innovations. The Brazilian game long had put great emphasis on physical preparation. But with the country’s economy opening up, it was now possible to import more sophisticated machinery. Brazil’s excellent conditioning staff thus was able to draw up individual programs for the players to ensure they peaked at the right.”

“The fullbacks were given license to roam forward, keep the pitch wide and supply crosses into the penalty box. Attacking fullbacks were already part of the Brazilian tradition, but now, to ensure they could burst forward without leaving the team unprotected, the two central midfielders took on extra defensive responsibilities. Mauro Silva, with his capacity to read the game, would cover the gaps and shut the door on potential danger, while Dunga was an abrasive tackler who had worked at his game until he had become a crisp and efficient ball passer.”

The Brazilian Formation in USA 94
The Brazilian Formation in USA 94

Romario and Bebeto were on top moving side to side, behind them a line of 3 men when in possession – Dunga by the middle, Mazinho on the right and Zinho by the left. Mauro Silva barely crossed the halfway line. And the fullbacks as usual supported by the sides.

When losing possession everyone behind the ball line, occupying the spaces, slowing down the opponent and counter-attacking in the transition – the whole system meant, Romario and Bebeto had to exhibit more determination than ever and Romario was out of this world throughout the summer of 1994.

According to Parreira, “A lot of people misinterpret even today [our style of play], we did not take a European approach – though it should be remembered that Brazil invented the modern back four.”

Carlos Alberto Parreira. Image Courtesy: Twitter
Carlos Alberto Parreira. Image Courtesy: Twitter

“Brazil always played that line of four, marking zonally, the full-backs pushing on.”

“Now that team was a team that was organized without the ball. The ‘94 side was one of the best organized Brazilian teams I have ever seen. The full-backs went forward, Bebeto and Romario decided games… and they knew how to play without the ball.”

“We had mature players, experienced players, and they were under a lot of pressure, it’d been three years of great pressure. Together we learned how to win both on and off the field. It was important to know how to manage the press, to deal with the supporters’ expectations and be able to distance yourself.”

“What was important about ’94 was that we won with our ideas, with Mauro Silva and Dunga – labelled ‘two bruisers who could not play together –  and we kept our convictions to the end.”

“We did not change anything, because we knew we had a team what it took when the moment arrived. The group knew that they would win it, they had that mentality.”

The death of Aryton Senna motivated Brazil

In early 1994, Formula One driver Ayrton Senna met with the Brazilian men’s soccer team in France just before a friendly match in preparation for the FIFA World Cup. Senna, from Sao Paulo, had just joined the powerhouse Williams team and both F1 driver and football team were searching for the elusive fourth world championship in their respective sports that season.

Just two weeks later on May 1, Senna was killed during an accident at the San Marino Grand Prix in Imola, Italy, when he lost control of his car and crashed into a concrete wall early in the race.

Brazilian players draw the reverence banner for Senna after winning the 1994 World Cup. Image Courtesy: royalgazzatte.com
Brazilian players draw the reverence banner for Senna after winning the 1994 World Cup. Image Courtesy: royalgazzatte.com

The auto racing world lost a legend and the accomplishments speak for themselves.

When the news broke of Senna’s death, a football match between Palmeiras and Sao Paulo was interrupted as nearly 60,000 fans roared the familiar, “Ole, ole, ole,” and “Senna, Senna” chants. Three days of mourning followed in Brazil as he received the treatment reserved for royalty.

According to Leonardo, the death of Senna motivated Brazil extremely.

The summer in USA

The Group Stage

Brazil’s first match was against Russia at San Franciso where they surfaced a team that included Leonardo as a left-back instead of Branco and the loss of experienced Ricard Gomez witnessed a young Marcio Santos paring with Ricardo Rocha at the centre-back.

Brazil set the foot on the right paddle from the word go but the opportunities were missing narrowly until Romario scored with his delicate touches from the Bebeto corner – the doubts were laid to rest and that goal gave Romario the confidence and momentum. With every passing minute, Romario was becoming an unstoppable force.

Then they got past the delight of Italia 90, Cameroon by 3-0 with Romario scoring the opening goal again.

While at Silverdome, they shared points with a brilliant Swedish unit with Romario scoring again.

