Without a doubt, no sport draws as much interest, stirs up as much passion, or elicits such ferocious intensity in Brazil as futbol.
Hands down, no country has a more storied soccer history than Brazil. Names such as Pele, Romario, Rivaldo, Ronaldo and Ronaldino are not only ingrained in the minds of the common Brazilian, but also hold a special place in international soccer lore.
The five World Cup championships in 18 appearances speak for themselves, as do the eight championships in 31 Copa America appearances, as well as the two titles they’ve won in the Confederations Cup.
Since 1992, the year the FIFA World Rankings were created, Brazil has ranked no lower than eighth. Simply put, the Brazilian soccer team is the most successful national football team in the history of the world.
But, while Brazil has been piling up all those championships and victories, their most storied historic moments all come from a period from 1958-1970, also known as the “golden age of Brazilian futbol.”
The first futbol match that exists in “A Selecao’s” annals took place in 1914. The Brazilian team upset an English club 2-0. Although they won the game, things were not so easy for Brazil in the early days.
Being a developing country, Brazil had more important things to worry about than soccer, but much to their credit, they stuck with it, utilizing the same Brazilian passion that their people put into all they do. When the first international match took place in Buenos Aires, in Argentina only a few months later, the disunity of the Brazilian team showed, and they fell to the Argentine team 3-0. The match up with the Argentineans began what would develop into one of the most intense rivalries in all of sports.
Their first real taste of victory came in 1919, when the Brazilian team brought home the first of eight Copa America championships. They repeated their performance in 1922, and with the news of a possible World Championship looming, the Brazilian team readied themselves for the first World Cup, held in 1930.
The World Cup has been dominated by the Brazilian team since it’s inception in 1930. The national team has taken home a trophy in every decade except for the 1980s and the only other team to match the Brazilian’s dominance has been the Italians, who have only won two World Cups since the 1940s.
To put it in perspective, the Brazilian team has won five of the thirteen championships since winning their first in 1958. Their first appearance came in 1930 however, and the teams performance did not live up to national expectations. They were knocked out in the first stage, unexpectedly losing a match to Yugoslavia 2-1, who advanced to the semi-finals before losing to eventual champion Uruguay.
The team’s unsatisfactory performance was made worse by the fact that Brazil’s chief rival Argentina made the final. The team’s performance in 1934 was much more disappointing, however, as the Cup switched formats to a playoff-style system that saw Brazil eliminated in the first round by Spain.
The 1938 tournament saw a change in the head coach of the squad and also gave the Brazilians hope for their national team, although the trophy that many expected the team to bring home again went home with another team.
They won their first game 6-5 over Poland thanks to three goals by Leonidas da Silva (see below), aka the Black Diamond, the pioneer of the bicycle kick, and Brazil‘s first international superstar.
In the second game Brazil tied Czechoslovakia and was forced to replay the Czech team two days later, this time defeating the team 2-1. Leonidas once again played the role of the hero, scoring the only goal in the tied game and the tying goal in Brazil’s victory in the replay.
Brazilian coach Ademar Pimenta foresaw an easy victory over underdog Italy in the semi-finals and decided to bench his star player in order to rest him for the championship match up, but was thrown for a loss when Italy burst out to an early 2-0 lead, ruining his strategy, and throwing the team into disunity. The Brazilians rallied for one goal, but couldn’t muster anything else, falling to the Italians 2-1.
The team did emerge victorious in the third place game with a 4-2 victory over Sweden with Leonidas playing and tallying two goals in the game, giving him a tournament leading seven goals, the Golden Shoe (MVP) for the tournament, and the Brazilian people hope for the 1942 tournament.
That 1942 tournament would never come, for the Brazilians or the rest of the competitors. With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, it was decided that the games be postponed until hostilities ceased. In 1942, instead of sending their soccer club to play Italy, Brazil sent 25,000 troops to Europe to help fight the aggression of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. After the defeat of the axis powers and the subsequent surrenders of Japan and Germany, thoughts could finally return to Brazil’s national sport.
Brazil was awarded the honor of hosting the 1950 World Cup, quite an honor and the only time that Brazil has hosted the tournament.
Better Luck in 1950
Brazil swept through the first stage, defeating Mexico, avenging their loss to Yugoslavia in the 1930 World Cup, and tying Switzerland. Behind the stellar play of Ademir Marques de Menezes, Brazil was one of four teams to advance to the final four round robin.
After clobbering Sweden and Spain by a combined score of 13-2, Brazil met Uruguay in the final. Attended by almost 200,000 spectators (a record), the game took place at Estadio do Maracana. Because of the round robin format of the final four, Brazil needed only a tie to win the trophy, but after taking a 1-0 lead, Brazil allowed two goals in the last twenty minutes of the game, and went home with a 2-1 loss, a second place finish, and plenty of disappointment.
The upset loss to Uruguay is known throughout all of South America as “Final Fatidica,” or the “fateful final.”
Still suffering from the psychological effects of the loss to Uruguay, Brazil put together a shoddy aged team for the 1954 World Cup. Disunity ruled once again, as Brazil could not find a rhythm, but still managed to somehow make it to the quarter finals before bowing out to Hungary in what was labelled one of the ugliest matches in the history of the World Cup.
The real story of the Cup though, was the West German team, which miraculously swept through each of the stages, and defeated Hungary in what was later coined as the “Miracle of Bern.”
Days after the 1954 final, the Confederação Brasileira de Futebol (Brazilian Football Confederation) hired a new President, completely renovated the team, purging it of old aging veterans, training harder than they ever had before, and imposing strict rules that limited almost every aspect of the players’ lives.
