• 30 Mar - 05 Apr, 2024
  • Mag The Weekly
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With great power comes great sacrifices, the following article traces the emotional rollercoaster of Brazilian football, from its unparalleled highs to its most heartbreaking lows. It explores the nation’s journey through the realms of footballing history, beginning with the devastating Maracanazo in 1950 and moving through the transformative years that followed. As Brazil navigated its way through victories and defeats, the narrative captures the essence of Brazilian football: its passion, its evolution, and its impact on the national psyche. From the golden era of Pelé to the shocking Mineirazo in 2014, this story is a testament to the enduring spirit of Brazilian football, reflecting on its triumphs, its tragedies, and its unbreakable bond with the beautiful game.

A Chequered Past
The history of Brazilian soccer can be divided into two distinct eras, pre-Maracanazo (PM) and after Maracanazo (AM), centered around the pivotal event of the Maracanazo in 1950. This event was a catastrophic national loss that significantly transformed the landscape of Brazilian soccer. The first World Cup post-World War II, which was also the first to be named the Jules Rimet Cup in honor of Jules Rimet’s 25 years of presidency at FIFA, was held in Brazil, largely because Europe was still recovering from the war’s ravages. Brazil and Italy were automatic qualifiers as the host country and the defending champions, respectively. However, Italy’s team was weakened due to the loss of their primary squad in the Superga air tragedy a year prior, leading them to opt for sea travel to Brazil. The war led to several team withdrawals and a novel tournament format, allowing Brazil to easily reach the final rounds, where they defeated Sweden and Spain with impressive scores. The final match against Uruguay, where Brazil only needed a draw to clinch the World Cup, took a dramatic turn. In front of what was possibly the largest football match audience, Brazil scored first, but Uruguay fought back with goals from Schiaffino and Ghiggia, snatching the title from Brazil in the last moments.

The aftermath in Brazil was one of profound shock and mourning, with some fans resorting to suicide and others succumbing to heart attacks. The defeat had a profound and lasting effect on the Brazilian national team and the country’s psyche. In reaction, Brazil did not participate in matches for two years and stayed away from Maracana for four years. The most noticeable change was the shift in team colors to the now-iconic yellow and green, moving away from the previously worn white. This loss, known as the Maracanazo, signified a national tragedy, deeply impacting Brazil’s national identity and its desire to be recognized and respected internationally, casting a long shadow over the nation’s self-esteem.

Turnaround And Transformation
The Maracanazo, while a heartrending chapter in Brazil’s history, ignited a fire within the Brazilian spirit to achieve greatness. By the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland, Brazil had not only rebuilt its team but had also embraced new team colors, symbolizing a fresh start. Despite a tough quarter-final loss to Hungary in a match notorious for its aggression, known as the Battle of Berne, Brazil’s team showcased burgeoning talent with stars like Nilton and Djalma Santos, Didi, Julinho, Gylmar, and emerging legends like Garrincha, Zagalo, Vava, and a young prodigy named Pele.

In the 1958 World Cup, under the guidance of coach Vicente Feola, Brazil showcased strategic brilliance. Feola’s pivotal decision to include Zito, Garrincha, and Pelé reshaped Brazilian football forever. Their performance against the USSR, featuring what was later called “the greatest three minutes in the history of football,” led Brazil to victory and set the tone for the tournament. Brazil’s triumph over Sweden in the final, marking their first World Cup victory and becoming the first nation to win a World Cup title outside their continent, was not just a win but the dawn of a new era. This victory began Brazil’s ascent to becoming synonymous with the beautiful game, marking the beginning of their dominance in football, a testament to their resilience and determination to rise from the ashes of the Maracanazo.

Fast forward to the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, Brazil fielded what is still considered one of the greatest football squads of all time. With Pelé leading the charge, Brazil’s dream team, including Carlos Alberto, Jairzinho, Tostão, Gérson, Clodoaldo, and Rivelino, won every match. Their victory over Italy in the final by a convincing 4-1 scoreline not only showcased their unparalleled skill but also the captivating style of play that enchanted the world. Jairzinho’s scoring streak, Pelé’s leadership earning him the Golden Ball, and the team’s collective brilliance were a testament to Brazil’s footballing philosophy. Winning their third Jules Rimet trophy allowed Brazil to keep it, symbolizing not just a victory in football, but a redemption of sorts for the Maracanazo.

