• Rewind to 1970

Brazil mix enough method to their magic

Robin Hackett
February 7, 2013
England and Brazil players line up for the anthems before producing one of the World Cup's most fondly remembered games © AP

On June 7, 1970, defending world champions England met perhaps the finest ever Brazil side in a World Cup group-stage clash in one of the most storied games in international football history.

"You may as well meet the bull at the beginning as at the end," Brazil coach Joao Saldanha said upon being notified of the draw for the 1970 World Cup, which pitted his side against England, as well as Romania and Czechoslovakia, in Group 3. It was a view echoed by the England manager, Sir Alf Ramsey: "If we have to meet Brazil, we may as well meet them like this."

The match between Brazil and England in Guadalajara, Mexico, on June 7 was the subject of feverish anticipation for six months leading up to the tournament. England, the defending champions, would meet Brazil, the people's champions, in the teams' second game of the World Cup.

The Times viewed it as a match between "a better team, England, and better creative artists, Brazil"; the Daily Express summed it up as "Magic vs Method". It did not disappoint. Brazil, having claimed glory in 1958 and 1962, had travelled to Mexico with a point to prove after being bundled out of the 1966 tournament with a whimper.

Public pressure had led the selectors to rely on fading stars like Garrincha in '66 but, though lessons were there to be learned, it appeared the Brazilian federation had not altered its thought process: ahead of the 1970 World Cup, former journalist Saldanha was appointed to lead the national team, seemingly in a bid to ease tensions with a hostile media.

Just three months before the tournament, though, the much-derided Saldanha was sacked amid remarkable claims of turmoil behind the scenes. At one stage, Saldanha had apparently aimed a revolver at Flamengo coach Dorival Yustrich after he publicly questioned him, and Antonio Do Passo, the head of the team's technical commission, demanded Saldanha's dismissal on the grounds that he was "emotionally unstable and not fit to continue in charge of the Brazilian players". He added: "We are walking over the same road that led this team to failure in England four years ago."

Gordon Banks' save made Pele (briefly) hate him 'more than any man in football' © Getty Images

So it was that a World Cup-winning former player, Mario Zagallo, arrived to steady the ship. After a 5-0 friendly victory over Chile in his first match, Brazil went unbeaten under their new coach heading to the finals. In their first game in Mexico, they blew Czechoslovakia away 4-1. England, meanwhile, had seen off Romania 1-0 in their opener in a match most memorable for the provocation handed out to Ramsey's men. Next, Brazil would face England. "England are more solid, more defensive than the Czechs," Pele said, "but they don't have players with the same skills we have."

Both teams faced significant setbacks in the build-up. Brazil suffered the loss of their great midfielder Gerson to injury. England suffered the loss of sleep, with around 100 Brazilian fans attempting to break into the players' hotel rooms while klaxons and car horns blared outside. Unbelievably, a number of England fans then managed to get onto the team bus after pretending to be players. Ramsey lodged a complaint with FIFA, and the governing body then made an official complaint to the Mexican government. "It was too much," England midfielder Bobby Charlton said.

What unfolded at the Estadio Jalisco the following day, though, bore no trace of sleep deprivation. After 18 minutes of absorbing play came one of football's finest moments as Gordon Banks sprang into action to make a low save from Pele's bullet header.

So stunning were the England goalkeeper's reflexes that the Brazilian players asked the media afterwards whether he was a martial artist. Banks later told The Observer: "I heard Pele shout 'goal' as he headed it, which was followed by a massive, almost deafening, roar. Even though I'd got a hand to it, I thought he must have scored. Then I realised the crowd were cheering for me."

Pele was left dumbfounded. "I could not believe what I saw," he said. "At that moment, I hated Banks more than any man in football. When I cooled down, I could only applaud him in my heart. It was the greatest save I have ever seen."

For much of the encounter, Pele was kept under wraps by Alan Mullery, whom the forward praised afterwards as one of the finest opponents he had faced, but Jairzinho - a wizard with the ball at his feet - was another matter. England were, Ramsey later admitted, "wilting under the Brazil pressure early in the second half" and, with 59 minutes on the clock, Jairzinho broke the deadlock, collecting a pass from Pele before hammering past Banks. Brazil captain Carlos Alberto, who scored one of football's greatest ever goals in the World Cup final against Italy, told The Observer in 2002 that the two efforts had much in common. "It was almost the same situation, but I think Jairzinho's was better," he said.

Pele and Bobby Moore swap shirts in Guadalajara © PA Photos
Jairzinho threatened another five minutes later but, as he advanced on a backtracking Bobby Moore at full speed, he would be denied by a tackle - one of several the captain made on the day - that has gone on to earn its place in English football history as the perfection of the art. Tommy Docherty, the former Chelsea and Manchester United manager, described it as "a moment when Bobby Moore revealed his very real talent as a defender" in his 1978 book The ABC of Soccer Sense.

Ramsey had brought on Jeff Astle and Colin Bell for Franny Lee and Bobby Charlton in the 64th minute to force an equaliser, and his changes should have paid dividends. Astle made an open-goal chance for Alan Ball, who miskicked, and Astle himself then spurned a similarly gilt-edged opportunity after a mix-up in the Brazilian defence. England, though, could not force a goal and the match finished 1-0. "The best team did not win today," Ramsey said afterwards. "Brazil were very good in an even match. They took their one chance, which is where we failed."

There was no bitterness. At the final whistle, Pele and Moore had sought one another out to swap shirts to produce one of football's great iconic images. "Bobby Moore has proved himself to be one of the most important figures who have ever played the game," Pele said afterwards. Jairzinho later told FourFourTwo: "I remember after the game all of the England squad came over to meet the Brazilian players and we had some tea and coffee together, which was nice." England were defeated, but there was no shame. As Zagallo noted after the game, they had forced this great Brazil team "to play hard, precise and more scientific soccer - not like the ballet performance against Czechoslovakia".

Newspapers across the globe were united in their praise of both teams, with both El Mundo Deportivo in Spain and A Bola in Portugal describing it as the tournament's "real final", and the encounter has stood the test of time. "That game is like a lesson," Jairzinho added in his FourFourTwo interview in 2002. "A lot of coaches throughout Brazil use that game as a reference when coaching young players."

Its significance was not lost on the legendary AC Milan manager Nereo Rocco, who extolled its virtues in the aftermath. "This is football," he told La Stampa. "I went to Ramsey and introduced myself and congratulated him. Bravo to him - to the great English, to the great Brazilians. All we can do is learn from them. Look at the English - far from home, nobody loves them - but they are tough. They are stubborn. They fight for every ball. I can only applaud. I take my hat off to them, even if they lost."

What happened next?

Pele had said a final between England and Brazil would represent "a wonderful boost for world football", but Ramsey's men exited at the quarter-final stage as they threw away a two-goal lead in a 3-2 defeat to 1966 finalists West Germany. Brazil marched on to the final, where Italy were swept aside in a 4-1 victory that, for many, showed one of the sport's finest ever teams at their very best.

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