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THE FINAL OF THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH

  16 Dec '22   |  Posted by: Birlinn

This Sunday, Argentina and France will square off for the biggest prize in football, the FIFA World Cup. After a tournament of upsets, penalty shootouts and nailbiting finishes, it all comes down to this. Ahead of the final, get yourself in the mood with our latest blog, where we share an extract from Andrew Downie’s The Greatest Show on Earth, the story of the 1970 World Cup in Mexico.


The Brazilians were confident of victory but they were not immune to nerves. Pelé, who already had two World Cup winner’s medals in his drawer at home, admitted he felt tense and Tostão, who had come through more than most to get to his first final, was particularly worried.

Tostão (Brazil): I was very tense, very worried, as was everybody. The game kicked off at midday, I think because the tradition in Mexico was that the bullfights started later in the afternoon. We got up for breakfast and there was this enormous tension; no one said a word until Dario – Dario is the funniest, most talkative person the world has ever seen – asked to address the group. He went to the head of the table and said: ‘I want to let you all know something important. Last night I dreamt that I scored three goals, so pick me to play and I guarantee you won’t regret it.’ [Laughs]. Everybody started laughing and the atmosphere lightened. He didn’t even make the subs’ bench. But the tension was massive.

Ado (Brazil): The coach going to the game that day was tense. We had this habit of singing, Jairzinho always led the way, beating away on his drum, everyone else joining in and singing along.

Pelé (Brazil): When we were on our way to the Estadio Azteca Stadium, on that rainy morning of 21 June, we were playing our samba when without knowing why I had a crying fit. I had a rattle in my hand and I pretended that I had dropped it under the seat of the bus. I stayed bent down until it was over. I didn’t want them to see me. I was, after all, the most experienced guy there and I needed to transmit calm. It would have been dangerous to transfer that to the rest of the squad. Those tears got it out of my system and I was all good by the time I ran out.

Ado (Brazil): Once we got to the ground we were all a bit relieved. We felt, well, we’ve got this far, there’s no way we’re losing now. And I thought, ‘We’re going to be champions, because Italy are dead on their feet, they played 120 minutes.’ We could see that they were dragging themselves onto the pitch while we were quite spritely, having had a relatively easy game before, winning 3–1. We were all fit and ready to go.

Pelé (Brazil): I was the most established of all our players. So I tried to put the players who were playing their first final at ease. I only gave interviews to say that we were going to win, that we were the best. That could affect the spirit of the squad. ‘If Pelé says it then it must be true,’ the younger guys said. In private, I was sure that was the case.

Mario Zagallo (Brazil coach): The Mexican newspapers said we should hammer the Italians. But luckily those papers didn’t find a way into our concentração. We were confident that we would win a third World Cup but we respected the Italian team. Our optimism didn’t extend beyond 2–0 or 2–1. I myself didn’t believe we’d win by much more than 2–1 and I wouldn’t have been surprised if it had been a draw. The way the Italians played and the results that they had secured this far, in addition to the individuals they had in their side, identified them as a natural candidate to win a third title.

Pelé (Brazil): The final can be seen as the third revenge for Brazil. The first was against England, champions in 1966. The second came against Uruguay, for the 1950 defeat, and now, some people remembered that we had lost to Italy in the 1938 World Cup. That fact meant nothing to any of the Brazilian players. We just wanted to win the Jules Rimet trophy definitively. We wanted to win the title.

Over at the Italian camp, Ferruccio Valcareggi told his team they had nothing to fear from the Brazilians but his players were not naïve; they knew the enormity of the task ahead of them.

Sandro Mazzola (Italy): Our coach planned well for our games. He was very close to us, and he told us how strong we were and how Brazil could be beaten. He told us several times that the seleção was not so strong, but we obviously had doubts about this. But it was his way of encouraging us. After all, you don’t play a World Cup final every day. And we also wanted to get a kind of revenge on the [Italian] federation because we had found out that they had booked us a return journey on the day after the group stages ended. When we found that out we were angry. We were in the final.