The Round of 16

Parreira brought some tactical changes to the side by excluding Rai for the Round of 16 clash against the USA on July 4, 1994.

He included Mazinho – a full back on the right side of the midfield.

And in between, an injury to Ricardo Rocha witnessed Aladir pairing with Marcio Santos in the defence.

On that day, billions of viewers saw the USA pestering Brazil on the heat of California.

It was becoming hard for Brazil to breach the ragged defence of the USA and goalkeeper Toni Miola.

Alexi Lalas was marking Romario, but the pocket-sized dynamo always found the way to beat him and pose a threat.

At the stroke of halftime, Leonardo was shown a red card for elbowing and Brazil were down to ten men – still, the quality of Brazil never fell because Romario was the supreme leader on the field.

Deep into the second half, Zinho pushed a ball forward and Romario collected it and then with his rhythmic body and feet movements, he beat Lalas and two other markers and when Miola came forward, his right foot took a musical twist and with pace, he beat everyone to hit the target – the ball missed the target.

If any moment that defined the genius of Romario then that was it – absolutely brilliant.

With 17 minutes remaining, Romario carried the ball from the deep all his own as Maradona did against Brazil four years ago. He brought the USA defenders towards him and that left Bebeto on the right unmarked – through those narrow spaces, he produced a delicate pass – Bebeto scored and broke the deadlock – Brazil survived the USA scare.

The Romario and Bebeto combination was becoming deadlier than ever.

In an interview with FIFA Romario said, “We’d been playing together since the Olympics in 1988 in Seoul and had already lined up together in several other competitions. So we understood each other very well. When Brazil were working on tactics in training, Bebeto and I didn’t have to participate very much. We trained separately because we already knew each other so well. Bebeto was always an extremely intelligent player. He greatly facilitated my attacking moves, which is why we always had such a great understanding.”

That was also the match where Parreira would use Cafu on the left side of the midfield – it was a tactical move to protect the left flank which was shaky due to the absence of Leonardo.

The world realized that Cafu was not an ordinary full-back but more than that.

The quarterfinal

At Dallas, in the quarterfinals against Holland, it was a sea of Oranje.

The Dutch felt at home in Dallas, but as the match progressed, Brazil started to dominate more while the Dutch sat back, defend and catch Brazil on the counter if it was possible.

The first half ended 0-0.

In the second half, Brazil became desperate to score.

Aldair bypassed the Dutch midfield and provided an accurate long pass on the left to Bebeto, who passed to the centre, where Romario just toed one to break the deadlock.

4 goals in 5 games for Romario and he was the ultimate finisher.

Brazil pressurized the Dutch defence.

Bebeto came close to score but missed by an inch.

In the 63rd minute, Bebeto caught the Dutch defence napping and beat de Goey to make it 2-0.

That goal unleashed the iconic rocking baby dance. Mazinho and Romario joined Bebeto to dance and Dallas became the stage of Samba Carnival.

Romario said to FIFA in an interview, “That was a unique moment for Bebeto. His wife had just had the baby, and it was quite an interesting celebration. He invented that on the spur of the moment. He scored the goal and started doing it. Mazinho, who was next to him, joined him and me, being next to arrive, just had to follow suit. The three of us made that gesture together, which left quite an impression on that World Cup.”

The Brazilian celebration prolonged and when Dennis Bergkamp advanced forward and beat Taffarel to reduce the score, the Brazil defence was still not aware of what was coming next.

13 minutes later Aaron Winter made it 2-2 with a header from the corner.

The match was about to slip out of the hands of Brazil.

Branco, the replacement of Leonardo, won a free-kick.

Romario diverted the goalkeeper and Branco kicked a cannonball – a left-footed free-kick, which breached the Dutch wall and entered the nets.

Branco ran towards the Brazil dugout with tears in his eyes – he justified his inclusion.

Brazil were through to the semi-finals and it was another narrow escape.

The semifinal

In the semifinal, the Brazilians met Sweden again, who started the match with the intention to block more – well, Romario was hard to stop.

Branco produced a pass from the left flank and Romario, walked through the solid defenders of Sweden and beat Tomas Ravelli with his delicate right foot but the Swedish defender blocked the ball from entering the net.

