In Stockholm's Rasunda Stadium, 50,000 humans watched the last seconds of the final of the World Soccer Cup between Brazil and Sweden. It had been raining, and under heavy skies pools of water and churned-up patches of mud gave the players a precarious footing.
Most of the fans present, naturally, were Swedes. Now they had lost hope of winning, but they were still dazed by the display of soccer art they had been offered. The Brazilian fans were echoing the slogan which at that moment virtually their whole nation was chanting: "S√£o Jo√£o, S√£o Jo√£o, que o Brasil seja campe√£o [Saint John, Saint John, make Brazil champion]."
Their prayer was answered by a far-from-divine figure in a neat dark blue sweater and shorts: the referee. One hand brought his whistle to his mouth for the long, final blast, and the other swung in an arc to indicate the end of the game.
It was all over. Brazil had won its first World Soccer Cup, a 30-centimeter-high statuette of a woman which was offered in 1930 and is now the most envied trophy in the world's biggest international sport; it is arguably the most desired sporting prize in the world.
July 6, 1958
Brazil itself went wild. (On the day of the semifinals President Juscelino Kubitschek had evaded questions from 20 Pan-American ambassadors on the grounds that "Today is futebol day"; the Senate suspended session when three consecutive senators surrendered the floor to go pick up the game on the radio; a murder trial in Rio was adjourned when prosecutor, defendant and his counsel and the jurymen all rose to cheer the news sneaked into the courtroom that Brazil had scored its first goal against France; after the game, the streets of Rio and Sao Paulo were ankle-high in spent firecrackers, confetti and streams of toilet paper.) But from Vladivostok to Peru, soccer fans had been hanging on to their seats ever since the first qualifying game was played in Vienna on September 30, 1956, when the Austrian national team beat Luxembourg 7 to 0.
From that day on, for almost every month over the next year and a half, somewhere in the world national teams were fighting for the great prize. Fifty-three nations, the largest in world cup history, registered for this competition. Uruguay was the first winner in 1930, and the Italians were world champions in 1934 and 1938. Uruguay regained the title in the first postwar contest, and in 1954 West Germany upset all expert predictions by winning the coveted cup in Switzerland.
Although this championship was fought out smoothly enough, it was not without its incidents. Some national personalities, molded either by current politics or by ancient differences, were unable to overcome these prejudices.
Politics turned the Afro-Asian sector into a shambles. In Group One, Nationalist China withdrew rather than play Indonesia, which defeated Red China to take the group title. In Group Two, Turkey resigned in a huff when she was classified as Afro-Asian rather than European, thereby waiving an almost certain passage to the tournament's last 16 and leaving Israel winner of the group. Cyprus could not get together on arrangements to meet the Egyptians, to whom the Group Three title was thus relinquished without contest. Sudan beat Syria in Group Four, but neither Sudan nor Egypt would agree to play Israel. Then Indonesia could not agree on a neutral site on which to play Israel and also withdrew from the fray.
Thus Israel was technically and comically the victor in a vast section without having played a game. But the organizing committee decided no nation could join the last 16 without having at least one scalp to its belt and ordered Israel to meet one of the runners-up (Wales) in another group. Wales beat Israel and earned an unexpected trip to Stockholm.
Politics queered some of the Latin American playoffs, too. When Guatemala acquired a new president via the assassination of the old one, he suspended his team's cup play. Venezuela also withdrew, but belatedly, and was fined 5,000 Swiss francs by the organizers.
Otherwise the qualifying rounds went off fairly well. There was, of course, the tragedy of Italy, which, having twice won the cup, considers herself the traditional favorite. So much so, in fact, that in 1957 the Milan newspaper, Il Giorno, published in full color, over its entire front page, a picture of 11 footballers and the loud caption, "This is the team which goes to Sweden."
Italy had overlooked Northern Ireland, its next opponent. The Italians and Irish played one tied game, which was recorded as "a friendly" (because the Hungarian referee was fogbound and failed to show) but which was one of the roughest international soccer games ever seen. Then Northern Ireland won the replay; Italy was struck with deep sadness and II Giorno with amazement.
When the last 16 teams got to Sweden for the end rounds (14 of which had battled their way through, plus West Germany and Sweden, automatically seeded as cup holder and host nation, respectively), incidents of another nature developed.
It was freely predicted that the fiery Latin Americans might have trouble getting enough rest for the three-week grind to the finals, and on this score the experts were right. The Argentines were mobbed on arrival by dozens of blonde Swedish teenagers, who seem to have clung to their heroes for almost every moment when they were not on the field. The Argentines, champions of South America, won one game, lost two and finished last in their group. And when they got back to Argentina, thousands greeted them with an assortment of stones, boos and rotten vegetables.
The dark villains of Argentina were not alone in getting behind with their sleep. The Mexican manager moved his entire squad from the first to the fifth floor of his hotel, explaining that this made it more difficult for the girls to climb through the windows. Mexico finished at the bottom of Group Three.
One reporter coming home at 2 a.m. in a small town in the south of Sweden where the North Irish were playing amused himself for half an hour by counting the girls climbing out of the windows in the hotel where the boys from Belfast were staying; he counted four before he got bored.
Then some of the fans got into hot water. Wildly enthusiastic West Germans poured into Sweden to cheer "our World Champions." German tourists outside their own country are pretty hard to stomach anyway, but here they have outdone themselves. Continuously drunk, singing arrogantly, flashing money and breaking all speed laws in their Mercedeses, they earned this rebuke in their own S√ºddeutsche Zeitung: "We too desire one more, even two more, German victories, but we are scared of you, ladies and gentlemen. Even more in victory than in defeat." The editorialist's fears were set at rest when Germany lost to Sweden 3-1 in the semifinals.
