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Pele at 80: How the 1970 World Cup propelled Brazil into the global conscience

By Rob Bateman
Pele

Sao Paulo, October 23: Pele's career goals tally may be open to debate but there is no questioning his greatness.

The Brazilian legend starred for Santos and changed the game during his spell with the New York Cosmos. However, he is perhaps best remembered for his achievements in international football, helping the Selecao win the World Cup on three occasions.

The first – in 1958 – saw Pele score twice in the final when aged 17 years and 249 days. Four years later, injury curtailed his involvement, but Brazil still retained the Jules Rimet Trophy.

In 1970, the national hero helped leave an indelible mark on the history of the sport. Pele, having said he would not play another World Cup after 1966, was awarded the Golden Ball, given to the best player at the tournament.

His legacy as one of the best players to ever grace a pitch still remains strong as he celebrates turning 80 on Friday.

To mark the Pele's personal milestone, Rob Bateman recalls the 1970 tournament and a team that lives long in the memory...

Growing up in England with football in the 1960s and 1970s was very different from today.

The foreign superstars playing in English football were from the rest of Great Britain and Ireland, not from mainland Europe or South America.

The best teams and players in the world were not on TV every week. There was no live football on television apart from the FA Cup final, the Home Internationals and World Cups.

Great Britain was an island, both geographically and in terms of football.

It was not too different across Europe. Live games were not regularly shown, in domestic or UEFA competitions.

As a result, there was no homogenised football where teams played roughly the same style. There was no internet, no YouTube, no sports channels to catch glimpses of football outside your own country. When a World Cup came around you saw players you had only read about in books or newspapers.

You saw genuinely new things that delighted, enthralled and shocked the viewing audience, such as the famous Cruyff turn, the ticker tape at Estadio Monumental in Buenos Aires and fouls in the opposition half by a "rush goalie" like Ramon Quiroga of Peru.

But nothing stands out in that era as much as the Brazil side of 1970. Still vaunted as the best team ever in some quarters, it is hard to argue against the fact that they, and their talisman Pele, had the greatest impact on world football.

From the iconic yellow shirts, blue shorts and white stockings in the first competition to be broadcast live in colour, to their beautiful and effective style of play. Kenneth Wolstenholme's famous description of their "sheer, delightful football" summed up how Brazil in 1970 captured the hearts of all fans and encapsulated everything great about the world's favourite sport.

Mario Zagallo became the first man to win the trophy as a player and then a coach. His team was the first since the 1930s to win all their World Cup matches en route to the trophy.

Six games, six wins in qualifying. Then six games and six wins at the finals, scoring at a rate of 3.2 goals per game in Mexico. Only one team has averaged more goals per game since 1958 than this brilliant Brazil side and that was Hungary in 1982 whose average was boosted by a freak 10-1 win over El Salvador.

This 1970 Brazil squad scored three or more goals in five of their six matches; a feat only matched in World Cup history by the West German side of 1954.

Jairzinho scored in all six matches, becoming the only player to net in every single round at the World Cup finals, although they needed to be prolific as they only kept one clean sheet in the six matches they played.

Of course, Brazil are famed for their long-range shooting. Stats Perform have analysed all the World Cup finals matches back to and including 1966. During that time, the Selecao have scored 37 times from outside the box – 11 more than closest rivals Germany and over double any other side.

It's not just quantity though, it is about the quality of a shot – only South Korea (6 per cent) have scored with a higher percentage of their long-distance attempts than Brazil, who have netted one in every 23 attempts (4.4 per cent).

Team

Goals (outside box)

Brazil

37

Germany

26

Netherlands

16

Korea Republic

14

Argentina

13

And they have netted 13 from direct free-kicks, more than double any other team at the World Cup in that same period.

Team

Direct Free Kick Goals

Brazil

13

Germany

6

Korea Republic

5

Argentina

5

Between 1966 and 2018, only nine teams have scored two direct free-kicks at a World Cup finals. Four of those teams were Brazilian squads including the 1970 vintage.

There are so many iconic moments that the 1970 tournament lingers stronger in the memory than any other. And Brazil and Pele were at the heart of most of those.

Bobby Moore's tackle on Jairzinho, Pele leaping to power home a header for Brazil's 100th goal at the World Cup finals and another header by the world's greatest footballer to force arguably the best save of all time by Gordon Banks.

There was Pele's audacious shot from his own half (59 yards) against Czechoslovakia which narrowly missed. That was not even his longest attempt either, as he failed with a shot from 75 yards against Uruguay!

The Uruguayans were also on the end of one of the most outrageous dummies ever seen as Pele ran toward a pass with the goalkeeper advancing and then let the ball run between them, confounding the goalkeeper by running straight past, retrieving the ball, only to screw his shot wide and deny us one of the most outrageous goals of all time.

And, of course, one of the most iconic goals in football history was scored when Brazil netted their fourth in the final against Italy, courtesy of Carlos Alberto. That goal was the epitome of the style that team oozed. A patient build-up, then devastating speed and clinical efficiency in front of goal.

That goal saw nine passes, but was typical of Brazil's measured build-up. They averaged far more moves of 10 passes or more than any other team at the 1970 finals.

Team

Sequences per game of 10+ open play passes

Brazil

5.2

England

3.5

Czechoslovakia

2.7

Peru

2.5

Romania

2.3

Tournament average

1.9

And as you can see below they were prepared to hang on to the ball to find the right moment to strike, performing with the grace and rhythm of a slow, quick, quick of the Samba.

Team

Ave passes/sequence

Ave Sequence time (secs)

Brazil

3.6

11.5

Germany

3.1

10.6

England

3.2

10.5

Romania

3.0

10.2

Czechoslovakia

3.0

10.0

That fourth and final goal against Italy was inevitably set up by Pele. That assist was his sixth of the tournament and remains a record tally for a single World Cup tournament that Stats Perform have analysed.

He created 28 chances in total, 27 from open play. Only Johan Cruyff (29) in 1974 has created more in a single tournament since 1970, having played a game more.

Player

Team

Assists

Pele

Brazil 1970

6

Maradona

Argentina 1986

5

Littbarski

Germany 1982

5

Gadocha

Poland 1974

5

Häßler

Germany 1994

5

Pele was the second most prolific player in relation to attacking contribution at the 1970 World Cup when combining Expected Goals and Expected Assists per 90 minutes, scoring four goals and registering six assists. He was narrowly behind Gerd Muller who netted 10 goals, but those two are way out ahead of anyone else in the tournament.

It was not all grace and guile from the three-time World Cup winner.

Having been fouled repeatedly and injured in both the 1962 and 1966 editions, Pele certainly showed he knew how to look after himself in 1970. Only five players since 1966 have committed more fouls in a single tournament than the 23 the playmaker was penalised for in 1970.

Pele retired from international football in 1971 and Brazil have spent many years since trying to emulate that 1970 team's iconic achievement, with limited success.

Although they won the World Cup in 1994 and again in 2002, there were criticisms of those teams' styles of play, while the beautiful attacking flair of the squads of 1982 and 1986 ultimately went unrewarded as they were knocked out of the tournament early.

Perhaps Andy Warhol was right when he said: "Pele is one of the few who contradicted my theory: instead of 15 minutes of fame, he will have 15 centuries."

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Story first published: Friday, October 23, 2020, 13:40 [IST]
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