My first but really faint world cup memory was that of the 1978 world cup. The one live game I remember watching was the host nations shock defeat to Italy. A lone goal scored by Roberto Bettega in the wee hours of the morning back in Nigeria. I fell in love with the Italian from then that I used to wear the number 18 for my then boy’s football club.
It was the 1982 Spain hosted edition that sold me completely on the festival that is the FIFA World Cup. One team though captivated me and as I was to find out years later millions world wide too – Brazil. Younger readers might be bored by how much is written and said about the band of Selecao that played in that tournament.
Well, let me just say that in my view there is no hyperbole in the words used on them.
It was a privilege to have been alive at the time to watch some of their games live on TV. The names still roll off my heart as I write – the back four of Leandro, Luizinho, Oscar and Junior; Falcao, Cerezo, Socrates and Eder made up the midfield with Zico playing behind Serginho upfront.
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They were magical. They made football intoxicating to watch. They dazzled. The goals they scored in that tournament to this day will stand in comparison to any scored before and after that ’82 tournament. It will be hard to better the winner that Eder conjured up in the first game against the Soviet Union: Isidoro on as a sub on the right squared the ball ostensibly to Socrates central and edge of the box, he in turn let the ball travel through his legs, Eder rushing in managed to flick the ball up and smash it home in one fluid movement. An astonishing finish. It took me years later to even notice that he had flicked the ball up before hitting it.
Then came the 5th of July 1982 at the old ground of Espanol Football Club that Brazil needed only a draw against Italy to progress to the semi-final. Slack marking allowed Rossi to ghost in between Oscar and Junior to plant a header past Perez in goal for Italy’s first. Small thing.
The move for Brazil’s equaliser was so good that in commentary for BBC the legendary John Motson gasped at Zico’s fabulous turn that lost his marker Claudio Gentile before sending Socrates on his way. The Skipper, elegantly glided past Marco Tardelli and the sweeper Gaetano Scirea to sweep it past the sprawled Dino Zoff at his near post.
Brazil’s second equaliser after yet another Paolo Rossi goal was almost as brilliantly constructed as the first. A long high clearance from Zoff in the Italian goal was dropping with snow on it. Falcao watched the ball as it dropped and then turned his left foot into velvet carpet, allowed the ball to land on that left foot but roll away delicately to the left for the left back Junior.
Junior picked up the ball and just set off on a run. He brushed off the attentions of Bruno Conti and Giancarlo Antognoni and hit a swerving pass to Falcao who had made up great ground and was on the edge of the Italy penalty area. The AS Roma midfielder had a blue wall in front of him. A wall that collapsed because Toninho Cerezo made a darting run on the outside of Falcao taking two defenders with him. Falcao, cut in, advanced and let rip a ferocious left foot shot that flew past Zoff in goal. 2-2. Surely they will hold on.
They did not. Cerezo gave away a needless corner, from the resultant kick, Rossi was unmarked again to fire past Peres in goal. Italy held their nerve. Went through and the rest is history.
I have tried so many times to come to terms with the fact that Brazil did not win that 1982 world cup, but no matter how hard I try I just can not. Even with a totally useless centre-forward in Serginho and less than secure goal keeper in Peres, that team thrilled all who saw them play.
I sincerely believe that had Brazil won that world cup, the current style of football that seems to favour pragmatism over flamboyance might never have emerged. We all have paid the price of that their failure.
In my life time there has not been a better collection of footballers to represent a national team for me. When one considers the way football has gone ever since that tournament, the types of footballers we see now and those who have won world cup winners’ medals since then, I just have to agree with Zico who was quoted as saying “that football died that day”.
I am off to Brazil for this world cup so please do join me and the rest of the supersport team both online and on TV as we bring you wall-to-wall coverage of the this festival. You can also follow me on twitter @calvinemeka.
This was originally published in June 2014 (just before the Brazil hosted world cup) on supersport.com
I will also be in #Qatar2022 #FIFAWorldCup2022