Warning: this article is really, really long.

Is there anything that haunts Brazilian football more than the specter of their famous 1982 team?

It’s not just that they were loaded with stars.  (They were.)  Or that their coach, Tele Santana, is credited with bringing back “flair” to the national team.  (He did.)  1982 was the apex of “football as romantic expression.”  Of style over substance.  Of the road versus results.  The very fact that the team lost is almost proof of their virtue, as if they eschewed such ignoble ambitions like “winning,” or such robotic practices like “doing whatever it takes to win” in favor of pure artistry.  As the saying goes, it’s not the destination that matters…it’s the journey. 

Analyzing the truth behind this is hard to do, especially if we view the past through canary-colored glasses.  (I know, I know, I’ve used this line before.  I can’t help it.)  For one thing, there’s no doubt that the team did not place style over results, nor did their fans at the time.  The team as a whole was crushed after their quarterfinal loss to Italy, vainly trying to provide answers to shell-shocked journalists, muttering banalities like “this was the day that football died.”  If the players really were committed to some fantastic ideal, that it was less about what you did and more about how you did it, they would have left the pitch with their heads held high rather than with their heads bowed.

Still, there’s at least some truth to the notion, considering that to this day, the world remembers Zico’s Brazil more than they do the eventual winners, Paolo Rossi’s Italy.  Unless you’re an Italian, anyway.  Brazil ’82 was an event, something like a Woodstock, or a JFK assassination.  You remember where you were when you watched them.  Decades later, men and women who were in their teens back then still say things like, “I saw them, I was there.”  Brazil ’82 played with such an intuitive understanding, with such selflessness, with such audacity and playfulness, it really was like watching a group of eleven men united for a Cause.  The fact that they were defeated turned it into a Lost Cause, and anyone who knows anything about history knows that a Lost Cause is the most idealized, romanticized, and lamented thing of all.

So why does Brazil ’82 haunt us so much?  Because it can never be achieved again.  Because it will never be attempted again.  Because we have romanticized it to become, not just a group of eleven players who played a certain way simply because that was the way they happened to be best at, but to a group of eleven players united against the evils of pragmatism, defense and cynicism.  As soon as you turn the past into a fantasy, it becomes an unreachable ideal; a golden age we use as a backdrop to our current problems, a way to frame more modern debates.  A fallacy we use as an arguing tool when discussing everything that’s wrong with our team/country/planet today.  We see it most in the two premier arenas for irrational thought: sports, and politics.

Why does Brazil ’82 haunt us so much?  Because they represent both a stylistic and philosophical past that the Selecão have turned away from.  The fact that neither the style nor the philosophy are truly tenable today is beside the point.  We are primarily dissatisfied creatures.  I’ve read that some experts consider this an evolutionary trait – our own inherent tendency towards dissatisfaction is what keeps us, as a race, from becoming stagnant or complacent.  It drives us to move onward and upward.  It compels us to achieve.  But we have to have a way to justify our dissatisfaction.  Brazil 1982 is the way we justify our dissatisfaction in the fact that, despite Brazil’s tradition of winning World Cups and South American Cups and Confederations Cups almost at will for the last 20 years, there were road bumps along the way.  Moments when the team embraced an uglier nature.  Moments where the Cause was abandoned, and the team was willing to do whatever it took to win at any cost, which, when you think about it, brought them down to earth from their lofty perch.  It made the team – and Brazil as a whole – just like everybody else.

But is this dissatisfaction legitimate?  Or, stated another way, is it worth it?  Has Brazil reallyabandoned the Cause?  Was there ever any Cause at all?

I answer “no” to both questions, and the reason why is because they are really the same question.  Brazil never really abandoned any Cause to play beautifully, or creatively, or with flair, or what have you, because there was never any Cause to begin with.  For almost 100 years, Brazil, in general and by nature, has produced players more technically skilled than the rest of the world.  Along with that technical skill comes the inevitable desire to experiment.  Anyone who has talent in anything wants to explore his or her boundaries, wants to test the limit of that skill.  That is where creativity comes from.  Hence, the Brazilian teams were for many decades not only more technically adept than their competitors, but also more creative, experimental and playful as well, which is the inevitable outlet of that technical skill.  There has been perhaps no greater display of this fact than in the 1982 World Cup.

