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Yellow fever: World Cup ’70 ~ Brazil v Italy

May 21, 2010

The beautiful game: the yellow-jerseyed Brazil line up next to Italy before one of the greatest World Cup matches ever played – the talismanic Pelé fittingly standing out, looking towards us

So, following the first World Cup special here at George’s Journal focusing on the ’66 event, the second inevitably looks at the next tournament (an absolute cracker) as well as, rightly so, the best remembered match from the World Cup of… 1970.

As this year began, many in Britain and elsewhere could have been forgiven for probably thinking the values, ideals and ethos of the previous decade would continue. Sure, the UK economy had endured a dodgy time of it towards the end of the ’60s, but a generally optimistic ten years that had given rise to modern consumerism, progressive civil legislation, real disposable income for young people and ‘free love’ could only bring a bright future, right? Well, as we know, that’s not exactly what happened.

The trials and tribulations of the ’70s were yet to come, of course, but by the time the ninth World Cup kicked off in Mexico on May 31, there were signs that this new decade certainly wasn’t going to be an automatic continuation of the previous one. January brought the break-up of two of the cultural cornerstones of the ’60s, both of them music groups – Diana Ross and The Supremes and The Beatles. The folk-rock duo that had provided the soundtrack to the film The Graduate, Simon And Garfunkel, would soon throw in the towel as well. And then, in April, less than eight months after the worldwide jubilation and wonder brought about by Apollo 11’s Moon landing, NASA would face disaster like it never had before with the extraordinary yet unsettling epsiode of Apollo 13, which thankfully, of course, resulted in a daring rescue of three astronauts from certain death.

Signs of the times: (left to right) Mexico ’70’s colourful logo and mascot, Juanito; BBC 2 launches colour TV in Britain; and Enoch Powell stirs up a hornet’s nest

Once underway, the World Cup itself underlined a couple of breaks from the past too – this time though, both of them positive. In 1968, Tory MP Enoch Powell had delivered a deliberately provocative speech about British  immigration. Forever after referred to as the ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, it stirred up a great deal of ill-feeling towards migrants newly arriving in Britain and those who had arrived in the last ten or so years, many of them afro-Caribbean. Indeed, so powerful was the effect of this speech that it has been speculated whether it helped swing the 1970 UK General Election the Tories’ way when this was held on June 18 – others speculated that the sitting Labour government’s defeat in the election was due to England’s fate in the World Cup itself; but more on that later.

So what has ‘Rivers of Blood’ got to do with the 1970 World Cup? Well, it so happened that, in Britian and around Europe, this was the tournament that properly introduced football fans to a nation, nay, a footballing philosophy, that they immediately fell in love with… Brazil. And, indeed, many of the Brazilian players on show were either black or of tanned skin. If that wasn’t a positive thing following ‘Rivers of Blood’ two years before and all it stoked up, then I’ll be damned.

And the second positive break from the past this World Cup brought? Well, that too played a big role in the sudden appeal of the sensational Brazilians, because it was the arrival of colour television. TV in Britain had only gone colour in 1967 (and only to help break in the new BBC2 channel), so the liberation from monochrome viewing was brand, spanking new and it paid dividends for this World Cup. Suddenly, football pitches were actually green, fans in the stands looked multi-coloured, teams wore kits that were no longer either white, black or different shades of grey, and right in the middle of it all were the Brazilians, incandescent in bright yellow jerseys and blue shorts – their football and their appearance were an absolute feast for the eyes.

England expects: Bobby Moore on the cover of Radio Times; Geoff Hurst has the bulldog spirit

If you were English, though, as Mexico ’70 kicked off, it was only about one thing – England going over there and defending their crown, retaining the Jules Rimet trophy. Hopes were high; England actually flew out to Central America with an improved side on the one that had won the whole shebang four years previously. But, before the thing itself had even begun, tragedy struck. The team were based in Colombia in order to play a few warm-up matches and, while there, captain Bobby Moore – the biggest hero of ’66 – and Bobby Charlton walked into a jewellery shop to buy a present for the latter’s wife, only for Moore to end up bizarrely accused of theft by the shopkeeper and getting arrested.

Unsurprisingly, this caused an almighty rumpus on this side of the pond and, once it became pretty obvious our Bobby had been set up, resulted in then Prime Minister Harold Wilson making himself clear through the Foreign Office to the Colombian government that the matter be cleared up as quickly as possible, otherwise a diplomatic incident may occur. Moore was duly bailed allowing him to play in the World Cup and exonerated later in the summer.

As if that wasn’t challenging enough, England also had the prospect of having to play the much fancied Brazil in the opening group stage of the tournament, in addition to the decent European sides Romania and Czechoslovakia. Brazil recorded solid wins over the supposedly lesser sides in the group – 4-1 against Czechoslovakia and 3-2  against Romania – and England beat them both 1-0. This meant it all came down the England-Brazil clash to decide who would top the group. In spite of being played in the torrid heat of Guadalajara, it turned out to be an absolute classic; probably one of the best ever remembered World Cup matches.

