Dubai: While Brazil is grappling with a somewhat late outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, their most significant sporting landmark passed off virtually unnoticed two days back. One is talking about June 21, which completed 50 years of the Samba Boys’ triumph at the 1970 World Cup final against Italy in Mexico, where Pele & Co had a 4-1 romp - and his famous beautiful game or 'Joga Bonito' was born.
Yes, the country had won two World Cups before that in 1958 and ‘62, and have added more since then (in 1994 and 2002), but they raised their game to a sublime art form at Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium to announce themselves as the greatest team of that era, or perhaps of any era.
For some among the legion of fans of Latin American superpowers who have won football’s top prize the maximum number of times with five titles, their Class of 1982 could have given Pele’s men a good fight. Zico, the man they called the ‘White Pele,’ Socrates, Falcao, Eder or Cerezo - names that still give goosebumps to a generation who had just started getting their exposure to international football on black-and-white TV sets in the Eighties.
However, their penchant of throwing caution to the winds (a traditional Brazilian failing, you might say) stopped them short in the second round to Paolo Rossi’s Italy - consigning them among the ‘best teams never to have won the World Cup.’
“I believe the CBF (Brazilian federation) were planning to have a gathering during this period for a celebration, but with this damned coronavirus tragedy, we couldn’t all gather in the same place,” said Gerson, one of the lesser known heroes of the golden generation of 1970 in a recent interview.
“But one way or another, we will always stay in touch.”
The surviving members of the team are now in their late seventies or early eighties, but an emotional bond among them is only to be expected which reflected in their telepathic understanding of the passes on the turf.
Pele was of course, Pele, but it was a hugely cohesive line-up which was perhaps best expressed in the flowing move from defence to attack which led to overlapping full-back Carlos Alberto firing in the fourth and final goal against Italy.
Under the eyes of the pragmatic Mario Zagallo, the team employed a 4-2-4 formation with Rivelino, Pele, Tostao and Jairzinho upfront and two midfield screens in the form of Clodoaldo and Gerson. “It was a team assembled two years earlier, in 1968, on a tour of Europe and the Americas,” said Gerson, who scored a goal in the final. “What made that team special was the chemistry we had, as well as our technical, physical and tactical qualities.
“All that made us one of the best teams to this day. Collectively, those things made the team stronger in every way, on and off the pitch.’’
The group match against world champions England, which Brazil won 1-0, will be possibly best remembered for England goalkeeper Gordon Banks’ ‘save of the century’ to deny Pele in the first half. However, Banks could do nothing to keep out a powerful drive from Jairzinho in the second, which again came at the end of an intricate team move.
In the final, Pele headed Brazil in front but a defensive mix-up enabled Roberto Boninsegna to pull Italy level before half-time. It was Gerson who restored Brazil’s lead with 24 minutes to go with an incredible angled drive which seemed to sap any last ounce of energy from the Italians.
Jairzinho conjured up a third one to give him the distinction of having scored in every game, before Carlos Alberto’s coup de grace took the team to the cusp of immortality!