Tarcisio Burgnich (Italy): Italy–Brazil was the most important match of the time. Both of us had already won two Jules Rimet trophies. Us in 1934 and 1938; them in 1958 and 1962. However, the Brazil we played against was on another level, from another planet. They had incredible players, scary individuals.

In addition to form – Brazil had scored fifteen goals in five games, the Italians just nine, and three of those came in the extra time against West Germany – there was fitness and organisation to consider. The Italians had played an additional thirty minutes in the semi-final and they knew that both teams who had played extra time in the tournament so far had gone on to lose their next game, no doubt hindered by their extra exertions. There was also some discontent in the Italian ranks over their final preparations.

Enrico Albertosi (Italy): In my opinion, logistical errors were made in that World Cup. First: the game was played at noon local time, an unusual time. We weren’t used to playing at that time. At breakfast we ate spaghetti. Second: we returned to Italy immediately after the end of the match against Brazil. So the night before we had our minds on something else: packing and other things because we would leave direct from the stadium to go to the airport and not return to the hotel first. We only started thinking about the game when we got on the coach. It was only at that moment that we were psyched for the final.

Pelé (Brazil): On the 17th, to get to the final, they had played 120 minutes against the Germans in that really tough game that ended 4–3. Before that they had played against Mexico in Toluca, the highest city in the country. I thought that would affect their performance.

Sandro Mazzola (Italy): The tunnel is always a bit special. We were waiting for the arrival of the referee and the linesmen. It was a surreal situation and we said to ourselves, ‘Now let’s show them.’ I remember going up the tunnel steps, to enter the field; it was really terrible. The image I can’t forget is when we were lined up for the national anthems. We wanted Brazil to think we weren’t afraid, but yes, we were afraid. The Brazilian national anthem played and they belted it out. Then the Italian anthem came on and we were petrified looking at the Brazilians. So I said to my teammate, the captain Facchetti, if we don’t sing they are going to think we’re scared of them. And so we sang but it was a disaster because we were so emotional at being in our first final that the words didn’t come out properly.

Pelé (Brazil): The Mexicans transformed the Estadio Azteca into the Maracanã, with the same atmosphere. I think that 30 per cent of our victory should be credited to the Mexicans.

Brazil started the better of the two sides as they both tried to feel their way into a game played under heavy and humid skies over Mexico City. Italy soon took control of the match, however, with Felix forced into two good saves as the Italians, hoping to catch out a keeper they knew was shaky, tried their luck from long range. However, it was the South Americans, slightly against the run of play, who opened the scoring as Pelé got Brazil’s 100th goal in World Cup competition.

Pelé (Brazil): The game had been in progress only seventeen minutes when we scored the first goal. Rivellino crossed a high ball over the heads of the Italian defence and I jumped as high as I could, higher than the defender and headed the goal over the fingertips of Albertosi.

British TV commentary by Bobby Moore: It was a very simple goal there by Brazil but marvellously taken by Pelé. It all just started from a simple throw-in; here we can see Tostão take it. Rivellino just crosses a simple volleyed ball but Pelé is up there like an eagle and a tremendous header. A wonderful goal by Brazil and a wonderful time to go into the lead. And I must say it’s the first bit of freedom that Pelé has had but he made full use of it.

Pelé (Brazil): I timed my jump to perfection. I leapt in the air, striking it with my fist screaming GOOOOOOAAAAAALLLLLL!!!!!! until I was almost hoarse, while the others smothered me under them in congratulation.


Andrew Downie is the Brazilian football correspondent for Reuters, and has lived in the country for almost 20 years. He has written on football for GQ, the Economist, the New York Times and the Guardian among others. He translated Garrincha: The Triumph and Tragedy of Brazil’s Forgotten Footballing Hero, and is the best-selling author of the critically-acclaimed Doctor Socrates: Footballer, Philosopher and Legend. Now based in London, he still spends much of the year in Brazil.


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