The Brazilians are the most famous footballers in the world, winning five World Cups (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002) and producing many legendary players, from Pélé to Ronaldinho. Widely regarded as the best nation to have played the sport, they are also the only nation to have qualified for every World Cup.
Ever since an English immigrant brought the game back from boarding school in England in 1884, the game has kicked off and teams have been passionate about it. The sport developed quickly and, with the creation of football leagues, a makeshift Brazilian team beat Exeter City in their first match before drawing with Chile in their first international match.
Victories over Uruguay and Paraguay won the Brazilians their first competition in the early Copa América tournaments which at the time took place every year as no World Cup was in place.
Early World Cups
In 1930, Brazil were to take part in the first World Cup in Uruguay. After arguments between different states in Brazil, they sent a team composed primarily of players from Rio De Janeiro, lost to Yugoslavia and went out of the competition in the first round. Four years later, they travelled to Italy for the next World Cup. Enduring a three week boat journey to Europe to take part, the Brazilians again lost their first round match to Spain and were sent straight back on another long distance journey home.
The Brazilians eventually made their mark on the international scene in 1938. In their first round match, four goals from striker Leônidas da Silva helped Brazil win an amazing game against Poland 6-5 after extra-time. A win after a replay against Czechoslovakia then took them through to the semi-finals. The first game against the Czechs, named ‘The Battle Of Bordeaux’, was particularly bloody, with three players being sent off and some opposition players sustaining broken arms and legs. The replay fortunately passed without incident and Brazil won 2-1. Strangely, top scorer Leônidas da Silva was rested for the match in anticipation of the final, and this backfired for the Brazilians when they lost 2-1 in the semi-finals to the eventual winners. In the third-place play-off, they came back from 2-0 down against Sweden to win 4-2.
After the Second World War, Brazil held and won the 1949 Copa América in preparation for the 1950 World Cup, which they were also hosting. After topping their first group stage, Brazil took charge of the final round robin tournament by beating Sweden and Spain 7-1 and 6-1 respectively. They therefore needed only a draw in the final game against Uruguay to win the trophy for the first time. Despite taking the lead, Uruguay equalised and won the game in one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history in front of just under 200,000 fans.
Four years later, Brazil again became famous for the wrong reasons. In their quarter final match against Hungary, the football from both teams was so violent that the match duly took on the nickname, ‘The Battle Of Berne’ and two Brazilians, Nilton Santos and Humberto Tozzi, and the Hungarian József Bozsik were sent off. After the match, it got even nastier, as Ferenc Puskás is alleged to have hit a Brazilian player with a bottle and there was a huge fight inside the Hungarian changing rooms. One Hungarian was left injured and their coach needed stitches. To make matters worse for the South Americans, they lost the game 4-2.
In 1958, Brazil arrived with a different team and a number of potential star players. They started with a win and a draw against Austria and England respectively and had to beat tournament favourites USSR to go through. Because of this, coach Vicente Feola decided to start 17 year-old Edson Arantes do Nascimento, or as we know him, ‘Pélé’. Despite not scoring, he made an instant impression and Brazil won 2-0.
It wasn’t long before Pélé got his name on the scoresheet either, scoring his first goal for Brazil in the quarter final against Wales. He continued his great form with a hat-trick in the semi-final against France, despite Just Fontaine scoring one of his 13 goals from that World Cup. In the final against the hosts Sweden, Pélé again scored two goals including a wonderful goal where he lobbed a defender and volleyed past the Swedish goalkeeper. Brazil won the game 5-2 and the World Cup for the first time. It was too much for the 17 year-old who had already become a legend, and he burst into tears after the final whistle.
Pélé’s story is the ultimate rags to riches tale. His family couldn’t afford a football so he had to play with a grapefruit or a bunch of rolled-up socks and, on top of that, he didn’t have any shoes either so had to go barefoot. Initially, his nickname was taken from his favourite player, Bilé but was soon converted into Pélé. Ironically, he didn’t care for the soubriquet and even attacked a few who used it. It certainly didn’t hurt his football though as, at the age of just 15, he became the youngest player to ever play in the Brazilian league, taking to the field with Santos, he would stay at the club for 16 years and scored a massive 1265 goals in just 1345 games.
Pélé’s Brazil and decades of success
In defence of their title in the next World Cup in Chile, Brazil were dealt a major blow in the first match. After an assist and a goal from Pélé in the first match against Mexico, he injured himself shooting and was unable to play for the rest of the tournament.