Thus, there was never any “Cause” to play beautifully.  Playing beautifully, to Pele, Didi, Garrincha, Gerson, Rivelino, Jairzinho, Tostao, Zico, Socrates, Falcao, and Cerezo was natural.  So too did the players of future generations, but in their case, they were raised in a world that knew what Brazil ’82 was soon to discover: the world itself was changing, and what was “natural” soon just wouldn’t be enough.  Thus, any change in style has been the result of external factors, not internal ones, and any change in philosophy is merely revisionist history.  An application of wishful thinking after the fact.

To me, all this is obvious, because:

A) Brazil ’82 lost

B) Brazil ’82 took that loss hard

C) Brazil ’82 went into the World Cup stating their intention to win, not to “play beautifully, and then if we lose, so be it.”

D) The reasons why Brazil ’82 lost were immediately apparent to just about everyone, and the changes that resulted from the loss (or rather, the changes that began as a result) were because Brazil wanted and expected to win.

E) Thus, if Brazil wanted to win, and changes would have to take place in order to do so, those changes in and of themselves were natural.  So Carlos Alberto Parreira’s Brazil, or Scolari’s Brazil, or even Dunga’s Brazil, were not any less “Brazilian” than 1982.  They just look different.  Because being “Brazilian” in 2011 is not the same as being Brazilian in 1982.  The world is different, and Brazilian football has to change with it.  Brazil still produces players of great technical ability, with great creativity and imagination, but the rest of the world produces players like that too, and the game itself has evolved to where the world now demands other skills as well in order to succeed.  Brazil has developed those other skills, and have learned to temper their existing ones in order to fit them both together, to achieve the exact same end that Brazil has always sought: to win.

The point of all this is to say that no longer should Brazil, or Brazilian players, or Brazilian fans, be haunted by the 1982 World Cup team.  No longer should they be expected, or forced, to live up to some imaginary ideal.  Rather, we should look at 1982 for what it is: a chance to learn some extremely valuable lessons, both in how to play, and how not to play.  Because make no mistake, Mano Menezes and company could learn volumes from Tele Santana and crew.

But these lessons are not stylistic and they are not philosophic.

They are technical.  They are tactical.

Now let’s cover what those lessons are.


World Cup 1982

If you want to look at it that way, we could call the Brazil vs Argentina  the equivalent of a Round-of-16 match.  But in ’82, there were actually two group stages, a first and a second round, before the proper knock-out stages.  It was here where Brazil and Argentina met, though the paths the two teams took to get there were very different.

Brazil were a team in their prime.  Their campaign actually got off to a nervy start, falling behind 1-0 to the Soviet Union, but the scare was to be a short one.  Brazil dominated for most of the game, equaling in the 75th minute from a spectacular shot by Socrates, then going ahead 12 minutes later through Eder.  The next match was against Scotland.  Again, Brazil fell behind, but in the words of Scottish defender Alan Hansen, this merely stirred the Seleção up.

“…we annoyed them by scoring first, and I very quickly learned a couple of things. Firstly, the importance of having the ball in those conditions because they had it and we were chasing them so we obviously got tired very quickly and, secondly, how great – not just good – their players were.”

What followed was a rout, with Zico, Oscar, Eder and Falcao all getting onto the score sheet. Next up was New Zealand.  Zico bagged a brace, while Falcao and Serginho each contributed a goal a piece.

For the second round, Brazil were drawn with Argentina, and of course, Italy, and it’s here we turn our attention to our eternal rivals, La Albiceleste.

While Brazil were a team in their prime, Argentina was torn between their past and their future.  Staffed with both young up-and-comers and elder statesmen (most notably by a young, fiery Maradona and a leonine Mario Kempes), their ’82 campaign had been bumpy to say the least.  They opened up to a 0-1 defeat against Belgium, bounced back with a 4-1 thumping of Hungary, soundly defeated El Salvador, before losing 2-1 to Italy.

