History of the World Cup: 1970 – Pele and Brazil on top again


Pele is hoisted on shoulders of his teammates after Brazil beat Italy in the 1970 World Cup final. (AP)

Pele went back on his word never to play in the World Cup again, guiding Brazil to a 4-1 win over Italy in 1970 in Mexico City as the South American nation became the first nation to win the tournament three times.


Mexico staged the 1970 World Cup, the first to be held outside Europe and South America. The choice of host nation was not a popular one, as Mexico’s oppressive heat (often rising well over 35 C), combined with its high altitudes, made it impossible for players to perform at their peak. Furthermore, FIFA bent to the whims of the television networks and staged a portion of the games — including the final — at noon, forcing players to compete while the blazing hot Mexican sun was in full effect.

Television had previously brought the World Cup into the homes of hundreds of millions of people around the globe, but this was the first to be televised in colour. It seemed only fitting as Brazil, once again led by the incomparable Pele, played a colourful brand of soccer en route to winning the World Cup for a third time. Having proclaimed four years earlier that he would never play in a World Cup again, Pele fronted a Brazilian side in Mexico that many say is the greatest soccer team of all time.

Thanks in part to the efforts of Brazil, England and West Germany the 1970 World Cup is largely remembered for its brilliant attacking play. Scoring was up from 1966 and most teams — with the notable exception of the defensive-minded Italians —entertained fans worldwide with enterprising and imaginative soccer.

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Once again, the 16 teams were divided into four groups with the top two in each advancing to the quarterfinals.


This was to be an epic finale between two nations with vastly different styles and philosophies: Brazil playing an attacking, samba-style brand of soccer that entertained spectators and dismantled opponents in equal parts; and Italy who could score goals with the best of them, but who refused to shake off its defensive shackles and remained true to catenaccio.

Italy ably kept Brazil at bay early on before Pele scored on a fantastic header off a Rivelino cross in the 19th minute. Italy delivered a sucker-punch eight minutes before halftime when Roberto Boninsegna capitalized on a horrendous defensive error by Clodoaldo and beat goalkeeper Felix to tie the score.

Any thoughts Italy harboured about shutting down Brazil were quickly erased, as Pele and his compatriots ran the Italians ragged in the second half. Midfielder Gerson scored a fantastic goal from just outside the penalty area in the 65th minute to give Brazil a 2-1 lead. From that point, the floodgates opened, as Brazil poured on the pressure and ripped the Italian defence to shreds.

Five minutes after scoring, Gerson turned playmaker and booted a long ball forward to Pele who headed it down for Jairzinho to score. The second-half annihilation was completed in the waning minutes with a marvellous goal — the product of a sparkling team effort — that brilliantly capped off the victory for Brazil.

Clodoaldo breezed past a couple of Italian players before passing to Pele. The Brazilian wizard moved down the left side and drifted towards the middle. Pele found some open space and sensing Carlos Alberto was coming down the right side, he played a perfect square pass 25 yards from goal that Alberto lashed onto without breaking stride and hammered past static Italian goalkeeper Enrico Albertosi. It was an emphatic goal in an emphatic victory that saw the Brazilians, purveyors of the “beautiful game,” put the dour, defensive-mind Italians in their rightful place.


Number of participating teams: 16
Top scorer: West Germany’s Gerd Muller (10 goals)
Number of games: 32
Total goals scored: 95
Average goals per game: 2.97
Highest scoring game: West Germany’s 5-2 victory over Bulgaria on June 7.
Total attendance: 1,673,975
Average attendance: 52,213


Gerd Muller. Nicknamed “Der Bomber,” Muller was the tournament’s top scorer with 10 goals — including a pair of hat tricks in the first round — as he guided the Germans to the semifinals.


Italy’s 4-3 victory over West Germany in the semifinals. A true classic and considered by many as the greatest game ever at the World Cup. Down 1-0, the Germans scored in injury time before falling to the Italians in a dramatic extra-time thriller


Brazil’s 1970 World Cup-winning side is regarded by the majority of historians and critics as the greatest soccer team of all-time. The Brazilian squad that competed in Mexico boasted a slew of world-class players — Pele, Jairzinho, Tostao, Rivelino and Carlos Alberto — and won all six of its games en route to capturing its third World Cup, the first country to do so.


The Jules Rimet Trophy, awarded to the winner of the World Cup, became the permanent possession of Brazil following the 1970 tournament — FIFA guidelines stipulated that a country kept the trophy in perpetuity once it won a third World Cup. The trophy, officially renamed in 1946 to honour FIFA president Jules Rimet, stood 35 centimetres in height and weighed 3.8 kilograms. The trophy’s design of an octagonal cup, held by a winged figure representing Nike — the ancient Greek goddess of victory — was designed by French sculptor Abel Lafleur.


The 1970 World Cup marked a new era in the game, as substitutions were allowed for the first time (previously, teams could not replace injured or tired players) and the use of yellow and red cards was introduced.


Anatoli Pusatch of the Soviet Union holds the distinction of being the first player to enter a game as a substitute in the World Cup (he replaced teammate Viktor Serebryanikov in a 0-0 draw with Mexico in the tournament opener). Also, Juan Basaguren is the first substitute to score a goal in the World Cup (during Mexico’s 4-0 win over El Salvador).


In one of the better contests of the competition, Brazil posted a 1-0 victory over England in the first round on the strength of Jairzinho’s goal in the 59th minute. The outstanding moment of the game, however, came in the 10th minute when English goalkeeper Gordon Banks made a brilliant diving save off a Pele header, robbing the Brazilian of a sure goal. Many historians and Pele consider this the greatest save in soccer history.


How good of a match was the Italy-West Germany semifinal? So good that it has become known as the “Game of the Century,” as described in a plaque adorning a permanent monument in front of Azteca Stadum that commemorates the match.


• Brazil’s Mario Zagallo became the first man to win a World Cup as a player (1958 and 1962) and a manager (1970). Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer (1974 and 1990) is the only other person to accomplish that feat.

• Mexico’s victory over El Salvador saw Egyptian referee Hussain Kandail commit a horrible error. Just before halftime, Kandail awarded a free kick to El Salvador, but it was taken quickly by Mexico who scored off the play. El Salvador protested but the goal stood.

• Half of the teams that advanced to the quarterfinals of the 1966 World Cup (Portugal, Hungary, North Korea and Argentina) didn’t even qualify for the 1970 tournament.

• Morocco was just the second nation from Africa ever to play at the World Cup, and the first to qualify via an all-African qualifying competition (Egypt went to the 1934 World Cup without having to play a single qualifying match).

• Not a single player was sent off or red-carded during the entire 1970 tournament. The only other time that happened was at the 1950 World Cup in Brazil.

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