Bizarre Team Tactics: Breaking Down How Brazil 1970 Took Down the World

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterNovember 22, 2012

Undated:  Ze Sergio (right) of Brazil tries to evade a tackle by the Argentine #3 during a match. \ Mandatory Credit: David  Cannon/Allsport
David Cannon/Getty Images

Who's better—Brazil of 1970 or Spain of 2012? That's a debate that graces a conversation between football fans all over the world, but the truth is not many know the ins and outs of Mario Zagallo's famous World Cup win in Mexico.

On June 21, the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City housed over 100,000 people who simply stood and stared for 90 magical minutes.

Many back home, too, were dumbstruck as the first ever globally televised international tournament stole the imagination of every spectator.

So how did Brazil go about winning the fabled trophy for the third time in their history?



Brazil's run in to the 1970 World Cup in Mexico was far from ideal.

In 1969, Joao Saldahna was appointed manager of the national side with the intention of leading them to glory the following year. Unfortunately, what followed was a tumultuous 12 months of interference, confusion and backward steps.

The Selecao qualified for the main event in style, winning all six of their games and scoring 23 goals in the process. A quick trip to Europe had Saldahna worried by Europe's physical nature, so he began changing his team to accommodate this.

A warmup loss to Argentina caused "Joao sem medo" to publicly consider dropping Pele due to a lack of defensive work. This promptly got him fired.


Mario Zagallo

His replacement was Mario Zagallo—a coach widely believed to have "gotten away with one."

Saldanha did most of the background work, and the 1958 World Cup winner really only had a couple of choices to make. These choices, it transpires, would almost certainly fail in today's game.

Ignoring suggestions that several of his players were too similar in style and could never play on the same pitch, Zagallo went ahead and put all of his best players into a loose starting XI.


The result was pure magic despite a lack of overall shape.

Carlos Alberto, scorer of the wonder goal below, would bomb forward from right-back as Jairzinho cut inside. This direct threat allowed Zagallo to play Pele and Tostao in the same team, same position and give them similar responsibilities. 

Gerson was the 1970's version of Andrea Pirlo in fulfilling a "regista" role, while Clodoaldo was a vastly talented holder.

Pele and Tostao both played a withdrawn centre-forward role, but the lack of bodies in the box didn't matter due to their right side's attacking potency.


Changing times

Would Zagallo's methods work in 2012? It's incredibly unlikely.

The idea of just playing all your best players on the same team has been replaced by a careful counterbalancing methodology found in most of Europe's top tactician's notebooks.

The Claude Makelele role, the false-six position and other new-age inventions are all borne out of compensating for another player's tendencies on the pitch.

Arrigo Sacchi spoke of ridding specialists, Pep Guardiola continued this trend, but it hasn't caught on. The popularity of the 4-2-3-1 and 3-5-2 formations are a testament to the continued use of compensation in football.

You'll never see anything like this team in football again.

Credit to Jonathan Wilson, Alex Bellos and Paulo Freitas as sources.