Brazil continued to press but the goal was not coming until Jorginho produced a cross and Romario flew in the air like Superman to net home the winner.

“That was an unforgettable goal when you think about it. You had me, at just 1.68 metres tall, rising to score with a header between a clutch of Swedish players who were famous for their average height of around 1.83 or 1.84 metres. That’s pretty unusual in football, even more so in World Cup and especially in a semi-final. Jorginho had the good fortune to pick me out perfectly, and with God’s help I was able to get my head on the ball, leaving the keeper unable to react in time,” said Romario.

The Big Final

Brazil would meet Italy and an in-form Roberto Baggio in the final at Rose Bowl Pasadena.

The final was hugely anticipated throughout the world as The Guardian wrote, “Meanwhile, a germ of an idea that had formed in the mind of a couple of film directors from Germany and Argentina was coming to fruition. They wanted to portray this concept that people in diverse circumstances all around the world could be captivated by one moment through the medium of live television.”

“They organized for 40 film crews to film fans in different countries watching the final. The Final Kick proved to be a brilliant documentary that was both of and ahead of its time. It flits not just between gatherings in an Italian bar or a Brazilian square but a harem in Cameroon where the chief is being fanned as he watches, a factory in Iran where the workers all clock off to watch a small screen, a monastery in the Czech Republic where an old telly is wheeled out of a cupboard for the monks to observe.”

“What the film captures so well is the tentacles of the appeal of the World Cup, and USA 94 was a significant milestone because it was in many ways the first modern tournament.”

Sadly, the final failed to live p to the expectations.

The Italian defence was hard to breach and Romario and Bebeto’s deadly combination was coming close without any fruitful results.

Jorginho was injured early and Cafu played the majority of the minutes exhibiting his temperament.

The injection of Viola introduced pace and tenacity, but the final had to be decided on penalties.

According to Romario, “Up until that point, I’d only taken one or maybe two penalties in my life. There were five players in that team who were always practising and who, in theory, would be the penalty-takers. But at that moment in time, I felt it was my duty since I’d already done many things for myself and the national team. That was the moment when we players had more responsibility than any other time in the tournament. It was time to prove that I was now a mature player, who was there to face up to challenges. So I volunteered myself, was fortunate enough that Parreira agreed, and went on to score one of the goals that helped Brazil win a title that meant so much.”

“I think a lot depends on the moment – what competition it is, what game. On that occasion, I was more focused than I’ve ever been in my life. I walked about 50 paces and, while I was walking, various thoughts flashed through my mind: my childhood, my parents, my friends, and the importance of winning that title for the people of Brazil. As I took the ball and placed it on the spot, all these thoughts were swirling around my head. It was an enormous responsibility, having to kick the ball, a piece of leather, and be responsible for making a nation happy or sad.”

Both Franco Baresi and Santos missed.

Taffarel saved the spot-kick of Massaro and Dunga restored the lead of Brazil.

Baggio had to score – he shot over the bar and Brazil were the champions for the fourth time.

Romario said, “It was of having done my job and, more than anything, of having kept my word, since I’d promised that Brazil would be the champions. When I say ‘I’, I mean to say that this only came about because the squad all helped each other. Whatever ‘I’ may have done at that World Cup – and in my opinion, I put in the best performance of my life in that tournament– I only achieved what I did because of the strength of the squad. They helped me 100 per cent.”

Dunga and the rest of the team climbed up the stairs of the Pasadena Rose Bowl.

With the gold medal already hanging around his neck, Dunga finally meets Alan Rothenberg. The chairman and CEO of the tournament’s organizing committee shook his right hand and quickly reached for the trophy, passing it onto the buzz-cut Brazilian, who immediately kissed it.

Dunga then turned to the sea of photographers and lifts the trophy above his head, shouting, “This is for you, you treacherous b*st*rds! What do you say now? C’mon, take the pictures, you bunch of treacherous motherf**kers! It’s for you!”

That victory changed Brazil football and gave a new life – for twelve years Brazil would dominate in major tournaments and the mesmerizing talents would leave the world crazy.

“The secret of football is to keep control of the ball to pursue the goal. Only Brazil did it. For sure they could play more offensively and with more beauty, but there are moments when the spectacle has to be sacrificed.”


Johan Cruyff

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