However, this time, Brazil’s hero was to come from a different source. Garrincha, meaning ‘little bird’, was another Brazilian who had a tough upbringing. He was born with a disease which meant his legs were bent and one was shorter than the other! Incredibly, such an impediment proved inconsequential, as he became known as one of the greatest dribblers in the game.
With Garrincha leading the way, Brazil picked up a draw and a win which saw them qualify for the quarter finals, where two more goals from him sent England home. Another brace from the ‘Little Bird’ then took them into the final with a 4-2 victory over Chile. Brazil’s superiority shone through as they beat Czechoslovakia 3-1 in the final, despite only drawing with them in the group stages. This time, even without their main player, Brazil were World Cup winners and asserted their status as truly dominant.
Remarkably though, this dominance did not last long, as Brazil struggled in 1966 in England. Things started badly, with an internal dispute over who should be picked for the tournament, and that set the tone for the entire competition. Although Brazil had a full quota of talented players such as Pélé, Garrincha and Tostão, they were targeted from the start. After victory over Bulgaria, opposition teams began to foul star players so that they weren’t able to play. Controversially, Brazil’s last two group matches, where this tactic proved prominent, were refereed by Englishmen who allegedly wanted the best team eliminated so that it was easier for England. Whether true or not, Brazil lost both their remaining group games and were knocked out in the first round. After the tournament, Pélé complained about the treatment he received and vowed to not play in the World Cup again.
‘Greatest Attacking Team’
Thankfully, Brazilian coach Mario Zagallo convinced him to play and he took part in what would be the greatest Brazilian side (and probably the greatest side full stop) ever sent to a World Cup, with the likes of Tostão, Carlos Alberto and Jairzinho in support. They were drawn in a difficult group, alongside the holders England and Czechoslovakia, who beat them in 1966. However, this time they weren’t a problem, with Brazil running out 4-1 winners courtesy of goals from Rivelino, Pélé and two from Jairzinho.
Their next match against the world champions England was much tougher and the two sides were only separated by one goal from Jairzinho. During the game, Gordon Banks produced one of the greatest saves ever from a Pélé header, leaning backwards and somehow managing to put it over the crossbar. With two wins to their name, the Brazilians completed a clean sweep against the Romanians and marched towards the quarter finals.
The great football continued in the knock-out stages, as the aggressive outfit bagged four more goals against Peru and another three in the semi-final against Uruguay. They faced Italy in the final, both teams having won the trophy twice. Brazil took the lead through a brilliant Pélé header before Italy equalised after a mistake in the Brazilian defence.
In the second-half though, Brazil completely outplayed the Italians, scoring three exquisite goals. Gerson’s left-footed drive beat goalkeeper Albertosi to give Brazil the lead. Another well-worked free-kick allowed Pélé to head the ball down for Jairzinho to scramble home. With this goal, Jairzinho became the first player ever to score a goal in every round of a World Cup tournament including the final, a record which remains to this day. The triumph was beautifully rounded off with three minutes to play, as Brazil passed the ball around almost every player in the team before Pélé laid the ball off to captain Carlos Alberto, who smashed the ball home to make it 4-1. This goal is widely recognised as the greatest team goal ever in the World Cup, and perhaps the greatest full stop. With this, Brazil won the cup for the third time and were allowed to keep the Jules Rimet trophy.
Unfortunately, this proved to be the end of Brazil’s golden era as many players such as Pélé retired from the game. In 1974 in West Germany, Brazil’s hopes of retaining the trophy were dented when they drew they first games 0-0 with Scotland and Yugoslavia, a far cry from the attacking prowess seen in the previous competition. Despite these disappointing showings, wins against East Germany and Argentina in the group stage second round meant that a win in their last game against the Netherlands would put them in the final. However, the ‘Total Football’ produced by the Dutch was too much and they lost 2-0. A play-off loss to Poland meant that they would finish in fourth place in the tournament.
In 1978, Brazil qualified for the second round of the group stage on their last match by beating Austria after previously drawing with Sweden and Spain. In the second round, wins over Peru and Poland and a draw with Argentina meant that the Argentineans would have to beat the already eliminated Peru by four goals to send Brazil out. Despite only having scored 6 goals in their previous 5 games, they duly won the match 6-0 and progressed to the final where they eventually won the competition.
Four years later in Spain, reinforcements arrived in the shape of fine individuals like Socrates and Zico. After starting perfectly with convincing wins over the USSR, Scotland and New Zealand, Brazil reached the second round. Unfortunately though, during this second group stage format, the Brazilians went out, despite brushing aside Argentina.
