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1982 World Cup: The day “football died” in the Brazil-Italy match

1982 World Cup: The day “football died” in the Brazil-Italy match

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  • Fernando Duarte
  • BBC Sports

A draw would have put Brazil in the semi-final against Poland

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A draw would have put Brazil in the semi-final against Poland

In November 2004, Brazilian football legend Socrates gave a famous (and short) performance for England’s Garforth Town, and as a football reporter for a prominent Brazilian newspaper, I arrived in West Yorkshire to write about the event.

An interview with the legendary midfielder, known as The Doctor due to his medical degree as well as his political activities, turns into a long conversation after hours at a local bar. I chatted with Socrates, who was always a laid-back character, about football very frankly.

At that pub, Socrates made a stunning confession: “I never watched Brazil’s 3-2 defeat against Italy in the 1982 World Cup, I don’t need to play that match again.” It is likely that this refusal continued until January of 2011, when he died at the age of 57.

That Match was one of the classic World Cup matches played on a hot Barcelona afternoon 40 years ago. One of the most celebrated generations of Brazilian footballers saw their dreams dashed by an Italian team that put their faltering start behind them on their way to defeating West Germany in the final.

Over time, many of the older Brazilian fans disappeared, but on 5 July 1982 the feeling was that a crime had been committed against football.

Brazil in 1982 was still under the rule of the military regime that seized power 18 years ago when leftist President Joao Goulart was ousted in a military coup.

When Joao Figueiredo, an army general, became president in 1979, he set out to work on a return to democratic rule, but there were growing calls for a faster handover of power as the country’s economic turmoil continued.

At that time, Télé Santana was appointed as Brazil’s new director of football in the early 1980’s. Santana was a good winger who scored 164 goals in 9 years with Rio de Janeiro Fluminense, and is still ranked fourth in that team’s top scorer list.

Santana is also known for his fair play as he has never been sent off in his 12-year career, he has demanded the same from his players.

Brazil started the 1982 World Cup qualifiers in Spain with unconvincing 1-0 and 2-1 away victories over Venezuela and Bolivia, but Brazil quickly achieved impressive results in home matches by beating the same opponents 5-0, 3-1. On a European tour in May 1981, Brazil raised eyebrows by defeating England, France and Germany within a few days.

But Brazil did more than win, they were playing a fluid game that couldn’t be more different from the tactical discipline that angered fans in the post-Pelé era.

Pele’s and Brazil’s exploits at the 1970 World Cup seemed like a long-forgotten dream during uninspired campaigns in the next two tournaments despite the team reaching the top 4 on both occasions.

Now, in addition to Socrates, the Seleção team also includes Zico, the mercurial Flamengo playmaker. That team was known to have no player touching the ball more than twice before passing it. Zico described it, saying: “It was fun to watch the team play, and to participate in the game was even more fun.”

“We were adamant that Brazil should stick to the way it was famous,” he says. “It would be wrong from the start to be afraid of losing or being hostage to the outcome.”

“We wanted to enjoy what we were doing, we felt something really special was happening,” he added.

So did millions of Brazilians. In the streets, banners were flying as if there were preparations for a royal wedding or a coronation. While Brazilian players were mostly playing the game locally, Falcao was a rare exception, playing for Italian club Roma. It was no surprise that she bumped into an international star on a shopping spree at a supermarket in Rio.

“The fans insisted that we listen, but at least they identified with us because we were all playing in Brazil at the time,” Zico says.

“These days, after playing with the national team in Brazil, players often jump in a plane and fly abroad almost immediately,” he said.

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Socrates was 50 years old when he came out of retirement to play for Garforth Town

Expectations about the team were understandably high, and in Spain Brazil opened their campaign with a thrilling 2-1 victory over the Soviet Union before beating Scotland 4-1 and New Zealand 4-0.

The tournament started with 24 teams in 6 groups, each group consisting of 4 teams. The 6 winners in the group and the runners-up qualified for the second group stage. The four winners from those groups will enter the semi-finals.

Brazil found itself in the company of regional rivals Argentina and Italy, who tied in their three matches in the first round, and barely qualified from the group that included Poland, Cameroon and Peru.

