The World Cup hall of fame has quite a few eye-popping goals in its catalog. There’s Robin Van Persie with his ‘Flying Dutchman’ act against Spain in 2014, Archie Gemmill’s solo effort in 1978 immortalised in Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting, Manuel Negrete’s scissors volley in ‘86, Dennis Bergkamp with the most Bergkamp-esque goal to knock out Argentina in 1998, Diego Maradona embarrassing half of England’s side in 1986, to name a few.
None of these, including Maradona’s mazy run, is remembered world over and cherished by football lovers and experts as Brazil’s fourth and final goal against Italy in the summit clash of Mexico 1970.
It was the pinnacle of rumba-zumba football, played by the greatest team that the world stage has ever seen, set up by the greatest player in the history of World Cup football, scored by the captain and right-back Carlos Alberto.
An attacking World Cup
Contrary to expectations that the football would be dreary and slow in the high altitude and humid conditions of Mexico, 1970 saw a vibrant brand of attacking play adopted by several teams, typified by the eventual winners Brazil and saw a goals average (2.97 per game) higher than any other World Cup since.
The tournament also witnessed the introduction of yellow and red cards and substitutes, though no player was sent off by the referees.
Brazil were joyous for several reasons prior to the main tournament. The Selecao had coasted through their qualifiers, winning each and every one, leading to them being dubbed the pre-tournament favourites. Pele had retired after coming in for some rough tackles from Portugal in 1966. Mario Zagallo, former team-mate and now coach had convinced him to return at the age of 30.
For the first time ever, Argentina had failed to qualify for a World Cup, giving their neighbours even more reason to celebrate. Brazil were drawn together with Romania, Czechoslovakia and holders England in Group 3. Despite winning the World Cup, Brazil let in goals in all of their six matches except the group stage match against the Three Lions, which is famous for Gordon Banks tipping over Pele’s header over the bar and is now dubbed the ‘Save of the Century’. Brazil would eventually conjure up a magical winner through Jairzinho.
Hypnotic Samba executioners
The greatness of the 1970 squad lay in the fact that Pele was surrounded by other fantastic players of the time. There was the diminutive but intelligent number nine Tostao (Portuguese for Little Coin) who scored 10 of Brazil’s 23 goals in qualification.
Roberto Rivellino or Rivelino, the son of Italian immigrants, sporting a large moustache, played outside left and scored one of his trademark bending free-kicks against the Czechs, earning him the nickname “Patada Atómica” (Atomic Kick) by local fans.
His opposite number, Jairzinho, the heir to Garrincha himself, scored in every match of the tournament and he completed Brazil’s attacking quartet. Zagallo really had an embarrassment of riches at his disposal and would prove difficult to stop.
The Italians, on the other hand had scraped through the group stage, before dispatching off the hosts in the quarters. That set up a semi-final showdown against the West Germans, which proved to be a humdinger at the Estadio Azteca. The match, which ended 4-3 at the end of extra time, is now known as the ‘Game of the Century’ and the stadium sports a commemorative plaque to the game, which saw an injured Franz Beckenbauer take to the field in a cast for extra time.
An one-sided final
Just four days after being taken to hell and back by the West Germans, the Italians were a spent force against the South Americans, who had scored 19 goals in the tournament. Pele buried Jairzinho’s cross volley with his head past Enrico Albertosi as Brazil grabbed a quick lead.
Despite Roberto Boninsegna’s equaliser after a blunder from centre-back Brito, the second half saw Gerson’s long-range screamer and Jairzinho’s seventh of the tournament put it beyond Italy’s reach. With four minutes of regulation time to go, midfielder Clodoaldo dribbed past four Italians before laying it off to Rivelino, who played a forward pass to Jairzinho on the left.
The number seven then laid it off to Pele, who trapped the ball and was informed by Tostao that Alberto was steaming ahead on the right. His perfectly weighted delivery found Alberto, who stroked it home with ferocity. The finish, the no-look pass, the execution was mesmeric, the world and the World Cup were at Brazil’s feet.
At the final whistle, Brazil celebrated their third World Cup victory, each of them coming in the space of 12 years and they were allowed to keep the Jules Rimet trophy. For the Italians, it was a missed attempt to add another to their two, although they would extract revenge 12 years later in Spain, when Paolo Rossi’s hat-trick would knock out Socrates’s gang of artisans.
Many great teams have graced the quadrennial extravaganza since, but none have had the enduring allure of Zagallo, Alberto and Pele’s Brazil.