Friends and foes: Bobby Moore and Pelé swap shirts at the end of the England-Brazil game

The most recalled – and reshown – moment was an outrageous save by illustrious England goalkeeper Gordon Banks from an ace downward header from Brazilian genius Pelé. Frankly, the save was so good it defied belief. The match was eventually won by Brazil thanks to a single goal by the glorious striker Jairzinho, thanks to a magnificent second of cushioned-ball control from Pelé, on 59 minutes. Thus, Brazil topped the group, England finished second and both progressed to the quarter finals.

Another moment from the match, forever captured in time thanks to a photo reproduced the world over, was when Bobby Moore and Pelé shook hands and exchanged shirts at the end of the match – there was utter respect and, more, true joy between the two; surely the best defender and the best forward, respectively, of their era. They were to become firm friends in future.

Had England beaten Brazil, they would have faced Peru in the quarter final (in an open, attacking game, the men in yellow went on to beat their fellow South Americans 4-2 to go through to the semis), but by taking second place in their group, they instead set up a date with destiny… in a repeat of the final four years before,  they played, yes, West Germany. It could only have been really, couldn’t it? However, as it happened, it appeared this twist of fate wasn’t such a bad thing. Indeed, despite Banks going down to food poisoning immediately prior to the match and his understudy Peter Bonetti filling in between the sticks, by the 49th minute England had a very healthy 2-0 lead, thanks to goals from Alan Mullery and Martin Peters. But nothing’s ever simple when it comes to England.

Never out of the game, the Germans got a goal back in the 68th minute through terrific midfielder Franz Beckenbauer, and this changed the match completely. Or, at least, England’s manager Sir Alf Ramsey’s reaction to it did. In a surprising and unprecedented move, Ramsey substituted the string-pulling veteran midfielder Bobby Charlton and, without him, England found they could no longer control the pace of the game. West Germany began to mount fast attack after fast attack and, eventually, turned around a 2-0 scoreline against them into a 3-2 win thanks to goals from Uwe Seeler and, in extra time, Gerd Müller – both of which resulted from mistakes by Bonetti in the English goal. So, England were out and had failed in their bid to defend the World Cup. The Germans had their unlikely revenge and wouldn’t be beaten by England again competitively for another 30 years until the European Championships in 2000. The nation was disappointed, unquestionably, but so disappointed as a nation as to unseat the current government in a General Election a few days later? Hardly. And, after all, plucky old England, of course, wasn’t to know what its international team’s future would be like from this point on…

The semi-finals produced two more fine matches, contested, as they were, between four previous World Cup winners. In the first, Brazil played Uruguay. The latter team managed to take the lead after 20 minutes, but after conceding an equaliser right on half-time, by the time the game entered its last 20 minutes, inevitably the Uruguayans couldn’t stem the Brazilian attack any longer and lost 3-1, thanks to goals from Jairzinho and ace young winger Roberto Rivelino.

The second semi-final was unforgettable. It was West Germany versus Italy (the latter having qualified sluggishly from their group, but improving dramatically in their quarter final match) and, from the 8th minute onwards the Italians led… all the way until stoppage time when the Germans hit back with a late, late equaliser. Into extra-time it went and, extraordinarily, there were a further five goals, including two from the sensational Gerd Müller. TV replays were still showing the latter’s second goal when, unmarked in the penalty box, Gianni Rivera scored for the Italians – and that’s how it stayed, Italy winning 4-3. During the match Beckenbauer even broke his arm, but was forced to play on until the end wearing a sling because the Germans had already brought on their maximum two substitutes. Perhaps fittingly, the match quickly became known as the ‘Game of the Century’ – especially in Italy and Germany – and a plaque at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City where it took place commerorates it as such. Müller finished the tournament as top scorer with a stunning ten goals, six of which came as back-to-back hat-tricks across two groups games. Rivera is currently serving as a Member of the European Parliament.

And so to the final itself, Brazil versus Italy; and what a final. It was former who took the initiative. In the 18th minute, and from a throw-in, Rivelino volleyed the ball across the penalty area and Pelé rose to score from a lovely header. Fittingly, given who scored it, this was Brazil’s 100th goal in the World Cup. However, just as they were beginning to get into their rhythm of beautiful football against a more defensive-looking Italian side from the previous two matches, come the 37th minute they got complacent in defence and the Azurri forwards took full advantage, Boninsegna getting the final touch to equalise. In truth, though, Italy look tired and weary in the Mexican sun after their heroics in the semi-final. Yet, the Italian defence was also mean as beans and, discounting the three they’d conceded in the seven-goal semi thriller, they had only allowed in two goals all tournament. It would be impressive indeed for Brazil to breach ther goal again, especially as this was a World Cup final. But that’s exactly what the Brazilians did, and more.