This was how Brazil lined up on the day of the battle:

Brazil 1982 squad

It’s a 4-2-2-2, with a the strong central column that assisted the midfield in their astonishing fluidity (though it by no means was the source of it) but it also created a problem as frankly appalling in ’82 as it would today.  There was almost no width.  True, Junior and Leandro bombed up the flanks (leaving gaping holes in the back) but neither player created true width, as they both preferred to cut dramatically inside rather than send in crosses or create overlapping runs (which would have been impossible anyway as there were no one to overlap with.)  Eder, while nominally a striker, was at heart a left winger, often dropping deeper and to the wings, but he too preferred to receive the ball and cut inside, like Neymar and Robinho do today.  Both Socrates and Zico would, by Santana’s instructions, take turns moving to the right flank, but neither was comfortable there, nor did they have much effect.

Three things were desperately needed by this team, formation-wise.  We’ll cover all three, but for now, the first missing piece was a bonafide winger, especially on the right.  But Zagallo was gone, Garrincha was gone, and Jairzinho was gone, and there were none to be found.

The final note is Serginho’s positioning.  On paper, he was paired side by side with Eder, but given Eder’s tendencies to drop deep and left, he often found himself as a lone central striker.  For this he was woefully unsuited.  He was the most hurt by the lack of width.  If he had serviceable wingers to fire crosses to him into the box, he would have done well, but he was completely un-equipped to play in front of Zico and Socrates, as we will shortly see.

The Match

Argentina actually stared the brighter of the two sides, with significantly more attractive football.  Brazil pressed hard initially, but its players always seemed a step slow to react, and Argentina’s midfield easily passed out of every trap, with some deliciously angled balls designed for Maradona especially to run onto.

In the 2nd minute, a good run from Kempes resulted in a cross into the box, and a header saved only by a diving Waldir.

Minutes later, another great Argentina solo run ended after Maradona was caught offside.  Brazil definitely started the game on the back foot, stymied by Argentina’s aforementioned passing.  Indeed, when Brazil won the ball, they displayed a startling lack of patience, often booting the ball very far up the field to Serginho, to no avail.  (Even geniuses can sometimes show a lack of creativity.)

As the game began to slow a little, both sides began to use the same tactic on defense.  Both teams would “feint” the press, the goal being to force the other side into rushed, inaccurate passes.  But the feint was just that, and both defenses collapsed quickly and “in,” packing the box.  A high-defensive line with strenuous pressing was not yet known in Brazil.  Tele Santana relied very much on the same tactic as Mario Zagallo had 12 years earlier.  When the ball was lost, Zagallo would have everyone bar Pele or Tostao drop very deep, rather than try to win it back immediately.  Santana adopted the same strategy, though perhaps not quite so vigorously; Zico and Socrates would drop back, but not quite as fast as Jairzinho and Rivelino used to.  And while Brazil 1982 had no midfield destroyer like 1970 did in Clodoaldo, they did have the advantage of having two mobile players in Cerezo and Falcao who delighted in predicting their opponent’s passes and breaking them up quickly.

The hard, crunching tackles that were common in the 60’s, were not on display here.  Neither were the jostles for turf that would be so common in the 90’s.  Players were not muscled off the ball, and most tackles were of the standing variety, being little more than “stabs” at the ball.  If the dribbler evaded it, which he often did, well done.  It’s like watching ghosts on the pitch, where the only thing solid is the ball.  Later, the game would get much more physical, but not for a while.

For the first 10 minutes, Argentina continued to look the better, with very crisp passing, and lots of the off-the-ball movement.  Brazil was much more staid, though this was soon to be almost completely reversed.  Socrates was perhaps the first to begin offering something more, playing lots of quick, diagonal passes.  Because Socrates was very much not an athlete (he looked like a giant stork or flamengo, on spindly legs, and if he was quicker than Ganso is today, it wasn’t by much) but he compensated by having a splendid footballing IQ.  Not only did he see the pitch beautifully, but he made up his mind on where he was going to pass the ball even before he had it.  Nothing like today’s players, who too often will receive the ball, dribble once or twice, look around, and then pass back.  Football is often a game of seconds.  Wait too long, and the opportunity is missed, whether it’s in the box or the midfield.  Socrates would never be fast enough with his feet, so instead he relied on speedy decision making to fill those seconds.  His teammates knew it, and responded by getting into good positions ahead of time, expecting the pass.