Yet again a good Brazilian squad entered the 1986 World Cup in Mexico and immediately impressed, winning all their first round matches without conceding. Back with a second round knock-out format, they then brushed aside Poland 4-0 and faced France in the quarter final. After taking the lead through Careca, both teams played some magnificent football before France equalised just before half-time. In the second half, Zico, who was injured for earlier games, came on and took what would be a decisive penalty. At 1-1 with only a few minutes, Zico missed the penalty and the match went into extra-time. Still 0-0 after the additional thirty minutes, the game went into a penalty shoot-out. This time Zico scored but Socrates and da Silva missed, sending Brazil crashing out of the World Cup again.
The Nineties and a return to success
For the first time in 40 years, Brazil won the Copa América in 1989, beating rivals Argentina 1-0 in the final. The year after, the team travelled to Italy for the 1990 World Cup but were hindered by relatively unknown manager Sebastião Lazaroni. Prone to defensive football, Lazaroni based his team around defensive midfielder Dunga which did not work out, despite the individual performances of Dunga himself. They did manage to win all three first round matches and only conceded one goal, but the problems were highlighted in the next match against Argentina where they could not break down a stubborn defence and lost the game 1-0. Lazaroni was promptly sacked.
In 1994, under new coach Carlos Parreira, Brazil were finally able to win their fourth title. Goals from Romário helped them through the group stage comfortably and, in the second round, they knocked out the hosts USA 1-0 and followed it up with a win over a strong Dutch team to reach the semi-finals thanks to the heroics of Bebeto. Goalscorer in the game against the Netherlands was Bebeto.
After beating Sweden, whom they had drawn with in the group stage, they reached a repeat of the 1970 contest against Italy. Sadly for the spectators, the match did not compare to the 1970 game and, after 120 minutes without a solitary goal, the match became the first World Cup final to go into a penalty shoot-out. Despite an early miss from Marcio Santos, the Italians proved even more wayward and, when Roberto Baggio hit his spot-kick over the bar, the World Cup was once again in the hands of the Brazilians.
’98 Ronaldo Mystery
More victories in the Copa América soon followed as well, with Brazil winning the first ever Confederations Cup in 1997. During the Confederations Cup, Romário struck up a partnership with young striker Ronaldo. Unfortunately for Brazil, Romário got injured during the run-up to the 1998 World Cup in France and was not included in the squad, leaving Ronaldo as the main striker. Brazil qualified after beating Scotland and Morocco, even though they lost to Norway. During the knock-out stages, consecutive victories against Chile, Denmark and the Netherlands meant Brazil, largely due to the brilliant performances of the young Ronaldo, marched into the final against hosts France.
With the stage set for a classic, before the match, it is rumoured that Ronaldo had a nervous breakdown and initially was not included in the starting line-up, only to be reinstated at the last minute. The reason for his initial omission was evident in his performance, as Ronaldo, along with the rest of the side, looked off-the-pace. The French capitalised and took the trophy in emphatic style with a 3-0 victory.
Five times winners
In 2002, the team, coached by Luiz Felipe Scolari and with new wonderkid Ronaldinho, were one of the favourites for the tournament. The Brazilians breezed through the opening stages, scoring 11 goals in their three group matches, and two more in the second round.
They subsequently faced their toughest challenge in the guise of England and, despite going behind to a Michael Owen goal, Rivaldo scored just before half-time to make the score 1-1. In the second half, Ronaldinho lobbed England goalkeeper David Seamen with a speculative free-kick and Brazil held on, even after Ronaldinho was sent off. Things got even better thereafter, as a victory over Turkey saw Brazil into the final against Germany. Surprisingly, despite the two teams’ excellent World Cup records, they had not ever played each other the competition. Needless to say, the Germans proved another victim of the brilliant South Americans, with Ronaldo destroying any demons of the 1998 Final by scoring twice to win the World Cup for the fifth time for Italy, in the process making himself the top goalscorer in the competition.
By the time the next World Cup came around in 2006, Brazil had been dubbed the ‘team to beat’, with many skilful players such as Kaka, Ronaldinho and Adriano. However, after a slow start to their campaign, everybody was waiting for the team to starting playing the football expected of them. In their final group match against Japan, there were signs of improvement, as Ronaldo scored two goals which made him the joint highest goalscorer in the history of the competition. After the victory over Ghana (with Ronaldo overtaking Gerd Muller to make the record his own), Brazil faced France in a replay of the 1998 final. Unfortunately, the team were again below par, being outplayed throughout the match and finally succumbing to a goal from Thierry Henry.
At this stage, Brazil have hired former captain Dunga as head coach and are qualifying for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa after winning the Copa América for the eight time. Rather curiously, they have already qualified for the 2014 World Cup, as they have been chosen as the hosts for the first time in 64 years.