Football / World Cup Countdown: Legend of Pele and his partners in prime: How the shooting stars of Brazil reached their zenith in 1970

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The Independent Online
NO SOONER had ITV completed coverage of the 1970 World Cup final than its leading panellist, Malcolm Allison, sped from a studio in London to gatecrash celebrations that were underway at the Brazilian Embassy.

Startling the excited assembly with a call for silence, raising a glass of champagne, Allison loudly toasted the victors and their greatest player, the incomparable Pele.

Expressed in typically flamboyant fashion, Allison's elation was understandable. Repeating the triumphs of 1958 and 1962 to gain exclusive possession of the Jules Rimet Trophy, the grotesque blunders of 1966 set aside, Brazil had sublimely fulfilled all expectations. As they memorably represented it that summer in Mexico, football was indeed Pele's 'Jogo Bonito' - the beautiful game, rich in technical brilliance, arousing fluency and imagination.

Pele himself has declared that the team he entered as a 17-year- old in Sweden 12 years earlier, one that included such notable talents as Garrincha, Didi and Vava, had a greater range of individual gifts but for sheer potency there never has been, and maybe never will be, a team to match the 1970 winners.

It was by no means perfect. At, 32, Felix was from the Scottish school of calamitous goalkeeping and there were plenty of forwards in the tournament who fancied getting at a defence that had only one outstanding player, the right- back, Carlos Alberto.

But with such virtuosos as Gerson, Tostao, Rivelino and Jairzinho to supplement the genius of Pele, defence was secondary to the irresistible surge of Brazil's attacks. Only the best-equipped team England have ever sent out were able to run them close in an epic encounter at the Jalisco Stadium in Guadalajara.

Brazil's potential was immediately evident when they came back from 1-0 down to trounce Czechoslovakia 4-1 in their opening game, one of the goals coming from a wicked Rivelino free kick that gave England's manager, Alf Ramsey, palpitations. 'By christ, these people can play,' he confided.

In the months that followed a dismal experience in the 1966 finals, Brazil's supreme sports body, the CBD, had come in for fierce criticism, especially from the country's most widely followed commentator, Joao Saldanha, whose attacks were given great prominence on radio, television and in newspapers.

A controversial figure, ex-Communist party activist, war correspondent, footballer and club manager, Saldanha so embarrassed the CBD that in 1969 they asked him to take over as manager of the Brazilian team. Saldanha accepted and immediately drew up a list of 22 players to prepare for the World Cup in Mexico.

Craftily, he also prepared the ground for Brazil to play in the style that suited them best, using a reconnaissance of European football to spread propaganda about the likely response of his players, should the tournament turn violent. 'If it is necessary, they will retaliate,' he said.

When the statement was conveyed to him, Ramsey was furious, insisting that his players were compelled to abide by the laws of the game. 'This man is attempting to arrange the World Cup for himself,' he said. However, the effect of Saldanha's campaign was that Fifa arranged a series of seminars to ensure a standard interpretation of the laws.

But Saldanha made enemies at home, further embarrassing the CBD with political opinions that angered a right-wing goverment under control of the military. Just 12 months after his appointment and despite brilliantly qualifying Brazil for the finals with 23 goals and just two against, he was fired and eventually replaced by Mario Zagalo, the 'Little Ant', whose industry had been a key factor in the triumphs of 1958 and 1962. Though denied the opportunity his planning merited, Saldanha, who died in Rome during the last week of the 1990 World Cup, was unquestionably the architect of a team without equal in history.

Importantly, however, Zagalo introduced a more practical method, withdrawing Rivelino to play on the left side of midfield. This time, nothing was left to chance. The CBD set aside a budget of pounds 500,000 and the club season was foreshortened to allow the World Cup squad three months' preparation at altitudes similar to those in Mexico.

Doubts remained, especially about Tostao, whose participation had only been made possible by a delicate eye operation at a clinic in the United States.

With thrilling verve, Pele's game so alive with invention that an American (seeing football for the first time) cried out in admiration of his artistry, Brazil reached the semi-finals to contemplate superstitiously an encounter with their oldest and most feared adversary, Uruguay. Ever since depriving their neighbours of the World Cup with an unexpected victory in Rio in 1950, the footballers of Uruguay had induced paranoia in the Brazilians, as Pele would confirm.

'I was only a boy, not 10 years' old, kicking a ball in the streets of my home town, but I remember the disappointment and stories of people committing suicide. I could see anxiety in the eyes of some of our players and I suspected that Zagalo was feeling it too.'

When Cubilla gave Uruguay an early lead, sensing that several of his team-mates were on the point of despair, Pele took charge. Collecting the ball from his own net, he bellowed: 'I don't want to know who is to blame. All I want to know who is going to score against these bastards.'

In the dressing room at half- time, Zagalo tore into his team. 'They had never heard me use that kind of language,' he said. 'I told them that their play in the first half was ridiculous. I told them that they were far superior to Uruguay and yet were treating them as equals. I sent them out to play like Brazil.'

A 3-1 victory saw Brazil through to the final against Italy at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, where they gave a memorable performance.

In making the trophy their own, Brazil had defeated three former champions, Uruguay, Italy and England, and proved they could match the stamina and tactical acumen of the best European nations.

(Photograph omitted)