Teenager Pele shows why Brazil would forever be a World Cup favourite

Pele

Brazil's Pele, wearing a Mexican sombrero, is carried from the field on the shoulders of jubilant fans following their 4-1 win over Italy in the 1970 World Cup final in Mexico.


Photo credit: File | AFP

What you need to know:

  • This World Cup saw the entry and qualification of the Soviet Union for the first time, while Argentina reached the finals for the first time since 1934
  • Brazil’s 4–2–4 system favoured the attack, and Pelé was just the right player given his exuberance and ability to score from practically anywhere in the penalty area
  • While the French had proven to be offensive masters, it was a teenager named Pelé who showed them and the world that Brazil would forever be a World Cup favourite

Sweden had been named host in 1950, following some initial interest from Argentina, Chile, and Mexico, putting the Scandinavian nation and the 12 cities that hosted matches at the centre of the soccer world.

Once again, the tournament went through a format change. The competing nations, still numbering 16, were placed in four groups of four. Only this time, each team played one another once, without extra time being used in the event of a draw.

If the first two teams finished equal on points, then goals scored would be used as the first tiebreaker—the first time it would be used at a World Cup.

The top two teams advanced to the quarter-finals.

It marked the first World Cup without Rimet, who died in 1956 at age 83. It was also the first tournament since the creation of the Union of European Football Associations, commonly known as Uefa.

The organisation would become very powerful in the ensuing decades after the creation in 1955 of the European Champions Cup, an annual continental tournament opened to clubs.

The tournament would be renamed the Champions League in 1992. It is today the most coveted championship in all of club soccer and rivals the World Cup in prestige.

Sweden and defending champions West Germany qualified automatically, while the remaining 14 places were allocated this way: nine to Europe, three to South America, one to North/Central America, and one to Asia/Africa.

This World Cup saw the entry and qualification of the Soviet Union for the first time, while Argentina reached the finals for the first time since 1934.

The draw, with teams separated, yielded the following four groups:

Group 1: West Germany, Czechoslovakia, Northern Ireland, and Argentina;

Group 2: France, Yugoslavia, Scotland, and Paraguay

Group 3: Sweden, Hungary, Wales, and Mexico;

Group 4: Austria, England, the Soviet Union, and Brazil.

The draw’s emphasis on geographical diversity, rather than ranking teams by recent success or reputation, resulted in four very even groups.

Semi-finals

Brazil faced France in Solna on June 24, while Sweden traveled to Gothenburg to meet West Germany in the other semi-final.

Brazil, increasingly the favorites to reach the final at this point, put on an offensive show against the French.

Vavá put Brazil up after just two minutes, but Fontaine equalised seven minutes later. What looked to be a close game became anything but.

Pelé, who had become one of the tournament’s most popular players, netted a hat-trick to power Brazil to a 5–2 victory.

The game, largely lauded as the tournament’s best match, showcased just how strong the Brazilians had become during the course of the decade.

Indeed, under Feola, Brazil had been transformed into a creative attacking force. Brazil’s 4–2–4 system favoured the attack, and Pelé was just the right player given his exuberance and ability to score from practically anywhere in the penalty area.

While the French had proven to be offensive masters, it was a teenager named Pelé who showed them and the world that Brazil would forever be a World Cup favourite. Sweden, meanwhile, also reached the final—buoyed by the home crowd of nearly 50,000—to defeat West Germany 3–1.

“When I saw Pelé play, it made me feel I should hang up my boots,” Fontaine told reporters.

The final between Sweden and Brazil would prove to be a fantastic encounter between two teams who shrugged off defensive tactics in favour of attacking soccer.

In the third-place match, Fontaine would score four goals in France’s 6–3 win against West Germany to finish as tournament top scorer with 13 goals. Nonetheless, all eyes were on Pelé as Brazil prepared for the final.

Final: Brazil v Sweden

Following a day of heavy rain, Råsunda Stadium in Solna played host to the World Cup final on June 29 between Brazil and Sweden.

Nearly 52,000 fans packed into the venue to cheer on the home side, while the Brazilians, looking to shake off the ghosts of 1950, came into the match as the favourites.

It was the first time in World Cup history that a final featured a European nation pitted against a South American one.

The Brazilians, playing in their secondary blue shirts to avoid a clash with the home team, had insisted on playing in their canary-yellow shirts.

A draw was arranged in order to decide which team would use its regular jerseys.

When Brazil boycotted the draw, Sweden was announced as the winner, and Brazil was forced to find an alternate jersey color.

Initially, Brazil considered wearing white, but the idea was rejected when the players were frightened by the notion that it recalled their defeat in 1950.

Instead, the team purchased 22 blue jerseys and sewed the official national team crest on the chests on the eve of the game.

Both Sweden and Brazil played with defensive recklessness— although Feola made one key change that would prove crucial in the end.

Out was defender Newton de Sordi, and in his place Feola inserted, for the first time in the tournament Djalma Santos, a member of the 1954 team.

Both Djalma and Nílton Santos combined to defuse the dynamic Swedish scoring duo of Skoglund and Hamrin.

Sweden, coached by the Englishman George Raynor and playing a 4–1–4–1 formation, took the lead after just four minutes, following an excellent finish by Liedholm after beating out two defenders.

The Swedish tactic of scoring early had worked, but the effect of putting the Brazilians on their heels would not.

It was the first time Brazil had been down a goal at this tournament, but the lead evaporated.

Vavá equalized just five minutes later, poking the ball into the net right in front of goalkeeper Kalle Svensson following a pass from Garrincha, whose nickname translates into “Little Bird,” after he flew down the wing.

In the 32nd minute, Vavá scored a second goal, very similar to his first, to give Brazil a lead 2–1 at the break.

Ten minutes into the second half, Brazil put the match out of reach when Pelé scored in the 55th minute. The goal was born after Pelé took control of the ball inside the penalty area, chipped the ball over a defender, then brilliantly shot it past a helpless Svensson.

The Brazilians totally dominated the Swedes from that point forward.

Mário Zagallo, one of the team’s most adept wingers, scored a fourth in the 68th minute, and Sweden responded with a goal by Simonsson in the 80th minute.

With Sweden’s backline in disarray, Pelé scored a second in the final minute, a goal that came after out-jumping his marker to head the ball into the goal, completing the 5–2 win.

The crowd cheered at the sound of the final whistle.

The Brazilian players, who had won the hearts of the home nation with their off-field friendliness just weeks prior, returned the favor by parading a Swedish flag around the field for the crowd to see.

The players then received the congratulations of King Gustav IV as Pelé sobbed from overwhelming emotion.

For a player who would come to be known as O Rei (The King), the finale was a fitting tribute to the game’s new royalty.

Pelé had left his hometown by train to embark on a pro career. He returned from Sweden just two years later by plane as a world champion.

In fact, Pelé and his teammates were treated like kings upon their arrival in Rio de Janeiro.

The players were feted like heroes in the streets with carnival-like ecstasy.

Scores of Brazilians jumped and screamed with joy, some passing out from the emotion. Confetti rained down from buildings, and Pelé needed dozens of police officers to protect him from the enthusiastic crowds as the players rode a bus hoisting aloft the trophy for the masses to see. The ghosts of 1950 had, in large measure, been exorcised.

Tomorrow: Eusebio and the “swinging sixties”

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