In the 10th minute, Argentina had a chance.  A sloppy, dangerous horizontal pass between the centerbacks was intercepted.  The chance wasn’t converted, but this was an eerie foreshadowing of what would doom Brazil against Italy.

In the 12th minute, Brazil began the first of many gorgeous moves that would break down in the box.  A Maradona run was cut out.  The ball was advanced quickly to Zico, who played animmediate through-ball to Serginho.  (These immediate through-balls, played instinctively, were such a hallmark of this team, and would be tried again and again throughout the match.)  Serginho was brought down to prevent a 1v1 with the Argentine keeper.

It would be Falcao to take the free-kick in a dangerous position.  He would not waste it.  His thunderous drive smashed into the crossbar and bounced straight down.  The Argentine keeper, Fillol had about a second to think how lucky he was when suddenly he saw Zico bearing straight down on him.  There was nothing he could do.  The alert Flamengo man bundled home, and Fillol was let completely and utterly down by his team, who to a man, stood completely flat-footed the entire time, almost as if they forgot they were playing a game of football.  Shameful defending.  Zico took advantage, and Brazil took the lead, rather against the run of play.

Despite the early deficit, Argentina was not deterred, and continued in the same vein as before, dominating possession.  Their energy, coupled with Junior’s trademark sloppiness in the back (his horizontal pass to the keeper nearly being interrupted) almost renewed the deadlock that had so recently been broken.  But despite their early midfield dominance, it was only when Brazil made mistakes at the back that Argentina really came close to scoring.  Despite the budding genius of Maradona, and the lion-in-winter experience of Kempes, the Blue and Whites lacked imagination in the final 3rd, and attacks usually broke down the closer they got to the box.

But Brazil looked similarly toothless.  In their case, one obvious problem was a glaring lack of width, proving that the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Even when Brazil had the numbers in attack, while their passing interplay was excellent, Argentina was able to park themselves centrally.  The defense was not stretched at all.

Still, “toothless” isn’t an antonym for entertaining.  Zico and Socrates in particular were so incisive with their movement and their passing.  You can constantly see how they already know who they are going to pass to the instant they receive the ball, and similarly, where they are going to move to after they’ve passed it.  Here’s one of the points that Brazil 2014 desperately needs to learn from Brazil 1982.  It’s not enough just to be an accurate passer, or have good vision.  Football is a game of half-seconds and split-seconds, and Brazil ’82 was a master of taking advantage of this by not only displaying good vision, but good mental awareness.  When it takes you less than a second to pass, instead of two, you can penetrate any defense that much more – especially in today’s game, when defenses are so well organized and stubborn.  Similarly, Brazil ’14 has the tendency, not only to linger to long on the ball, but to do little without it.  A player like Lucas Leiva, for all his other qualities, or Ramires, or Elias, or Ralf, too often will pass the ball and then just act like their part in the build-up is over.  Brazil ’82, on the other hand, saw things differently.  The likes of Zico, Eder, Falcao, and Socrates all knew that often times, it was when you didn’t have the ball that you were the most dangerous.  Defenders, then as now, do not do nearly as good a job marking off-the-ball movement as they do marking the dribbler.  The moment Zico would pass, he would then race forward into space, preparing for the return.  Ditto for his midfield cohorts.  Falcao was perhaps the most impressive in this regard.  Nominally a deep-lying playmaker, he spent as much time forward as anyone, not because he neglected his defensive duties, but because he was constantly winning the ball and then racing forward faster than anyone.

Against Argentina, however, this approach was hampered by two factors.  The first was that, while this style of play is both exhilarating and effective, it requires a tremendous level of execution – a level that Brazil lacked in the early stages of the match.  The Selecão were playing incredibly quick – almost too quick.  Time after time they would get the ball forward at an unimaginable rate, but the player who received it found himself isolated against the defense.  The team desperately needed Careca, someone who could really do something with the ball in isolation, combining tremendous speed with solid technical ability, someone who could latch onto Zico and Socrates’ passes and then race past the defense.  Or, if we really want to dream, one can only imagine how Ronaldo or Romario would have looked, backed by such a midfield.  Especially Ronaldo circa 1997 – he probably would have averaged a brace a game.

