Brazil, a team that plays with the fluid rhythm of a conga dancer and the daring of a bullfighter, brought wild ecstasy to most of the 112,504 howling Latin Americans in Aztec Stadium in Mexico City last Sunday when it destroyed a confused Italian team 4-1 to win the world championship of soccer.
The rout was chiefly the handiwork—or footwork, rather—of a pair of splendid veterans, Edson Arantes do Nascimento, known as Pelé, and Gerson Oliveira Nunes, known simply as Gerson. Each scored a goal in the victory, but it was the cool craft of Gerson in directing the subtle, intricate Brazilian attack and the deft, almost psychic passes of Pelé that most often initiated the swarming raids that riddled the Italian defense time and time again.
Gerson is a small man, going a bit bald on top, and his uniform hangs loosely on him, but on this overcast day he was a commanding figure on the wide green field of Aztec Stadium. With the ball at his feet, quietly surveying the moving pattern of play in front of him, he found the flaws in what had been considered one of the stronger defenses in soccer with almost uncanny precision. As often as not, he started the Brazilian attack with a pass to Pelé, who had three more quick, adept and intelligent forwards to help him move the ball in Tostao, Jairzinho and Rivelino.
Even so, only the first Brazilian goal was a simple one. It came well into the first half after the two teams had tested each other gingerly on a field made slippery by a drenching rain that ended just before the start of play. As the game progressed the clouds lifted, the field dried and the Brazilians began to move with the effortless speed and coordination that marked all their games in this World Cup competition.
That first goal started with a throw-in by Tostao. He dumped the ball at the feet of Rivelino, who lifted a delicate, high cross to the far edge of the Italian goal mouth. There Pelé, guarded closely by Italy's Tarcisio Burgnich, climbed high into the air, seemed to hang for a moment, then nodded briskly and headed the ball into the back of the net past the groping fingers of Enrico Albertosi, Italy's goalkeeper.
Italy equalized late in the half. Roberto Boninsegna pounced on a careless pass deep in Brazilian territory and joined with Luigi Riva to overpower the one man left to help Felix, the Brazilian goalie. Boninsegna scored easily. The goal seemed more a freak of fate than a planned sortie and it typified the Italian offense, which appeared to be based on two premises: one, that the Brazilian defense would make enough mistakes to allow the Italians to collect sufficient garbage goals for victory, and, two, that their best answer to Brazil's sinuous offensive was a long pass to Riva somewhere near the Brazilian goal. That and a fervent prayer. Indeed, the day before the match a man close to the Italian team said, "You could kill Riva and everyone would still be passing to him." Against Brazil, unfortunately, he was as good as dead.
With the field becoming fast and the sun trying to break through in the second half, the Brazilians opened another notch in what must be soccer's finest attack, completely befuddling their rivals. Italy's answer was a series of fouls, most of them perilously close to the penalty area.
None of the resulting free kicks scored for Brazil, although once, from about 25 yards out, Rivelino drilled a high shot that slammed into the crossbar at the top of the cage, bounced into the air and finally trickled off the field. At last, though, it was the unheroic, almost shambling figure of Gerson that created the precise combination of passes leading to the goal that put Brazil ahead for good. Gerson started at mid-field, moving slowly, keying the pattern developing before him. He tipped a rolling pass to Everaldo, moving to his left. Everaldo put the ball ahead to Jairzinho, playing on the fringe of the penalty area, while Gerson broke on an angle, running hard toward the goal. Jairzinho, besieged by the frantic Italian defense, hit a quick short pass back to Gerson, who intercepted the ball perfectly and then sent a booming left-foot shot that flashed by Albertosi into the back of the net before the Italian goalkeeper had time to react.
Practically, the game ended with that score. Italy's attack grew no more imaginative. For some devious reason, Ferruccio Valcareggi, the Italian coach, benched Gianni Rivera, his only player with the tactical sense to match that of Brazil's Gerson. Rivera had had personal differences with Valcareggi early on, but it was Rivera who had animated Italy in its enormously exciting 4-3 overtime victory over West Germany in the semifinal. He sat on the sidelines against Brazil until the game was well lost, with only six minutes to play. Rivera was the only man on his team without a Riva complex.
For most of the second half the Brazilians seemed to toy with the Italians. Their attack never faltered, but now and then one of their talented forwards would add a grace note to a linked series of passes, almost as if he were trying to add an extra fillip of entertainment to please the vociferously pro-Brazil crowd.
Again it was Gerson who provided the deep penetration into the Italian defense that opened a gap for the third goal. This time, instead of starting the attack with a series of short passes, he spotted Pelé relatively unattended near the goal mouth and lofted a long, high pass to him. By the time the ball arrived Pelé had slipped his cover, Burgnich, and had lifted himself high in the oddly balletic leap that makes him so dangerous anywhere in the vicinity of the goal. Albertosi dived toward him to block the apparent shot, and Pelé butted the ball to the feet of Jairzinho on the other side of the goal. Jairzinho rolled it in easily.
The last Brazilian goal was a salute to Carlos Alberto Torres, the captain of the team, who is primarily a defender and seldom scores. Against the now-demoralized Italian defense Brazil moved the ball almost at will, and Pelé, after another clever, exact series of passes, wound up with it in front of the Italian goal. It appeared that he could have scored himself, but somehow he sensed Alberto coming up from behind him, to his right. He flicked the ball out to Alberto, who hit the perfect pass in full flight and cannonaded the ball by Albertosi for the fourth score.
Predictable bedlam broke out when the game ended, with the crowd flooding the field, carrying Pelé, Gerson, Jairzinho, Alberto and most of the rest of the Brazilian team around on its shoulders. The Mexican police, as usual, did little to restrain the mob, but it is probably true that few police in the world could have done more.
Before this game a Brazilian sports-writer had said that the team had not reached its real potential, although it was undefeated in Cup play. Before this game, too, Valcareggi had said much the same thing about his team. Italy squeaked through its division into the quarterfinals with the remarkably thin production of one goal in three games. "We didn't put any lira in the bank in the division play," Valcareggi said. "We didn't want anyone to know how rich we were."
For some reason, the Italians elected to leave Gerson almost unguarded, especially in midfield where he is so effective at coordinating the Brazilian game of movement and interlocking passes. Possibly they were led astray by Brazil's victory over Uruguay in the semifinal, when Uruguay's Julio Cesar Cortes was a hair shirt to Gerson. "If I went to the left, Cortes was with me," Gerson said later. "When I moved to the right, he was at my elbow. I moved forward, to the edge of the penalty box in the center, and he came with me again." So Gerson, never at a loss to find advantage in the quirks of a defense, set up a plot with Clodoaldo, a young, talented Brazilian midfield player. Normally Clodoaldo plays back, concentrating on defense, while Gerson moves into the heart of the attack. Now Gerson told Clodoaldo to switch roles with him. "I'll take Cortes back to our penalty box and that will take him out of the defense entirely," he said. "You go forward."
Clodoaldo scored the goal that pulled Brazil into a 1-1 tie with Uruguay and he sparked a second-half offense leading to Brazil's 3-1 victory.
In the Brazilian embassy in Mexico City there is a glass case that is usually occupied by the statue of a religious figure. At a party before the World Cup the ambassador put a card in with the statue. The card read: "After June 21st, the Jules Rimet Cup will occupy this space." Now it does.
Eventually the Cup will go to Brazil to stay, because this is the third time Brazil has won the championship. The team itself flew home to have lunch with the president of the country the day after the final triumph. The president should feel honored.