Opinion

When sexy Brazil revived their love affair with football

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It is 50 years since the samba kings from Brazil danced their way to a third world title with a brand of mesmerising attacking football that drew universal acclaim. The World Game explains how the Brazilians turned their 1966 World Cup nightmare into a glorious triumph at Mexico 1970.

WATCH 10 FIFA World Cup classic matches - starting with the 1970 final between Brazil and Italy - starting Thursday May 21 at 2:30pm on SBS and streamed via The World Game website / app and SBS On Demand.

When Brazil were bullied, battered and bundled out of the 1966 FIFA World Cup in England, the deposed world champions were faced with two options on how to go about regaining the title four years later in Mexico.

The Brazilians went home at the end of the group stage, lamenting the way they were treated by European players and referees.

They claimed a conspiracy and vowed revenge.

Brazil could have tried to adapt to the physicality, athleticism and pragmatism of their European counterparts who had finished in the top four spots in the tournament in England.

Or they could have steadfastly hung on to their intoxicating attacking style based on individual artistry and virtuosity that warms the heart of anyone who loves the game. Jogo bonito, it's called.

Thankfully, coach Mario Zagallo's Selecao opted for what the Brazilians traditionally do very well and after treating the world with a sumptuous football feast, they completed a historic triumph in the land of the Aztecs.

Brazil were so confident in their attacking ability that they never seemed to be perturbed by a rather suspect defence because they knew that for every goal they conceded they would score twice. She'll be right, as Australians would say.

After beating Italy 4-1 in a memorable final in Mexico City, they became the only post-war team to win every qualifying and finals match of a World Cup campaign, a feat that has yet to be matched.

France won all their matches at the 1998 World Cup but as hosts they qualified automatically. 

Zagallo's troupe of ball-juggling entertainers provided many magic moments during their three-week campaign in Mexico ... and that was not because the ball played tricks when it travelled in the country's rarefied air.

The legacy they left is such that 50 years down the track they are still regarded by those who had the privilege of watching them play as the greatest and most loved national team in the history of football.

Brazil played in a 4-2-4 formation throughout their Mexican mission and why wouldn't they?

In Jairzinho, Tostao, Pele and Rivelino, coach Zagallo had four genuine attacking stars who were masters at creating and scoring goals with ridiculous ease in any situation and from any angle.

Jairzinho and Rivelino were the wingers, while Pele and Tostao were the strikers but both played deep in a way modern false No 9s do.

This awesome foursome also had the ability to interchange positions continuously in a move designed to confuse their opponents and open up spaces.

What should a right fullback do when Rivelino starts wandering away from the left wing and becomes a midfielder? Should a centre-half follow Tostao or Pele when either drops back?

And who should take on Piazza, a midfielder who was used as a centre-half by Zagallo to add creativity in defence, when he plays out from the back?

These aspects of Brazil's game would suggest that they were the prototype of the total football system that was perfected by the Dutch throughout the 1970s.

Brazil were in a tough group comprising experienced Czechoslovakia, holders England and tough cookies Romania.

The Brazilians won the group after beating England 1-0 in a classic in Guadalajara, that will be remembered mostly for Gordon Banks's diving save to keep out a header from Pele.

Brazil's formidable attack was too strong for plucky Peru in the quarter-finals and a 4-2 victory earned Zagallo's men a mouth-watering clash with bogey team Uruguay, who had pinched the 1950 World Cup from under the Brazilians' noses with a stunning 2-1 win in the 'final' at the Maracana,

That match was actually the last match of a final group phase and Brazil needed only a draw to be crowned champions but blew it.

Twenty years later, Uruguay again made life difficult for their Brazilian rivals and they actually took the lead before Clodoaldo eased Brazil's nerves when he equalised on the stroke of half time.

The Brazilians came out strongly at the resumption and their constant probing in midfield and quick-fire raids yielded two more goals for an impressive 3-1 victory.

The final against Italy at the Aztec Stadium would become the stuff of legend. It was billed as a classic confrontation between Brazil's free-spirited attack and the Azzurri's uncompromising defence. Another grudge match between South America and Europe, if you like.

The Italians held their own for an hour, after Pele had given Brazil the lead with a sumptuous header and Roberto Boninsegna took advantage of a defensive mix-up to level the scores.

When chain-smoking midfield general Gerson put Brazil back in the lead with a majestic strike and Jairzinho added another soon after, the tiring Italians knew they were beaten and the match was all over.

Not quite, because in the dying moments Carlos Alberto finished off a sensational team move that epitomised what Brazil were all about.

Striker Tostao won the ball deep in his own half and Clodoaldo made things happen with a mazy run forward before the ball got to right winger Jairzinho on the left flank who beat his man and played a square pass to Pele.

The 'Black Pearl', who was standing outside the 'D', surveyed what was around him and played a weighted ball into space for overlapping right back Carlos Alberto - who was unmarked because left back Giacinto Facchetti was on the right side following Jairzinho - to smash it hard and low into Italy's net.

It was a fitting climax to a superb tournament that was won by a team that played the game the way it should be played, and proved once and for all that pure class always wins in the end.

The 1970 Brazilians will always be remembered as the beautiful team of the beautiful game.

BRAZIL'S RECORD ROAD TO GLORY

Qualifiers:
Colombia 2-0, 6-2; Venezuela 5-0, 6-0; Paraguay 3-0, 1-0.

Finals:
Czechoslovakia 4-1, England 1-0, Romania 3-2, Peru 4-2, Uruguay 3-1, Italy 4-1.