This was not the only aspect of poor execution – Zico in particular, while always displaying an eye for the killer pass, continually attempted chip through-balls that were always over-hit.

Brazil’s other problem early on was the fact that they lacked a center forward who could actually make use out of this brilliant approach play.  A perfect example was in the 18thminute (approx.) when Eder performed a lovely waltz through two defenders.  Serginho, waiting ahead, was caught completely flat-footed, and didn’t move to latch onto Eder’s lofted through-ball.  There would be many, many other examples of this.  Another one would be when a cross from Eder was easily intercepted as Serginho made no move for it.  It was not laziness (the big, moving-crane of a player would display his work rate later) but rather just a lack of mobility.  More on Serginho soon.

One example of fluidity I found particularly attractive, even though it didn’t end up anywhere near the goal, was shortly after Zico scored.  An Argentine cross was cut out.  Toninho Cerezo picked up the ball on the edge of the box, took one dribble, then passed forward to Zico who had dropped back to receive it.  The moment Toninho had passed, he took off running up the pitch, past Zico.  Zico took one dribble and then passed to the left flank to Junior, who took one dribble and then passed well ahead to Toninho, (who, you will remember, started the move on the edge of his own box).  Toninho, stationed halfway between the center-circle and Argentina’s box, headed backwards to Zico, who headed back again to Toninho, and then raced forward for Toninho’s return.  Unfortunately, Toninho’s return ball was blocked, but if he had found his man, Brazil would have had a 3v2, with one of those Argentine defenders almost certain to have been beaten as he was caught far out of position.  The point of note here is not the passing – in and of itself, very impressive – but the movement off the ball.Basically, the point is that it’s not enough to have good passers; you must also have players who make it easy for the passers to pass the ball.

Unfortunately, despite all this, Brazil’s offense was still being undone by another factor: Zico was not playing very well, showing repeated lapses in concentration.  From over-hit through-balls to horrible and unnecessary backheels (with plenty of space around him, no less), Zico continually drew moans of disappointment from the expectant crowd.  Today, Brazil fans wouldn’t have moaned – they would have booed.

Slowly but surely, though, Brazil began to display the execution necessary to match their tremendous intellect.  A wonderful move was the result.  Socrates advanced the ball to Leandro.  Leandro sent in a tremendous aerial ball into the box, latched onto perfectly by Falcao with his left foot.  But with the defender right on top of him, he could only blaze over the bar with his right.  Still, it was a warning shot: the Seleção were starting to heat up.

But it was a slow boil rather than a spreading wildfire.  Continually throughout the first half, Brazil would show off their awesome passing and superb movement, but they were almost too ambitious.  The players were all fabulously unselfish (if you are wondering how many superlatives I can use in this article, know that I’m not done pulling synonyms out of my hat yet) but it was sometimes to a fault.  Their immediate passes were often so fast, that they could be too hard for the receiver to control.  Or else these fast-as-light passes were so fast that accuracy just could not be maintained.  And that’s one of the interesting things about this Brazil team – their passing was excellent, but really it was their vision that did them credit.  It was vision that drove them, but the passing needed to execute that vision wasn’t always up to par.  To put it another way, Brazil ’82 was attempting a form of teamwork that no one in history had attempted before (not even Brazil ’58, not even the Total Football of Ajax and the Netherlands) and arguably no one has attempted since (no, not even Barcelona, for reasons I will explain in a moment.)  But this attempt was so audacious and ambitious, that sometimes, it was just impossible even for the likes of Zico and company to pull off, especially against the quality of an Argentina.  When it worked, it was breathtaking.  When it didn’t, the players shrugged their shoulders and tried again.

There are two points I want to make regarding this.

1.  Brazil ’82 and Barcelona are really nothing alike.

Why do I bring this up?  Simply because I’ve seen it said so often.  That Brazil was once like Barcelona.  That Barcelona is just doing what Brazil used to do.  Not true.  Oh, there are some superficial similarities – a dominant midfield, a system based off passing and movement – but Barcelona’s style, exhilarating as it can be, is fundamentally far more (and I cannot stress this enough) far more cautious than Brazil ’82.  Barcelona are like a team of chess players.  Imagine Gary Kasparov, Bobby Fischer, Boris Spassky and Emmannuel Lasker on a team, with Deep Blue as their manager.  That’s Barcelona.  Their passing game is built on short passes, on a methodical interplay designed to confuse, bewilder and dishearten their opponents.  Barcelona play so that the moment just one single defender is out of position, they can take advantage.  That’s not to say they can’t play fast, or score in only a couple moves (another chess analogy?) but that their style isn’t built that way.

