On August 31st, 1969 Brazil clinched qualification for the 1970 World Cup Finals by beating Paraguay 1-0 at the Maracana. After a disastrous World Cup in 1966 – still the only time they have not passed the groups stages – Brazil bounced back in style, winning all six of their qualifiers to cruise towards Mexico. The winning goal was scored by none other than Pelé himself, as he sought to end his illustrious career by once again lifting the biggest prize in football. He remains to this day the only player to have won three FIFA World Cups (1958, 1962 and 1970). Respected by both teammates and adversaries alike for his extraordinary ability, he would go on to lead his team to glory one last time.
Clodoaldo (Brazil) – “It was a dream, a real privilege to play with guys like that. So much creativity and ability to start attacks. I won’t mention Pelé, he’s not on quite the same level as he was from a different planet.”
Tostão (Brazil) – “Pelé really prepared for that World Cup. He wanted to end his international career with a major victory, both individually and collectively, so nobody would harbour any doubts that he was the greatest of all time.”
Rivellino (Brazil) – “Pelé was a huge star. The best player in the world. Ever. To me there is no equal. He always led by example on and off the pitch. And, even though he was a huge star, Pelé never shouted that you had to play the ball to him. Never. He always had a positive attitude and always made others play better.”
Bobby Moore (England) – “What is there left to say about Pelé, aptly titled ‘the King of Soccer?’ No player can surely have gripped the imagination, thrilled the sense or prompted a greater adoration on a football field than this man. In an age when individuality bends in the case of greater teamwork and a higher work rate, he has remained the supreme one-man act. In the end it was almost as though the World Cup in Mexico had been staged for his benefit. Football is a game of emotion and I doubt if any one man has stirred more hearts than Pelé.”
Tostão (Brazil) – “I tried to keep up with him. Before he even received the ball, he was on the move, and with his expressive eyes he was telling me what he wanted to do. Analogue communication, through the movement of the body or the eyes, is imprecise but it is much richer than the digital, through words. The body speaks and it doesn’t lie.”
Mario Zagallo (Brazil) – “He prepared as never before to play a good World Cup in 1970 (for this) to be his high point. He’d been injured at the start of 1958. And at 17, he wasn’t quite the Pele he went on to be. In ‘62 he was injured in the second game, and he was injured again in 66. So 1970 was his chance to show his genius. He therefore really prepared to show his football. His influence was collective, he made things easier for the others, because he attracted the marking. So his desire to show his talent was something completely natural. And he was always a good teammate, he was always concerned with things he thought were not correct from the collective point of view. I’ll give you an example from 1970: we were in our base in Mexico, and our base was behind bars, and the public were on the other side of the bars. And the players kept going over to sign autographs, until he called the meeting with all the players and coaching staff and said, ‘Look, we’re here to win the World Cup, and I’m feeling that our attention is not properly focused because all the time we are going over to sign autographs and have our photos taken and this is not good and we have to change our way of thinking on this.’ So both on the field and off it he was exceptional.”
Extracts from The Greatest Show on Earth: The Inside Story of the Legendary 1970 World Cup by Andrew Downie.
Hardback | Pub: 02 Sep 2021
Shortlisted for the Sunday Times Football Book of the Year 2022 One of the Financial Times Top 5 Best Sports Books of the Year The 1970 World Cup is widely regarded as the greatest ever staged, with more goals per game than any World Cup since. But…