It’s that time again! The greatest show on earth is upon us. Ahead of the Fifa World Cup in Russia, we look-back at the 20 tournaments before and the standout aspects from them.

Next up, when Pele and Brazil created history in the first World Cup held outside South America and Europe...

Mexico 1970

Fears that Mexico’s high altitude and stifling heat would hinder attractive play were totally unfounded as the tournament produced a feast of attacking football.

Brazil, with Pele back – after swearing never to play again due to being kicked around in the 1966 World Cup – and back at his best, were magnificent. They beat holders England 1-0 in the group stage, despite Gordon Banks’s now legendary save from Pele, and roared into the knockout stages with Jairzinho on fire. The Banks save, however, is part of footballing folklore.

“From the moment I headed it, I was sure it had gone in,” said Pele, who would go on to lift the trophy with Brazil at Mexico 1970. “After I headed the ball, I had already began to jump to celebrate the goal. Then I looked back and I couldn’t believe it hadn’t gone in. I have scored more than a thousand goals in my life and the thing people always talk to me about is the one I didn’t score.”

With the imperious Franz Beckenbauer and the deadly Gerd Muller in their ranks, West Germany gained revenge for their defeat in the 1966 final by recovering from 2-0 down to England to win 3-2 after extra time in the last eight. Their semi-final match with Italy was just as dramatic, the Italians eventually coming through 4-3 in extra-time after another seesaw encounter. Brazil marched past Peru in the quarter-finals and then saw off Uruguay 3-1 in the semis.

Italy never stood a chance in the final as the South Americans gave what is probably their most celebrated exhibition of “the beautiful game”. Pele, Gerson, Jairzinho and, gloriously, Carlos Alberto, scored in a 4-1 rout of the Italians. Brazil were allowed to keep the Jules Rimet trophy having won it three times.

Stats and trivia

  • First World Cup to be broadcast in colour around the globe as Brazil, in their yellow, captured millions of hearts.
  • First World Cup to feature subsitutes – teams were allowed two per game
  • First World Cup to feature yellow and red cards. Ken Aston, an English schoolteacher who refereed the infamous “Battle of Santiago” during the 1962 World Cup, was head of the referees committee later and he was the one to introduce two separate cards – one for cautioning, one for expulsion. An idea came to him during a drive he’d say. “As I drove down Kensington High Street, the traffic light turned red. I thought, ‘Yellow, take it easy; red, stop, you’re off’,” he is quoted as saying by
  • Pele became the first man to win three World Cup medals as a player, appearing in two finals. Cafu is the only player who has appeared in three World Cup finals (winning two of them).
  • Pele also had six assists to his name in that World Cup. No player has since managed as many assists in one edition of the tournament – Robert Gadocha, Pierre Littbarski, Diego Maradona, Thomas Hassler registered five.
  • West Germany’s Uwe Seeler pipped Pele by three minutes to become the first man to score in four different World Cups. Pele put Brazil ahead against Czechoslovakia in their opener just before the hour mark, but Seeler had got there just before the Brazilian.
  • Mario Zagallo may have replaced Joao Saldanha as coach only three months and ended up becoming the first man to win the World Cup as both a player (1958 and 62) and coach (1960).
  • Tournament top-scorer: Gerd Mueller – 10 goals (Germany)
  • Total number of goals scored in the tournament: 95 (2.97 goals per match)

For your viewing pleasure

When Brazil created art in the final...


A goal for the ages...

Greatest World Cup save?

Official poster

Wikimedia Commons

With AFP and inputs