Hilderaldo Bellini: Composed defender who provided the solidity that helped take Brazil to victory in the 1958 World Cup


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It was the 17-year-old football phenomenon Pele who dominated the headlines when Brazil won their first World Cup in 1958, but the most enduring image of the tournament in Sweden was of Hilderaldo Bellini, captain of the Selecao, holding aloft the Jules Rimet Trophy.

It was the first time the coveted golden bauble had been brandished quite so flamboyantly – the result of requests from photographers for a "clean" picture, rather than undue triumphalism from the dignified Bellini – and it became a seminal moment in the nation's sporting history, preserved forever as a statue at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.

In a side containing the likes of the incomparable Pele, the gloriously unorthodox winger Garrincha and renowned defenders such as Djalma and Nilton Santos, the captain attracted relatively scant global attention, but in his homeland they appreciated his worth as immense. He was a tall, slim central defender who concentrated on winning the ball simply and efficiently then passing it into the custody of his more extravagantly gifted team-mates, confident that they could overcome any opponent with their spectacular flair.

The 11th of 12 children born to an immigrant Italian lorry driver, Bellini played his youth football for his home-town club Itapirense before turning professional in 1952 with Vasco da Gama, with whom he won three Rio state championships and a variety of cups. Having been converted from full-back to centre-half, he made his full international debut in a World Cup qualifier against Peru, a 1-1 draw in Lima in April 1957, then established a regular slot and, as a natural leader, rose quickly to become captain.

He played in all Brazil's six matches in the 1958 World Cup finals, though Welsh fans still contend that he was lucky not to face the mighty John Charles, who was injured for the quarter-final in Gothenburg, in which Brazil defeated Jimmy Murphy's valiant side by the game's only goal. Bellini cut a composed, massively influential figure in 5-2 victories over France in the last four and the host nation in the final, both of which were illuminated by the emerging genius of Pele.

However, the captain had slipped behind the Santos stalwart, Mauro, by the time of the 1962 tournament in Chile and he was held in reserve as Brazil retained their crown, but he bounced back in time for the 1966 World Cup finals in England, featuring in a 2-0 victory over Bulgaria and a 3-1 defeat to Hungary, both at Goodison Park. That signalled the end of Bellini's 51-cap international career, but he played on at club level for Sao Paulo, whom he had joined in 1962, then finished his playing days with Atletico Paranaense at the end of the decade.

Hilderaldo Luiz Bellini, footballer: born Itapira, Brazil 7 June 1930; played for Vasco da Gama 1952-61, Sao Paulo 1962-67, Atletico Paranaense 1968-69; capped 51 times by Brazil 1957-66; died Sao Paulo 20 March 2014.