By Ken Pendleton - EUGENE, OR (Sept. 15, 2005) USSoccerPlayers - For Brazil, the build-up to their 1970 World Cup semifinal against Uruguay actually began 20 years earlier, on July 16th, 1950. That day, in front of 200,000 thousand presumptuous fans packed into the Maracana, Brazil became the only team to lose a World Cup final, 2-1 to Uruguay, at home.
It would be hard to overstate the impact of what has come to be known as the Fareful Final. According to one Brazilian anthropologist, that game was "perhaps the greatest tragedy in contemporary Brazilian history" and another writer compared Uruguay's winning goal to John F. Kennedy's assassination: The goal and the gunshot "have the same drama . . . the same movement, rhythm . . . the same vision of an inexorable trajectory."
This analogy may seem a little over the top and even inappropriate, but their can be no doubting the impact this loss inflicted on Brazilian soccer and society. Numerous books, plays, and short stories have been written about the match. The National team abandoned the Maracana, which was built for that World Cup, for a couple of years, and never played in their all-white uniforms again (ironically, their famous yellow and blue kit was designed by a Uruguayan). On a much sadder note, they did not use another black goalkeeper until 1999. That poor, ill-fated keeper, Barbosa - "the man who" as one woman told her child in front him, "made all of Brazil cry" - was never forgiven: "Under Brazilian law the maximum sentence is 30 years, but my imprisonment has been for fifty."
Twenty years and two World Cup triumphs later, Brazil finally had a chance for some measure of revenge, but, as Pele was warned, "You can lose the Championship - it's important, but we can live with that. We can live with the fact that a team plays its best and loses. But you must not lose to Uruguay. They have been a bone stuck in out throats for long twenty years, and you have to get them out of there."
The 1970 Uruguayans were the perfect foil, the very embodiment of footballing evil for Brazil. They had advanced to the semifinal despite only scoring three goals in four games. Though they were actually quite skillful, they always kept eight players behind the ball, usually playing without a forward, and were content to pass the ball among themselves in their own half for interminable periods of time. The goal did not seem to be to win the match, it was to get to the coin toss (there were no penalty shootouts) and they were more than willing to use whatever violent means were necessary to achieve that end.
This Brazilian team, by starkest contrast, was debatably the best attacking team in the history of soccer. They had a dodgy keeper in Felix and a couple of central defenders, Brito and Piazza, who seemed to suffer from a phobia for crosses, but their attack could more than compensate for all the goals (five in the first four matches) they leaked.
Pele was just one brilliant part of the offensive ensemble. Gerson, who smoked forty cigarettes a day, was perhaps the greatest passer in the history of soccer. His left-footed understudy, Roberto Rivelino, was nearly his equal as a passer and one of the greatest takers of free kicks. Pele's partner, Tostao, was so inventive that he could flourish as a center forward despite the fact that he would not head the ball. Jairzinho had used his irresistible combination of pace and power to score in every match. And Clodoaldo, the youngest member of the attacking sextet, used his skill and energy in midfield to compensate for Gerson's self-induced lack of mobility.
For all their attacking talent, Brazil's play in the first half seemed to confirm all of their defensive weaknesses and historical fears. Brazil, for the only time in the competition, could not string together their passes and, to make matters far worse, they conceded a soft goal after 18 minutes. Julio Morales intercepted a casual pass from Brito and quickly fed Luis Cubilla, who had alertly moved into the inside right channel. Since all of his teammates were still in his own half, he had no choice but to shoot from the tightest of angles. It should have been a simple save of a soft shot, but Felix was caught cheating to the near post and the ball slid just inside the far post.
Part of Brazil's problem, as Pele had been warned before the match, was that "the sight of the Uruguayan uniform is enough to make all Brazilians tremble in their boots." Beyond that, however, they faced a major tactical problem. Uruguay quite correctly surmised that Gerson was the key to Brazil's attack. He liked to pick up the ball from deep positions and use the time afforded by the stifling heat in Guadalajara to orchestrate Brazil's attacks. Given this, Uruguay decided to man-mark him, essentially taking him out of the game, and this caused Brazil serious problems for a about forty minutes.
Gerson decided to drop still deeper, more or less ceding to Uruguay S tactics and giving his playmaking role to Clodoaldo. This paid immediate and timely dividends. Right before the half, Clodoaldo received a pass in midfield, quickly played a ball out to Rivelino on the left. Because Gerson was providing cover, Clodoaldo was able to continue his run all the way into the penalty box, where he received an extraordinarily accurate return pass, which he half-volleyed past the helpless Ladislao Mazurkiewicz.
This was the turning point. It settled Brazil's nerves and allowed them to keep Gerson in the match. If they had not scored, Paulo Cesar, an orthodox left winger, probably would have come on and Rivelino would have retreated to assume Gerson's playmaking role. Instead, Uruguay, out of newfound respect for Clodoaldo, had to yield space to Gerson and he was finally free to orchestrate matters.
In fact, Brazil controlled the second half with their attacks and the winning goal, scored in the 76th minutes, was all but inevitable. Jairzinho picked up the ball deep in his own half and carried it upfield before releasing it to Pele in the center circle. Pele quickly laid it off to Tostao, who returned the ball to the advancing Jairzinho on the right. Jairzinho, as he had so many times before in this tournament, overpowered his marker until he was in a position to shoot precisely into the far corner.
This forced Uruguay to come out of their shell. They very nearly scored - Felix made a brilliant reflex save on a point blank header by Cubilla - but it also exposed them. Sure enough, in the 89th minutes, Tostao picked out an unmarked Pele. He calmly advanced to the edge of the area, took his time surveying his options, before softly rolling the ball Rivelino, who shot the ball under Mazurkeiwicz.
By way of describing the second half, one English coaching manual noted that there was nothing practical to be learnt from analyzing Brazil's second half performance, which were born of "individual skill," because "we are unable to ask our players to 'play like Pele'."
In the second half, Pele, in spite of brutal marking - he complained that they played as "if there were no referee on the field" - transcended the limitations that constrain mere mortals. Not only did he have a hand in both goals but he very nearly invented two others.
Having noticed that "Mazurkiewicz had the habit of kicking the ball out short to his backs after making a save," Pele suddenly turned on one and volleyed it right back at the goal, almost beating the stunned keeper.
And, even more astonishingly, he pulled off the most magnificent dummy, maybe the most heads-up play ever. Tostao played a through ball to Pele, running from right to left with only Mazurkiewicz to beat. Instead of collecting the ball and trying to round him, as any other player would have done, Pele let the ball roll past both of them and then collected it on the right side. Mazurkiewicz was nowhere to be found, but Pele shot just wide. This was a small pity, a slight cosmic injustice, but the goal would have only have played second fiddle to his sublime speed of thought.
This result, the way Brazil came together and overwhelmed Uruguay, did not erase 1950 - they are still quite haunted by it - but it did ease the memory and, as Pele explained after the match, it was comprehensive victory for attacking soccer: "One cannot win games by defense, the best one can hope for with defense is not losing. And not losing is not winning."