Brazil ’82, by contrast, were a team of insane high-wire jugglers on speed.  Moves were fast,instant, and above all (to the modern eye), risky. Risk was inherent in almost everything they did in the midfield.  Whereas Barcelona have perfected their technique to the extent that there is very little risk in how they use the ball, Brazil ’82 motto was all about taking chances.  Barcelona is a classical symphony.  Brazil ’82 was bebop.

The less romantically-inclined of you readers are probably sick to death of my metaphors by now, so I’ll try to get to the heart of the matter.  Which brings us to point number 2.

2.  Brazil ’82 could never be replicated today, and it is not a valid expectation of the current Brazil.

Let’s make sure there are no misunderstandings here.  Brazil ‘82’s fundamentals, theirattributes, and their skills are very, very, very much relevant to the modern game.  They are very, very, very much characteristics that Mano Menezes and co. should emulate.

But stylistically, it’s impossible.  It’s got nothing to do with skill – or, at least, very little to do with it.  It’s got everything to with two things: culture, and progress.

What do I mean by culture?  Let’s go back to the first couple of paragraphs I wrote.  Brazil fans want to win.  Some may claim a higher ideal, some may even go so far as to root for their team to lose if they don’t like the style.  But Brazil fans want to win.  More than that, Brazil fans want and expect their team to be the best. To be utterly dominant.  To leave no doubt as to which country is the true purveyor of footballing excellence.  But this doesn’t just extend to match results.  It extends to individual moments in the game.  When a player tries to samba his way past the defense, and ends up flat on his butt, robbed of the ball, you hear boos.  Every errant back-heel is booed or mocked.  If a series of passes don’t come off, and if the game is played mainly in the midfield (as almost all of Brazil ’82 vs Argentina was) then the crowd gets restless and starts to do the wave.  It’s true now, it was true when Kaka manned the midfield, and it was true when Ronaldinho had the job.  It was true for Leonardo and Dunga.  Brazil ’82 would be untenable for most modern fans because their approach was rife with individual failings.  Passes were often misplaced or intercepted.  Attacks were often broke up in their infancy.   Really, it’s startling to watch Brazil ’82 today, to see how many times possession was lost due to a player trying something so risky, that it’s almost impossible to watch and not say, “what was he thinking?” If the modern Seleção were to try to play stylistically like Brazil ’82, it’s my belief that not only would the crowd not accept it, but the manager would be furious.

In other words, if Zico were playing today, and had put in a performance like he did in the first half against Argentina, he would have been subbed out in a flash.  (Which would have been unfortunate, as you will see when we cover the 2nd half.)

Oh, sure, there could be individual matches where the team performed on such a high level that their ultra-risk style of play would result in goals, goals, goals, especially if it was against vastly inferior opposition.  But for the matches – and there would be plenty of them – where the execution was indeed lacking, and no goals could be mustered, it would be a catastrophe.  At least in my opinion.

Remember that the terms attacking football today are usually reserved for the style of play Barcelona employs, or at least something like it.  (Unless you are Marcelo Bielsa.)  But in 1982, Barcelona probably wouldn’t have been considered very attacking at all.  They emphasize possession. Keeping the ball for as long as possible is almost as important to thetiki-taka school of thought as hitting the back of the net is.  Brazil ’82 did not emphasize possession.  Nor were they counter-attacking.  Such terms had little meaning to them, as far as I can tell.  No, the ball was not made to be possessed.  Nor was it made to be defended against and then countered with, like a riposte in fencing.  (There’s another metaphor.  Sorry, I was feeling it.)  The ball was made to be en route. The ball was made to be toyed with.  The ball was made to go where no other ball has gone before.  That’s the beauty of Brazil ’82 – and it leads us to another reason why their style would be untenable.  Due to defensive progress.