Swedish fans were better behaved but wonderfully enthusiastic. The home team always has a definite edge in soccer, and the Swedes are the only ones who have perfected organized cheering. Their deafening "Heja Sverige friskt humoer, det aer det som susen goer, heja, heja, heja [Come on, Sweden, healthy spirits, that is what will do the trick, come on, come on, come on]!" played a major part in taking the team all the way to the final. Needless to say, the Swedes' organized cheering was brought home by a tourist who saw some college football in the U.S.
But the Brazilian fan yielded to nobody in sheer enthusiasm. No one stands for long between him and his team, and that goes for the Brazilians among the 1,800 reporters who covered the games. After the 5-2 win over France in the semifinal, journalists and fans, many wrapped in the Brazilian flag, swarmed down to the dressing room. Access was supposed to be barred immediately after a game, and two guards were put at the door to enforce the rule.
The guards were matched way over their heads. They were knocked down and trampled on. The secretary of the press committee came in to impose discipline and was locked in a closet.
None of this, however, should make us forget the often colorful and occasionally magnificent soccer we witnessed. The 16 nations were divided into four groups of four which played each other once. From them eventually emerged four for straight semifinals and finals, with the two defeated semifinalists meeting for third ranking.
Somewhat sad was the downfall of England, the spiritual home of soccer. But the English did have the satisfaction of holding Brazil to a 0-0 tie and were the only ones who managed to stop the wondermen from South America. Nevertheless, Brazil was the victor in this group, beating Austria, Soviet Russia and Wales. Germany's biggest triumph was the 3-1 win over Argentina. Sweden was the third semifinalist and France the fourth.
The French turned out to be the most underrated players in the tournament. They developed a brilliant attack, sparked by Center Forward Raymond Kopa and their slim, black-haired inside forward, Juste Fontaine, who set a personal scoring record (13 goals) for world cup games. France lost 5-2 to Brazil in the semifinal but easily beat Germany in the playoff for third ranking.
Over 800,000 paid to watch the games in 12 Swedish towns—somewhat less than expected, because several of the best games were televised over the Eurovision network which covers all Europe. But it was a sellout crowd of 50,000 which poured into Stockholm's Rasunda Stadium for the Sweden-Brazil final last Sunday. Powder-blue-uniformed police lined the route; the deafening roar which greeted the two elevens when they took the field was indicative of the anticipation with which the soccer world was looking forward to this clash between two teams of sharply divergent styles. The artistic, dazzling Brazilians, who do not like the hard-tackling type of defense which characterizes European soccer, were expected to be troubled by the vigor of the straight-shooting Swedes.
The trouble, as it emerged, was minor. The Brazilians delivered one of the greatest soccer exhibitions ever seen. They were magical, and they were presenting to the world a new type of football—the best of the South American type which is also the ultimate in modern soccer; soft, yet marked by pin-point precision, fantastic dribbling, lateral and forward, climaxed by booming, goal-jarring shots into the net.
The Swedes fought all the way but were outclassed by a team in which every man was a star. They started dramatically with a goal by their inside left, Nils Liedholm, in the fourth minute. The stadium rocked. Such an opening to a tense game would have put any team inferior to Brazil off its stride. But the South Americans equalized three minutes later through their center forward Vava (Evaldo Netto is his real name, but Brazilian players go by nicknames and are so listed in the official program). Vava scored again the first half, and in the second half more goals came from Pelé, Zagalo and Pelé again. Sweden's second goal, by Agne Simonsson 10 minutes from the end, hardly seemed to count.
If there was a star among stars, it was Pelé (Evaldo Alves Santarosa). Of this 17-year-old soccer genius, Johnny Best (the only American who is a fully qualified international soccer referee) said: "The great player of the last few years was England's Stanley Matthews, but this boy may be even greater. He is the great potential player in football today."
Another giant was Garrincha (Manoel dos Santos). His biggest game was against France in the semifinal. I watched him when the whole stadium was doing likewise, strangely hushed. Garrincha stood off to the right of the French goal, waiting, bending forward over the ball which seemed tied to his boot, the large black 11 on his orange jersey turned upward. Now a blue-shirted French fullback began edging slowly toward Garrincha. Garrincha still waited, his black hair hanging forward, but as the Frenchman came closer his short, wide body began to twitch and jerk, like a good base runner taking a lead and trying to confuse the pitcher.
The Frenchman lunged and then Garrincha went. He moved toward the Frenchman and the goal behind him and suddenly swerved to his left. The defender swerved to follow the orange jersey, but the white ball was tapped in the other direction. Then Garrincha was around the spinning Frenchman and back with the ball. In effect, he had passed to himself. Now he burst toward goal, and the motionless twitching had become a blur of speed. As he was checked by two more blue shirts he side-booted the ball to another orange jersey 10 feet to his left, but kept going. Five paces later the ball reappeared at his feet, perfectly passed back by a teammate. In one tremendous, fluid movement he shot at the goal while still on the dead run. The French goalkeeper dived despairingly, and the crowd let out a hiss of tension that sounded like air escaping from a giant balloon.
This was only one of the fabulous individual and team efforts to which the Brazilians treated us. When the postfinal hubbub had died down and the lights were on in the stands, I had a word with Danny Blanchflower, Northern Ireland's captain and Britain's footballer of the year. His quiet, almost sad verdict: "Well, it's amazing...they are all great players. I hope they never come to England. One at a time, maybe, but never together."