July 5, 1982
World Cup 1982. Barcelona, Estadio Sarria
Brazil v. Italy, Group 3 (Qualifying round for place in semi-finals)
Contemporary football fans who have the privilege of viewing the Brazil World Cup team of 1982 will find it challenging to absorb the rhythm, tempo and formation of the Brazilian team because it resembles virtually no other team in the history of football. Coach Tele Santana played a 4-2-3-1 formation with Junior, Luizinho, Oscar and Leandro in defense, Falcao and Cerezzo deep in midfield, Eder, Zico and Socrates in attacking midfield and Serginho as the lone center forward and pure striker. But to say that Santana fielded a 4-2-3-1 formation fails to encapsulate the fluidity, ball control, trickery and attacking mindset of Socrates's team. Full backs Leandro and Junior marched up and down the flanks in ways that resembled Cafu and Roberto Carlos, but they cut diagonally into midfield as well. Socrates meandered all over the field. Zico trekked back deep into midfield to spark attacks and Eder provided a left sided striker complement to Serginho by owning the left flank and barreling in thunderous free kicks as well. In practice, however, Santana's formation represented a free flowing formation that attacked relentlessly on all fronts. Brazil fans who watched the Brazil v. Italy match of 1982 will painfully recall how Brazil did almost no defending in the match against Italy, choosing instead to try and win through ball possession, one touch passing, and streaming attacks on goal that defied any predictable formation or pattern.
Score: Italy 1 – Brazil 0
Clad in short blue shorts and tight golden shirts, Brazil started the match lacking the arrogant flair they had demonstrated in earlier matches of the tournament. The best attack in the tournament knew it was pitted against the best defense. In the early minutes, Brazil attacked primarily down the right side with Leandro, Socrates and Paulo Falcao. The Italian defenders knew Falcao from his time in Italy at AS Roma but that didn’t stop the Brazilian number 15 from showing some bite on the tackle and launching forward to spark one of Brazil’s early attacks. But in the fifth minute, Italy scored out of the blue. Graziani attacked on the right flank before passing to Cabrini on the far left. Cabrini whipped in a wicked curling ball that Rossi headed into goal from close range. Rossi’s selection for World Cup 1982 after a two year ban for failing a doping test had caused considerable debate within the Italian media about whether he merited a place in the national team. Little did anyone know that Rossi would go on to score one of the most famous hat-tricks in the history of the World Cup against the favorites Brazil. Brazil came into the match against Italy unbeaten on 24 occasions, with 20 victories and 4 draws. Their last defeat had been against Uruguay in January 1981.
Score: Italy 1 – Brazil 1
Down a goal, Brazil calmly gathered themselves and returned to their passing game. Serginho squandered a golden chance after a through ball from Socrates bounced off Zico's boots and put him clear in front of the Italian defense. Seconds later, and seven minutes after Rossi’s goal, Socrates played a give and go with Zico by starting deep in midfield, and bursting forward to the right of goal near the touchline. Zico got away from his marker Gentile and flicked a delicate through ball past three Italian defenders to the racing Socrates. The Brazilian captain kept his composure and netted the equalizer from an absurdly narrow angle by the near post. Zico and Socrates celebrated the success of a play that returned the script back to normal, with the favorites Brazil, needing only a draw to go through, back in command.
Score: Italy 2 – Brazil 1
The match turned into something of a stalemate. Brazil kept attacking despite having drawn level with Italy. Eder’s free kicks clattered off the wall and failed to find the swerve for which they were renowned. Gentile manmarked and manhandled Zico, battering him from behind and, late in the first half, tearing Zico’s shirt on the edge of the box. Italy defended deep and moved forward on the counter-attack. Brazil pressed the attack but refused to defend, allowing the Italians to string together passes when they moved forward. Only Paulo Falcao—who had learned about defending from his spell in Italy—tackled in tough against the Italians on occasion and stole the ball for Brazil. In the 25th minute, Cerezzo lazily mislaid a pass across the field that Rossi intercepted and promptly dispatched into the back of the net for his second goal.
Italy 2 – Brazil 2
Down again, needing a draw to go through to the semi-finals, Brazil played their attacking game as usual. It took Tele Santana’s team over 40 minutes to find the equalizer, but these are 40 of the most sublime minutes in the history of football. Save for some isolated outbursts of frustration from Zico about Gentile’s rough play, Brazil concentrated on the task at hand and unfurled its magnificent attacking machine. Socrates started to play on the left in addition to the center and right. Fullbacks Leandro and Junior emerged into midfield and Falcao pressed the attack to compensate for stranglehold the Italian defense had placed on Zico. On the bench, viewers can see Tele Santana with his flourish of sideburns calmly watching his team do what they knew best: work together as a team and find a way to win. Not a blade of grass in the Italian half was left untouched. Eder and Junior pressed down the left flank along with Socrates. Zico dropped deep in order to elude defenders and unleash Falcao and Cerezzo. Socrates, meanwhile, kept control of the team as Brazil probed and probed in order to find the weak link in the Italian defense. The moment of glory came in the 68th minute. Junior darted up the left flank and then cut in toward midfield sharply. He found Falcao to his right on the edge of the box. Falcao collected the ball with his right foot, and—just at the moment when the Italian defenders expected him to move right—took the ball on his left foot and sent a rocket into the roof of the net for the equalizer. All of Brazil’s attacking power had seemingly paid off and now all they had to do was play out a draw for the remaining 22 minutes.
Italy 3 – Brazil 2
Santana had readied a substitute in the minutes before Falcao in the form of Paulo Isidoro, an attacking midfielder intended to give more grief to the Italian defense. Falcao’s goal meant that Brazil no longer needed an attacking substitution, but Santana wanted Brazil to end the game in style. The Brazilian coach took out Serginho, pushed Socrates into the center forward position and then played Isidoro as an attacking midfielder alongside Zico. The new formation ushered in 22 more minutes of unabashedly attacking soccer as Brazil went in search of the winning goal. But in the 76th minute, tragedy struck. Bruno Conti’s corner was deflected by Marco Tardelli to Paulo Rossi, who the Brazilians had amazingly left unmarked in the box. Rossi scored from short range to complete an unforgettable hat-trick. Try as they might, Brazil failed to find yet another equalizer even though they kept bursting forward in waves in the heat of the Barcelona sun.
Notable shirt numbers:
- Arnal Dayaratna, Ph.D.
- This blog reflects on soccer qua football all over the world. The blog has a specific investment in attractive, attacking football and, as such, focuses on Brazil, the most emphatic historical exponent of the beautiful game. More generally, the blog examines questions of leadership, collaboration, teamwork, mentorship and the relationship between sport and aesthetics.