Defenses today are so more well organized, and so much more compact, than back in the eighties.  If you think Brazil’s style was risky and difficult then, it would be twice as so now.  All those errant passes would be far more dangerous today than back then, as teams are so much more adept at playing on the counter.  And there would have been a lot more errant passes, as defenses today borrow from Valeriy Lobanovskyi in reducing space on the pitch.  In ’82, there was a lot of space on the pitch.  In 2011, not so much.  And that means that not only would Brazil be far more vulnerable to opposition goals (even with a better back line than Tele Santana boasted) but that possession, which is considered such a necessity nowadays, would be lost.

Please stop waxing philosophic, Black Matt.  Please?

Okay, okay.  Let’s get back to the match.

Despite the little goal action, and despite Argentina having more possession, Brazil still seemed like they were the ones in the driver’s seat (in more ways than just the scoreline.)  This is because Brazil always did something with the possession they had, so it made it seem like they were bossing the pitch.

In the 37th minute, magic from Falcao.

Falcao came all the way back to the goal line to block a cross, then raced down the right touchline to get to the ball before the nearest Argentine player.  He lofted it over his opponent’s head, then continued his run, as Socrates headed the ball beautifully back to him.  (Vision and movement, once again, to combine with Brazilian ball-trickery.)  Falcao kept the ball this time as Zico rushed past him.  He slowed his approach, waited, and then finally passed ahead to Zico on the edge of the box, via a gorgeous lofted ball.  Zico collected with a golden chance, but could only blast over the bar with his right foot.  A bad half from Zico.

Falcao moveFalcao’s move:

The solid lines are movement, the dotted lines are passes.

A few minutes later, Falcao again.  Left back Junior threw in to Zico, who passed back to Junior, who crossed to Falcao, who headed powerfully into the box for Socrates, who headed back to Falcao, who blasted the volley with his left foot, hitting the crossbar.  Stunningly quick play.  One-touch passing, with either head or foot, from every player involved except for Junior, who only kept the ball for exactly three seconds.

Falcao had been easily the player of the first half.  Everything he did was full of flair.  Even when he would intercept a pass, he wouldn’t boot it clear, but instead could perform a volley-back heel to the next man up the pitch to start the attack.  His passing had been the most accurate, his movement off the ball the most dynamic, his shots the most ferocious (twice hitting the bar) and even in his defense, he was a handful, cutting out attack after attack, then starting an attack of his own.  In my opinion, he may have been the most important player Brazil ’82 had throughout the tournament.  He hadn’t been meant to be a starter, but in the opening game, fixture Toninho Cerezo had been suspended.  Since they were similar players (though Falcao to me was always more aggressive than Toninho) the Roma legend was given the nod, but he played so well that Tele Santana realized that he had to be retained.  He would score against Scotland and Italy, and would be instrumental in the 2nd half of this match as well.

Watch this video to see more:

The final action of the 2nd half was from Argentina, when Waldir tipped over a Passarella header over the bar.

2nd Half

To continue in the vein of the lessons ’14 Brazil can learn from ’82 Brazil, it’s paramount that the midfielders learn that passing is not designed solely to move the ball around the pitch, or even to create plays for your teammates.  It’s also about creating for yourself.

Take the 2nd minute.  Falcao intercepted a pass, then immediately passed to Zico.  No sooner had he passed the ball was he racing ahead at lightning speed, looking for the return, sensing an opportunity, even though he was not especially close to the penalty box. Zico chipped his return too far out of reach, but you see the point.  To me, this is Brazilian football.  Even more than pedalas, elasticos or backheels (important though those things are, as individual facets of the on-ball technique the best Brazilian attackers possess), it’s this positive approach to the game that defines what Brazilian football should be about.  The goal of the game is to score goals.  Thus, the approach I would like to see the Selecão adopt is this relentless form of attack.  It does not mean that the team neglects their defensive responsibilities, or that Mano Menezes should only field 11 eleven attack-minded players.  That’s completely besides the point.  The point is that every player should be constantly looking for opportunities for his teammates to score, and constantly looking for opportunities for himself to score, and each player’s attitude, energy, and positioning on the pitch should reflect that approach.  Obviously, the first duty of a center back or a full back is to defend, but once the defense has accomplished its purpose, it then becomes every player’s job to focus on the ultimate goal: to score.  And this is done through passing and off-ball movement.

