50 years on from the most beautiful game: Brazil win the 1970 World Cup
“That was sheer delightful football.”
Kenneth Wolstenholme may be best known for his “They think it’s all over...” line at the end of the 1966 World Cup final.
But four years later he also perfectly summed up the conclusion to the 1970 finals in Mexico, when Brazil claimed a third title in four tournaments.
It was on June 21 of that year, at Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium, that the South Americans announced themselves as the greatest team of that era, or perhaps of any era.
Pele was of course the standout individual, but it was a hugely cohesive XI and their synchronicity was perhaps best expressed in the flowing move from defence to attack which led to overlapping full-back Carlos Alberto firing in the fourth and final goal in the victory over Italy.
But this was no free-wheeling group who simply took the view that they would outscore their opponents, and to hell with defending.
Brazil employed a conventional back four, and even had two midfield screens in front of that – Clodoaldo and Gerson.
“It was a team assembled two years earlier, in 1968, on a tour of Europe and the Americas,” said Gerson earlier this month.
“What made that team special was the chemistry we had, as well as our technical, physical and tactical qualities.
“All that made us one of the best teams to this day. Collectively, those things made the team stronger in every way, on and off the pitch.”
Brazil could consider themselves unfortunate to be up against world champions England at the group stage, but overcame Sir Alf Ramsey’s men in the searing heat of Guadalajara.
England goalkeeper Gordon Banks made arguably the save of the century to deny Pele in the first half, but he could do nothing to keep out a powerful drive from Jairzinho in the second, which again came at the end of an intricate team move.
Brazil had effectively been rough-housed out of the 1966 World Cup in England, having won their first two titles in 1958 and 1962.
Gerson says he always expected it would be West Germany, rather than Italy, who his team would line up against in the 1970 final.
But the Azzurri prevailed 4-3 after extra time in a frantic semi-final.
“From a technical standpoint, Germany were the better team (than Italy), at least in my view,” he said.
“Italy were a slightly younger team, but they had over-exerted themselves in the game against Germany, running too much. They were also a good team, but it took a lot out of them, having to play at midday in the Mexican heat.
“For us, it was ideal, because they wore each other out, Italy especially.
“They were more fatigued than us by the time we played. Brazil were technically superior, which all combined to give us victory in the deciding game.”
Pele headed Brazil in front but a defensive mix-up enabled Roberto Boninsegna to pull Italy level before half-time.
It was Gerson who restored Brazil’s lead with 24 minutes to go, with an incredible angled drive which seemed to sap any last ounce of energy from the Italians.
Jairzinho scrambled in a third to give him the distinction of having scored in every game, before Carlos Alberto’s coup de grace.
The surviving members of the team are now in their late seventies or early eighties, and the pandemic put paid to plans for a 50th anniversary reunion.
“I believe the CBF (Brazilian federation) were planning to have a gathering during this period for a celebration, but with this damned coronavirus tragedy, we couldn’t all gather in the same place,” said Gerson.
“But one way or another, we will always stay in touch.”
In a country ravaged by the Covid-19 outbreak, thoughts of football returning may seem distant and frankly trivial.
Memories of a happier time in Brazil’s history, in a sport which is intrinsic to its sense of identity, will hopefully provide a few moments of peace and pleasure this weekend.