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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.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Flashback: Garrincha and the lost art of dribbling. Brazil v. Soviet Union, World Cup 1958

Lionel Messi may be the greatest dribbler in the modern game, but his shifts of pace and effortless sidestepping of opponents should perhaps more aptly be termed gliding rather than dribbling. Dribbling refers to an array of tricks for outmaneuvering an opposing player that include zig-zags in ball direction, rapid changes in the ball's point of contact with the foot, step-over moves, exceptional ball control and a passion for entertaining fans. Alongside Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo qualifies as an effective dribbler as does Santos's Neymar. That said, given the retirement of Ronaldo of Corinthians, and the sunset over the career of Ronaldinho and Rivaldo, dribbling is rapidly becoming a lost art. Spain's pre-eminence in modern football was built on a passing game as opposed to dribbling skill. Brazil constitutes the leading contemporary candidate to resurrect the art of dribbling owing to a long dribbling tradition epitomized by Garrincha in the 1950s and 1960s and members of the great World Cup team of 1970 such as Clodoaldo and Rivelino.

In his book Garrincha: The Triumph and Tragedy of Brazil's Forgotten Footballing Hero, Ruy Castro helps us recall the magic of Garrincha and the lost art of dribbling in a moving excerpt about Brazil's clash with the Soviet Union in the 1958 World Cup. At the time, the Soviet Union was feared because of their legendary fitness and scientific approach to both training and tactical deployment on the field. Brazil fitness trainer Paulo Amaral called up Garrincha to the first team because he knew only Garrincha could run the Soviets in circles and enable Brazil to take the lead in scoring. True to Amaral's instincts, Garrincha shocked the Soviet defenders with his looping runs that tied them up in knots in the opening seconds of the match. Within three minutes, Vava scored for Brazil. Castro describes Garrincha's effect on the Soviets as follows:

"And there were still 87 minutes to go. Had it gone on that way for the rest of the game the Soviets would have been looking at a season in Siberia. Their proud "scientific" football had never before been so demoralised, and by the most improbable source: a poor Brazilian peasant -- dark-skinned, small as a bird, cock-eyed and with ridiculously crooked legs. Garrincha was a perfect example of anti-science; he was anti-Sputnik, anti-electronic brain, Kessarev, Krijveski, Voinov, Tsarev and especially Kuznetzov were all taken to the cleaners by the little man at some point during the game, either one at a time or in pairs or threes, or sometimes even one after another.

At the start of the game, after those ferocious opening three minutes, the Soviets still thought their problem was with marking, and they began to fight among themselves. But if they did tighten up it wasn't noticeable because Garrincha continued to run rings round them. Then the Soviets resorted to trying to bring him down, largely unsuccessfully. In one memorable incident, after leaving a defender on the ground Garrincha put his foot on the ball and with his back to the player offered his hand to help him up. He lifted the player up and then started running again as it were the most natural thing in the world.

Brazil would score just once more, when Vava doubled his tally 31 minutes into the second half. But it felt like the biggest hammering in World Cup history. At no time did the Soviets threaten to score; Gilmar had only one save to make. It was a different story at the other end, where only Yashin's brilliance had helped avoid a catastroph. Brazil mounted 36 attacks, 18 of which were dangerous, and they hit the woodwork twice. Garrincha had arrived, and not just for those watching live but also for those listening in at home. From that day on there were no more Botafogo fans, Fluminense fans, Flamengo fans, Corinthians fans or Gremio fans. Everyone was now a Garrincha fan, even when he played against their own team.

In the dressing room after the game, Garrincha had no ideas who had been marking him. And why would he? He hadn't been marked by one man but by many, and all their names ended in ev or ov. What did he care? The only thing he said, which summed up his performance perfectly, was, "I was hungry for the ball today."

(Castro, 122-123)

Here, Garrincha leaves a Soviet defender for dead on the Swedish turf before returning to extend a hand to help him up and darting forward toward goal once again. Garrincha had been left out of the earlier group matches against Austria and England, but was included in the match against the Soviet Union to counteract their alleged ability to run for 180 minutes. The Soviets were favorites to win the 1958 World Cup in the heyday of the Cold War, having won Olympic gold in Melbourne in 1956 and launched Sputnik in 1957. But out of the blue, Garrincha's passion and playfulness with the ball enabled Brazil to defeat the Soviets and march towards its first ever World Cup championship.


  1. There's one saying, that C.Ronaldo uses a bag of tricks to fool one single opponent (at one time); while Messi (simultaneously) fools a bag of opponents with just one single trick.
    I think this is also true in general between dribbling and gliding.
    It is clear that which one is more effective.

  2. Garrincha was, indeed, a fantastic dribbler. However, Pele might have surpassed him! This historical article is, of course, informative and I would recommend it to football aficionados. Ronaldinho and Ronaldo are also great legends as to the art of dribbling. Hence, I hope that Brazil continues this tradition of amazing dribblers, which is mostly needed in view of reigning in 2014.