Vicente Feola and the Golden Year of 1958
Vicente Feola can take as much credit for the “golden age” of Brazilian futbol as anyone. After taking over the national club before the 1958 World Cup, Feola demanded more from his players than any other coach. He wanted his players to devote themselves wholly to the cause of bringing home a World Cup trophy to the nation of Brazil, and pride to their families and their people.
As such, he devised a list of things he prohibited the players from doing. Some of these included: wearing hats, smoking, and talking to the press. He hardened the team, and formed them into a cohesive unit, unlike the squads that Brazil had assembled in 1950 or 1954.
The team still had individual superstars however, and Feola was counting on team leaders Hilderaldo Bellini, Nilton Reis dos Santos, and Valdir Pereira (Didi, see right) as well as up and coming superstar Edison Arantes do Nascimento, better known as Pele, to lead the Brazilian effort.
The sixth World Cup was held in 1958 in Sweden. Brazil was placed in group Four, considered the toughest group in the entire cup with England, Austria, and the Soviet Union.
While many experts expected Brazil to do well, many found it unrealistic to believe that the Brazilians could hang with the better conditioned, more physical Soviets. Brazil defeated Sweden easily in their first game 3-0, but had a tougher time with England, who drew with Brazil.
The game against the Soviets was the last game of the first stage and determined who would move on to the next round. Feola, a master strategist, heeded the advice of his superstars and switched around the starting lineup to put the pressure on the Soviets early, and put on the pressure the Brazilians did.
From the opening kick off, Brazil attacked the Soviets, keeping them on their toes for what is known as the “three greatest minutes in the history of futbol,” eventually taking the lead and stunning the Soviets. Another goal tallied in the 65th minute put Brazil ahead 2-0 and secured them a spot in the quarter finals.
In the quarter finals Brazil met Wales, who somehow managed to tie all three games they played in the first stage. They kept it tied with Brazil until the 66thminute when Pele scored his first of many World Cup goals, giving Brazil a 1-0 victory, and setting them up for a semi final match-up with France, who defeated Northern Ireland 4-0.
Again, Brazil pushed the tempo and played attacking ball against the French who were down 1-0 after the second minute. They managed to tie it with a goal in the ninth, but a hat trick by Pele squashed any hopes the French had.
Back to Back
The momentum that had been generated by the 1958 Cup carried over to the 1962 World Cup, as Brazil rode the magnificent play of Manoel Francisco dos Santos (Garrincha), swept through the round robin, then beat England, host country Chile, and eventually Czechoslovakia in the final to claim their second consecutive World championship.
The 1962 tournament was notable for the fact that Pele was injured in the first game against Mexico and did not see playing time in any of the games after that, thus making the Brazilian achievement all that more amazing.
In 1966, Brazil was undergoing lots of political changes, and fielding a soccer team appeared to be the least of their concerns, but as the two-time defending champions, they were pressured into taking a team that was less cohesive than the 1958 or 1962 units, and as a result came home from England without even advancing to the quarter finals.
With internal issues finally put to rest, the national team seemed to have assembled a extremely talented squad for the 1970 Cup, and based on it’s performance, many have labelled the 1970 unit as the greatest futbol team of all-time, and the 1970 World Cup as the greatest of all-time.
Led by captain Carlos Alberto, Jair Ventura Filho (Jairzinho), Eduardo Gonçalves de Andrade (Tostao), “Gérson” de Oliveira Nunes, Roberto Rivelino, and of course, Pele, Brazil won their first three games by a combined score of 8-3, in what was considered to be the toughest group once again.
They defeated Czechoslovakia 4-1 in a rematch of the 1962 final, and then took on England in a game titled “the Clash of the Champions,” because of England’s victory in the 1966 World Cup. It was an intense back and forth game, but Brazil emerged victorious on a lone goal by Jairzinho. Romania actually gave the Brazilian squad the best game, and held a lead on Brazil for almost twenty minutes before the squad recovered, winning 3-2.
The squad then soundly defeated upset-minded Peru 4-2 in the quarter finals, and then beat Uruguay 3-1 in the semis in a rematch of the 1950 World Cup final. Brazil faced Italy in the championship game, a match up of the only two nations to have won the World Cup twice.
Pele struck first for Brazil, heading in a cross in the 18th minute and Brazil maintained the lead for most of the first half. In the 37th minute, however, Italy tied it up because of a miscue by the Brazilian defense. The game went to halftime tied at one all, and remained tied until the 66thminute when Gérson punched a goal through. The goal put Brazil up 2-1, and they got two more goals, one by Jairzinho in the 71st minute, and another by Carlos Alberto in the 86th to ice the game, allowing Brazil to claim their third World championship since 1958.
The team was looking for a second repeat in 1974, but the retirement of many aging veterans, including Pele, had taken it’s toll on Brazil, and they could manage no better than fourth place.
They fared a little bit better in 1978, defeating Italy to take home a third place finish. In 1982 Brazil was heavily favored, but were upset by Italy and sent home.
In 1986 Brazil swept through match play, and the first quarter final game, but lost to France on penalty shots, completing one of the greatest collapses in Brazilian soccer history.
Brazil managed to win two more World Cups in 1994 and 2002, bringing their total to five, but they never have managed to recreate the amazing run of the team from 1958-1970.
From 1958 to 1970 Brazil won three World Cup championships and capitalized on the talent of international superstars like Pele, Carlos Alberto, Garrincha, Jairzinho, Gérson, Rivelino, Tostao, Didi, Vava, and Bellini, who all did their part to transform Brazil from a promising soccer nation into the world’s biggest futbol juggernaut.
No other country can top this era of performance, even fewer can even imagine what it is like, and probably none ever will match what the soccer club from Brazil, A Selecao, did in that thirteen year period from 1958-1970.