Italy’s preparedness for the tournament was determined by the situation surrounding striker Paolo Rossi. In 1980, Rossi became embroiled in a match-fixing scandal and ended up being banned for two years, which expired just 8 weeks before the World Cup kicks off. However, coach Enzo Bearzot has included Juventus striker to his team.

Media coverage and the attitude of the fans created a bleak mood when Italy’s players lined up to face Argentina on June 29, and ninety minutes later they won their first match in Spain. And when Argentina were defeated by Brazil 3-1, the scene was set for a decisive confrontation between two completely different styles of play.

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Marco Tardelli’s iconic celebration of Italy’s victory over West Germany in the 1982 Final

“You’re playing there, is there anything you want to say?”

Santana fired that question at the end of the team’s talk in Barcelona. Falcao was already concerned about the winner-takes-all match against Italy at the now-defunct Espanyol stadium.

The Roma midfielder will face famous opponents, and he feared that his Brazil teammates might have misunderstood the real danger posed by the Italian team’s players due to their faltering start.

When urged by the coach, Falcao expressed concern about the possible role of Italian left-back Antonio Cabrini, a skilled player who was very useful in attack. Defender Claudio Gentile will likely stick Zico like glue, aiming to repeat what he achieved against Diego Maradona in the previous match.

The Italian style of play was completely different from the Brazilian attacking style. They know how to close and tackle opponents, the victory over Argentina showed that, a victory that revitalized them, but they needed to activate the front line as well in order to beat the Brazilians. Their main striker Rossi had not yet scored in that tournament.

Rossi told me in 2006: “That Brazilian team wasn’t from this planet, they had players who could pass the ball blindfolded, and for me, I felt like I was learning to play again after being suspended.”

In the Brazil camp, the mood was not much different.

“Some players were teasing me, saying that it is very easy to make a living in the Italian league,” says Falcao.

Defender Oscar later recalls that some players were already discussing the strengths and weaknesses of Team Poland, the semi-final opponent.

Brazil will qualify with a draw, because they have a better goal difference, but Zico remembers: “In the dressing room before the match, Tele (Santana) never asked us to back down, our commitment was always to strive for victory, that was the real Brazilian way.”

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Brazil won the World Cup in 1994 after beating Italy on penalties in the final

Many of the fans who attended the match in Barcelona had not yet found their seats when Cabrini hit a cross that Rossi headed into the goal. Thus, five minutes into the match, Italy led 1-0 and Rossi broke the jinx.

Brazil responded shortly after through Socrates, but fell back again in the 25th minute when Rossi took advantage of a mistake in the Brazilian defense line to grab the ball and turn it into the goal. When they leveled again in the 68th minute, Falcao was not only shrieked in celebration, but he also felt choked on the gum he was chewing.

With a 2-2 draw, Brazil gets the result they need to qualify for the semi-finals. But with just over a quarter of an hour remaining, and from an Italian corner kick, Rossi scored his third goal (hat-trick), and that reversed the course of the game. Then Israeli referee Abraham Klein mistakenly canceled another Italian goal for offside before he blew the final whistle on what will forever be known in Brazil as the “Tragedy of Sarria”.

The impact of that “tragedy” match can be seen in the realistic styles of play that would become more popular in the country over the next generation, and when Brazil beat Italy on penalties at the 1994 World Cup, no one could say they played with the same ostentation.

Meanwhile, Italy continued its victories by defeating Poland in the semi-finals with two goals for Russia before winning its third world title by defeating West Germany in Madrid, and the striker, who was previously disgraced and died in 2020 at the age of 64, also scored in the final (3 -1) He was awarded the Golden Boot.

Zico recalls: “We were very saddened by the result against Italy, but everyone had clear consciences, there is nothing wrong with losing with dignity, it is part of the game, the Seleção team returned home, but we stuck to our convictions until the end.”

Falcao, who on the 20th anniversary of the match published a book on memories of the 1982 campaign, bravely looks back to the past.

“This team lost that match but won a place in history,” he says. “I am grateful to have been involved in one of the greatest matches of the World Cup.”

But some members of the team felt the defeat more deeply, such as Socrates.

22 years after the events of Barcelona, ​​on a cold night in West Yorkshire, he was still struggling to come to terms with the events of that match.

“We had a great team and we played happily, then it was Rossi who had 3 touches and scored a hat-trick,” he said, barely taking his eyes off the trophy he was holding. “Football as we know it on that day is dead.”


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