The Kaiser and the king: Franz Beckenbauer scores against England and Pelé celebrates Brazil’s 100th World Cup goal

The breakthrough came on 66 minutes when midfielder Gérson hit a long range effort past Italian keeper Enrico Albertosi. A stunning strike; Brazil now looked like they’d probably score more and only had to wait three minutes for the next one to arrive. Gérson sent a free kick up towards Pelé and the latter nodded it down into the path of Jairzinho who, with the defender on him, just did enough to beat the onrushing Albertosi and the ball rolled into the corner. Now two goals clear, the Brazilians surely couldn’t be caught, could they? They couldn’t; Italy had gone. And in the 86th minute the yellow-shirted ones delivered the showstopper, the coup de grace.

What follwed has not just over time proved to be the greatest goal scored in a World Cup final, but also surely the best goal scored in any World Cup. It involved eight players and was a moment of fantasy football. The move started just outside the Brazilian penalty area with striker Tostão, who, having started it ran all the way to the Italian penalty area in case he were needed. Meanwhile, in his absence, Clodoaldo beat four Italian players in his own half, then passed to Rivelino who arrowed a pass down the left-wing to Jairzinho. Moving inside, the latter passed to Pelé in the middle, who, with wonderful deftness, held up the ball and touched it on to the captain Carlos Alberto, arriving late all the way from right-back, who smashed his shot past Albertosi and into the bottom corner. The crowd went absolutely wild and rightly so – Brazil had topped off a 4-1 hammering of Italy in the World Cup final with a wonder goal.

And so that was that. The South Americans were World Cup champions for a record third time, which meant they got to keep the elegant Jules Rimet trophy (the present World Cup trophy would be awarded for the first time at the next tournament). Not just that, though. The manner in which they won the thing would never be seen again in a World Cup or any serious football competition. This Brazilian side was easily the most attacking, free-flowing and magical ever to win the Cup – watching them compared to the top international sides of today is like watching the Harlem Globetrotters transferred to football; the difference being of course the Brazil of 1970 weren’t an exhibition side, they competed and won the top prize. Their blend of skill, grace, power and pace was simply stunning.

Take that!: Carlos Alberto’s wonder goal seen from two different angles

In qualifying for the finals, they played six matches, won them all, scoring 23 goals and conceding just two. Once there, they played another six matches and again won them all, scoring 42 goals and conceding 8. This truly was a side that, not being frugal at the back like Italy mostly were, really did play to the maxim ‘don’t worry about defence, we’ll just score one – or most likely – two or more than you’. And, needless to say, they were brilliant at it. There was an ebullient innocence in the way they played and won the World Cup, which along with their colourful, exciting appearance on newly launched colour television, made them an instant sensation the world over. Plus, of course, to the average Anglo-Saxon ear, their names were wonderfully exotic too – Carlos Alberto, Jairzinho, Rivelino, Tostão and Pelé. Ah, Pelé, perhaps the final word on Brazil in ’70 should go to him.

Having played in three previous World Cups, this would be the great man’s last – and obviously he’d bowed out in the best possible way. For me, there’s no question he’s the best player there’s ever been. In the ’58 World Cup held in Sweden, he played an astonishing  star role that included a second half hat-trick in the final against the host nation to gave  Brazil their first title. And back then he was only 17. Four years later in Chile, he was again decisive, even though he was injured before the final (Brazil won again, though, thanks to two goals in the final from the legendary Garincha). In ’66 he had less fun, though, when he was fouled out of a group match against Portugal; Brazil followed him out of the competition. Owing to that overly harsh treatment and disappointment, he vowed never to play in a World Cup again. Obviously he changed his mind, and thank goodness he did.

Indeed, perhaps his two most memorable moments in the ’70 tournament were two chances he missed. The first was in a group match against Czechoslovakia when he tried to beat the keeper from inside his own half and saw the ball bounce just wide of the goal, and the second was in the semi-final against Uruguay when he sprinted after the ball into the penalty area and, terrifically dummying the oncoming goalkeeper, shot just wide. He finished his career having scored over 1,000 goals – in fact, the 1,000th had come from the penalty spot in 1969, immediately after which fans invaded the pitch in celebration.

So, away from football, sport and entertainment in general, much crap was to come in the ’70s, of course, but in addition to the year’s infamous Isle Of Wight music festival, held in August and attended by a staggering 600,000 people (one of the biggest human gatherings of the time), the efforts of Pelé and co, and  the sunniness, vibrancy and sheer joty of World Cup ’70 helped ensure that this summer, in Britain at least, went some way towards feeling like another ‘summer of love’. Yes, he future could wait, for the time being…

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