1930 & 1934
Although Brazil’s World Cup history began with the inaugural tournaments of 1930 and 1934, it wasn’t until the third time that the trophy was contested that they began to show their potential as a footballing powerhouse of the future.
1938—A sign of things to come
France ’38 saw Brazil finish third, powered on by their first genuine World Cup superstar, Leonidas da Silva, also known as the “Black Diamond” or the “Rubber Man” such was his exceptional quality and agility.
He was the eighth footballer to score a hat trick in the finals of FIFA’s premier competition, putting three past Poland in the first round. By the end of Brazil’s tournament he had netted a total of seven goals in four games.
Brazil’s first World Cup on home soil was supposed to be the coronation of a bold and brilliant new team at the pinnacle of the international game.
The hosts thrashed Sweden and Spain 6-1 and 7-1 respectively in the opening games of a curiously conceived final round decided by a mini-group stage league table. Uruguay on the other hand had struggled to overcome the same opponents drawing 2-2 with the Spanish and squeezing past the Swedes 3-2. Their showdown at the Maracana was thought to be little more than a formality.
Such hubris ultimately cost them however, and they lost 2-1 to their underdog neighbours in the spiritual home of their national game. It was a defeat that would leave a lasting wound on the psyche of Brazilian football, becoming known as the Maracanazo, or The Maracana Blow.
1954—The Battle of Berne
Shattered by their shock loss to Uruguay in Rio de Janeiro four years earlier, Brazil travelled to Switzerland with revenge on their minds. Unfortunately, they arrived ready to fight rather than to play football.
The Battle of Berne was the result as the Brazilians were beaten by Hungary’s Mighty Magyars and responded by kicking out in anger rather than matching their opponent’s with skill.
Josef Bozsik and Nilton Santos were both dismissed after fighting on the pitch, with Humberto Tozzi following his compatriot with a red card of his own just moments later, with the score balanced at 3-2. The final result was 4-2 as Sandor Kocsis fired home a fourth. Brazil would have to wait to a little longer to heal the damage of 1950.
1958-1970—The Pele era
As he watched his father cry following Brazil’s defeat to Uruguay in 1950, Pele vowed that he would go on and win the World Cup got Brazil. In 1958 his promise was fulfilled as he dazzled Sweden as the tournament’s stand-out player at the age of 17. His performance in the final helped Brazil run out 5-2 winners over the host, with the young star grabbing two goals for himself.
They defended their title four years later in Chile but with Pele struck down by injury, Brazil needed a new individual hero. Step forward Garrincha.
While Pele of Santos may been seen as the first super star professional footballer, Garrincha of Botafogo was perhaps the last true amateur folk hero of the elite game, who scored four goals to secure passage through the quarter-finals and semi-finals. He remains to many back in Brazil a greater hero than Pele himself for his contribution to the cause when his national team needed him most.
England 1966 again saw Pele stretchered out of the running, but Brazil were unable to make it three in-a-row. However, they returned to their world-beating form at Mexico ’70 to win their third world title.
Pele was back for what would be his World Cup swansong after having earlier declared his retirement from international football after being kicked off the park in England.
1970 was perhaps the defining tournament of Pele’s era, featuring his dummy against Uruguay, his on-pitch meeting with Bobby Moore and Carlos Alberto’s famous strike from right-back that completed Italy’s 4-1 defeat in the final.
Brazil struggled to keep their World Cup trophy haul going into the 1970’s and 80’s with the teams of Rivellino and later Socrates providing plenty of memories but no trophies in 1974, 1978, 1982, 1986 and 1990.
The teams of 1982 and 1986 are remembered as two of the greatest never to win the World Cup, and were famously beaten 3-2 by Paolo Rossi’s Italy at Spain ’82.
1990 and the modern era
Brazil entered the nineties having failed to win the World Cup in 20 years, and with the weight of history hanging over their heads. They lost to Argentina in the second round after topping their group.
In 1994 however they reigned again playing a functional style of play many found incompatible with their samba roots. Romario was the saviour, arriving to lead the line after a troubled qualification campaign. Dunga was the captain who epitomised his team’s approach, lifting the trophy 24 years after Pele & co.
At France ’98, Brazil again came close, but were beaten by the hosts in the final after a still largely unexplained episode involving star striker Ronaldo prior to the game.
His generation didn’t let another opportunity pass them by however, and they blitzed Japan and South Korea in 2002, with Rivaldo and Ronaldinho joining him to create a front line glitzy enough to glamourise their team’s rather pragmatic tactics.
Since their victory in 2002, Brazil have remained prosaic while losing the star quality that enabled them to elevate their game. Germany 2006 and South Africa 2010 failed to bring silverware, but another chance to win the trophy at home in 2014 could finally fix the hurtful memories of the Maracanazo from 1950.
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