This journey from the depths of despair to the pinnacle of world football is a powerful reminder of the transformative power of resilience, innovation, and unwavering belief in one’s abilities. Brazil’s football story is a motivational saga of overcoming adversity, embracing change, and achieving greatness against all odds. It’s a testament to the idea that from the ashes of defeat, champions are born and legends are made.

Lull Before The Joga Bonito Storm
As the era of Pelé and his golden generation waned, Brazil’s football scene experienced a temporary lull in the 1970s, transitioning from the breathtaking displays of the past. Yet, amidst this phase, a new beacon of hope was emerging: Arthur Antunes Coimbra, better known as Zico, was being groomed to reignite the flame of Brazilian football. Later dubbed “King Arthur” by adoring Fenerbahçe supporters during his coaching days, Zico, alongside his band of football gladiators, was poised to etch their names as the most celebrated Brazilian ensemble since Pelé’s epoch.

The early to mid-80s witnessed the rebirth of Jogo Bonito, or the “Beautiful Game,” under the stewardship of Tele Santana, a figure revered as the “last romantic” of Brazilian football. This period saw the team enchanting the global audience with a level of skill, creativity, and breathtaking goals that recalled the magic of Brazil’s 1970 World Cup team and the Hungarian squad of 1954. However, the 1982 World Cup brought this artistry to a broader audience, forever altering the perceptions of football enthusiasts worldwide and solidifying their love for the Brazilian style of play. Despite not winning the tournament, many, including myself, regard the 1982 Brazilian team as the finest in World Cup history, a squad so talented that only they could defeat themselves.

The 1986 World Cup mirrored the heartbreak of 1982, with Brazil, under Santana’s guidance and retaining the core of the ’82 team, exiting in the quarter-finals against France. The match became infamous for Zico’s missed penalty, a moment that symbolized the end of Brazil’s dominance in the style that had captivated the world. This marked the last appearance of Zico in a Brazilian jersey, fading the magic of the 80s into history.

These consecutive disappointments signaled a profound shift in Brazilian football, moving away from their mesmerizing flair towards a more pragmatic approach inspired by European tactics. Socrates, the philosophical soul of the team, lamented that these changes altered Brazilian football irreversibly. Had Brazil succeeded in clinching the World Cup in either 1982 or 1986, the narrative of international football might have been vastly different. The legacy of those teams remains a poignant reminder of what could have been, embodying the romance, beauty, and unpredictability of football.

Mineirazo: Lightning Struck Again
Amidst the triumphs of 1994 and 2002, Brazil completed the coveted Penta, victories that were constructed on a foundation of defensive prowess and the luminescence of the 4Rs. These successes, although commendable for their tactical balance and enhanced defensive solidity, marked a departure from the revered jogo bonito. The essence of Brazilian football once celebrated for its exuberant flair and creativity, seemed overshadowed by a newfound pragmatism.

The announcement that Brazil would host the 2014 World Cup rekindled memories of the Maracanazo, a specter that lingered in the collective memory of the nation. Many Brazilians harbored the hope, albeit misguided, that clinching the title on home soil would lay the ghosts of 1950 to rest. Buoyed by their Confederations Cup victory in 2013, the Brazilian team was among the tournament favorites, their aspirations high.

Yet, what unfolded was a narrative far removed from the dreams of redemption. The semi-final match against Germany in the Estádio Mineirão became the stage for an unprecedented debacle, a 7-1 defeat that shattered the hearts of millions. This match, now infamously referred to as the Mineirazo, set a grim milestone for the largest victory margin in World Cup semi-final history. Far from a mere loss, it was a seismic event that underscored decades of systemic neglect, symbolizing not just a defeat in a football match but the erosion of Brazil's identity as a footballing colossus.

In the waning moments of the match, the home crowd's response –applauding each German maneuver and jeering their team – was a poignant testament to the depth of the disillusionment. The Mineirazo, a term that conveys humiliation rather than the tragic heroism of the Maracanazo, nevertheless brought an ironic closure to the wound of 1950. Some speculated that this bitter pill could catalyze the rejuvenation of Brazilian football, a painful yet necessary precursor to rebirth. Yet, the shadow of that day lingers a tragic reminder of glory lost and the fragility of national pride.

About the writer
Shahzeb Ali Rizvi is a sports aficionado with a keen eye for the intricacies of cricket and football. He can be reached at [email protected]