Unlike Hungary in 1954 or Holland in 1974, Brazil had a history of success in the World Cup already. The shadow of 1982 still hangs over Brazilian football despite 3 finals in the last 4 World Cups, winning two of them. The reason is the ’82 squad – still considered by some as better than Pele’s 1970 World Champions.
“The ball arrived in one zone,” wrote Ángel Cappa, the idealistic coach of Argentine club Huracán, “and disappeared to reappear in the form of a rabbit or a dove, and was then hidden again from opponents who in their anguish searched for it in the most unusual places, without being able to find it. We glanced at the watch with the intention of making time stand still because we wanted the game to go on forever. And in reality, it’s still going on in the memory of all those who were there in the stadium or who watched it on television.”
Cappa’s words elucidate the deeply romantic notions of football that have become synonymous with Brazil since the World Cup’s inception. The repercussions of ’82 (and to a lesser extent ’86) can be felt as many commentators today undercut the swift pragmatism and efficiency of Dunga’s Brazil, by saying it’s not ‘a typical Brazil team’. Typical being the overt fluidity and attacking proclivities of the ’82 squad. Though Brazil have repeated success at the World Cup in the past 20 years whilst still producing players of individual brilliance, the shift to efficient counter attacks and athletic, disciplined positional sense is quietly and implicitly criticised…even in triumph. The sadness is rooted in the aesthetic talents of Zico, Socrates et al not lifting the World Cup when everyone felt they should have.
The ’82 team reached the World Cup in Spain in top form beating West Germany twice, host nation Spain once, and in the last warm-up match thrashing the Republic of Ireland 7-0. Their first group game against the Soviet Union began with a surprise: though the Brazilian fans dominated on the terraces with their drums, banners and flags, they were silenced by an Andrej Bal shot after half an hour. His poor shot was spilled by goalkeeper Perez. This did not dampen morale and, in the second half, Brazil’s equaliser was spectacular; Captain Socrates beat two Russians and fired home a powerful top corner finish. A minute from time saw a moment of absolute memorable nonchalance as substitute Paulo Isidoro played the ball to Falcao, Falcao let the ball run through his legs for Eder, who was running on from behind; Eder chipped up the ball up for himself and finished with the sweetest of volleys.
Brazil went on to comfortably beat Scotland 4-1 and New Zealand 4-0 before entering the second group phase against two underperforming giants: Argentina and Italy. Brazil took an early lead against Argentina as Zico tapped in the rebound from Eder’s 35 yard free kick that hit the cross bar. Serginho scored the second after the interval and it was Socrates who dictated the midfield tempo brilliantly. A lovely third was scored by Junior and not even a consolation goal from the World Champions could ruin a consummate performance from the Brazilians.
Brazil needed only a draw against Italy to progress in the tournament in what has become one of the most famous matches in World Cup history. Paolo Rossi scored the first of his famous hat trick with a header before Socrates and Zico combined in sublime fashion for the Brazil captain to wrong foot Zoff and slot in at the near post. Cerezo’s defensive mistake played in Rossi for his second and again Brazil had to press for an equaliser. Falcao received the ball on the edge of the area and the Italian defence anticipated a right side through ball; instead, Falcao cut inside and thundered home a 20 yard shot into the top corner. Brazil being Brazil did not consider holding out for the draw, which would have been enough to see them progress, and a final defensive lapse cost them heavily as Junior kept Rossi onside to finish instinctively against Perez. A final memorable moment in the game came when 40 year old Zoff saved amazingly from Oscar’s powerful header, not allowing the Brazilians to get the draw that would have seen them through to the semi finals.
Despite not even reaching the semi’s Tele Santana’s Brazil side of ’82 are still considered one of the finest teams in World Cup history. Their loss has certainly left a mark on the Brazilian psyche and, despite the unparalleled success of the national team, there remains a tangible undercurrent of emotion for the romantic interchanging of their nation’s best players almost thirty years ago.
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