Tostão dispossessed Italy. From Wilson Piazza the ball went to Clodoaldo. From Clodoaldo to Pelé and Gerson, and, with a flick, back to Clodoaldo. From Rivelino to Jairzinho. From Jairzinho to Pelé. And from Pelé to Carlos Alberto Torres. For a brief moment the ball sat up and Brazil’s captain struck it with full force, and a mundane finality. He pulverized any Italian hopes of a late comeback and crowned Brazil the 1970 world champions.
That move epitomised the 1970 Seleção: physical preparation, technical excellence, tactical sophistication, and the gods of football, too, all sailing in the same direction to bring a delirious three weeks in Mexico to an unprecedented climax.
'Football as art'
Many observers considered Brazil’s game in 1970 as "the highest expression of football as art". “Those last minutes,” Hugh McIlvanney wrote in his match report for the Sunday Times published on June 22, 1970, “contained a distillation of their football, its beauty and élan and almost undiluted joy. Other teams thrill us and make us respect them. The Brazilians at their finest gave us pleasure so natural and deep as to be a vivid physical experience… it was the apogee of football.”
Indeed, there has never been a more beautiful World Cup moment than Carlos Alberto’s goal – every touch, precisely in the World Cup final, was perfect. His angled drive and the neat buildup to the goal were beguiling in their simplicity, fantabulous in their execution, and of an exquisite footballing purity.Did Carlos Alberto realise then that he had just scored the most iconic goal in football history? In celebration he ran behind the Italian goal. Tostão was the first to hug him. Jairzinho, Pelé and his other teammates followed soon. They swore, out of happiness and relief. Carlos Alberto had been contemplating, thinking and dreaming of scoring a goal for Brazil during the tournament, but no figment of his imagination could have conceived and projected a goal of such glorious aplomb and regal audacity.
With his wonder strike, Torres gained immortality. On October 25, 2016, O Capitão, the Captain, arrived in heaven. Aged 72, Carlos Alberto Torres, captain of Brazil's 1970 World Cup winning team, died after a heart attack in his native Rio de Janeiro on Tuesday. He made an entire generation fall in love with the beautiful game. Carlos Alberto was an infectious childhood hero.
'An unmatchable paradigm'
Brazil 1970 became "an unmatchable paradigm" and Torres’s goal was its ultimate expression. Back in 1970, football was still a romantic sport, teetering on the edge of professionalism, slowly transforming into today’s grotesque circus of TV rights, sponsor revenues and Fifa politics.
The Brazilians fitted the romantic ideal. On the world stage, they were still an exotic team. Every four years they came along at the World Cup. Terrestrial TV was not in vogue yet, but, via an American satellite, the 1970 final was broadcasted in color to a global audience. In many ways, those viewers, who watched the final, witnessed a game that today would no longer be possible.
Brazil’s yellow shirts were hypnotising. Carlos Alberto ran back and forth on the right. He had been captaining Santos, the best club team in the world in the '60s, for three years, succeeding Zito. Wearing the captain’s armband for Brazil was a natural extension of his imposing personality and leadership. Gerson was Brazil’s on-field strategist, but when Carlos Alberto talked, he was listened to. He had the authority to even reprimand Pelé if required.
Template for the modern full-back
Carlos Alberto scored goals, but not too often. He ventured forward, honouring a rich Brazilian tradition of attacking full backs. In the '50s, Brazil had pioneered the back four in defence. That formation pushed the full backs wider, which offered them cover and space to move forward. At left-back, Nilton Santos was perhaps Brazil’s first great full back at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. But with greater media exposure Carlos Alberto became the template for the modern full-back at the 1970 World Cup.
His goal in the final was a fine illustration, but also encapsulated why the 1970 Brazil team still makes us teary today. It bears watching again and again. Brazil were leading 3-1 and Italy were exhausted. Tostão, the number nine tracking back into his own half, intercepted Italian substitute Antonio Julian. Clodaldo dribbled a pretorian guard of Italians with a mazy cameo of feints. They were slowly exploiting space – well before modern notions of Total Football and pressing. The ball was still in the Brazilian half.Rivelino passed it down the wing to Jairzinho, the ball now midway into the Italian half. Jairzinho had drifted across to the other flank. Italy left-back Giacinto Facchetti followed him, leaving a corridor to be exploited by Brazil's right back. The volume of the crowd grew. Jairzinho stepped inside. Facchetti backed away. Jairzinho encroached upon the penalty area.
Pelé, almost languidly, engaged two Italian defenders, but with his peripheral vision sensed Carlos Alberto’s marauding run. The ball bobbled up at the precise moment for Carlos Alberto to strike it. The goal was a metaphor for the finest football team of all time, and, arguably, the game’s greatest captain.