Again, that doesn’t mean a center back should win the ball in defense, pass the ball, and thencharge willy-nilly forward.  It means that the center back should win the ball in defense, andimmediately upon doing so his teammates in the midfield or on the wings should move into a position where they can receive a pass and then do something with it.  And the center back should be prepared to give them that pass in a position where they can do something with it.  Instead, what we have seen is Thiago Silva winning the ball, looking around, finding no one obvious to pass to, and giving the ball to David Luiz.  David Luiz similarly looks around.  By this time Lucas Leiva has dropped back deep enough to receive the ball, but his back is to goal, and all he can do is just play it immediately back to David Luiz, who passes to Thiago Silva, who then passes to Andre Santos, who has dropped deep as well.  Andre Santos either passes back to Silva, or else tries to dribble forward, finds that his route is blocked, and so attempts to squeeze a ball into the center of the pitch to Ramires.  But the pass is thwarted, there’s a scuffle in the midfield, the ball goes out of play, and the only result is a throw-in.  There’s been far too much of this sort of thing in the Selecão of late.

Again, Brazil cannot completely emulate their predecessors stylistically in the sense they are constantly trying one-touch passes over great distances, or repeatedly sending in chipped through-balls from the middle of the pitch.  Passes can be more conservative, and movement can still be achieved even when it’s not in the form of a dramatic forward run from a deep-lying midfielder.  As long as the ball is always moving forward, and the players are moving around it, that’s attacking football.  And that, to me, is Brazil.

In the 3rd minute, Socrates slipped and went down.  It was a scary moment as he was in obvious pain and would be quickly carried off.  However he would return later.

Meanwhile, Brazil’s defense, which I have barely spoken of, was rarely threatened, mainly because Falcao and Cerezo were relentless in harrying their opponents, and the risk of them intercepting and then breaking away at speed made Argentina increasingly cautious.  Second, Argentina’s off-ball movement wasn’t half what Brazil’s was, so there’s more aimless dribbling and horizontal passes between the halfway line and the box.  Maradona did look a threat whenever he touched the ball, though, reflected by the following incident early on.

Maradona received the ball on the right, then easily rounded Junior.  Junior hacked him down from behind, right on the edge of the box.  The replay looks like a penalty to me, and Maradona was rightly furious at being denied it.

In attack, Serginho’s presence continued to be a downer.  While he was often the intended recipient of Zico’s daring passes, he was almost never able to get on the end of them.  This is partly because Zico and Socrates liked to pass to where they knew their teammates would berather than solely to where they were.  They liked to target open spaces for the forwards to run into.  But Serginho was not this kind of player.  Careca was – oh, how they missed him.

Furthermore, Serginho routinely over-hit his passes in a 1-2, and failed to hold onto the ball with his back to goal.  As a result, his teammates soon began to bypass him altogether, resorting to long, speculative shots.  (Which, in fairness, they had proven time and time again that they could make.)  Ultimately, there was no one to take advantage of the wonderful approach play (which has also been a problem for Mano’s Brazil as well…one hopes that Leandro Damiao can help solve this problem.)  Again, it makes you wonder: how many goals would a Romario or Ronaldo have scored with this team?  Or even Pato?

About the 20th minute, Brazil finally made use of width and sent in a cross.  It was a superb build-up.  A long ball from Junior was headed down by an Argentine in the center circle, then picked up by Socrates.  Socrates laid off to Toninho.  Toninho passed to Zico.  Zico passed back to Toninho.  Toninho back to Zico.  Zico then sent a wonder-ball to the right flank to the overlapping Leandro, who had tons of space to pick out a wide open Zico.  The Flamengo man slammed his volley high up into the stands.  Again, very sloppy from the Cariocan maestro, but Brazil were getting better and better.

In the 22nd minute, Brazil finally scored.  It was a vintage goal.  Toninho gave the ball away in midfield.  Serginho, to his credit, came rushing back and tackled from behind.  The ball fell to Toninho, who one-timed it to Socrates.  Socrates laid off to his left to Eder.  After a few stepovers, Eder centered to Zico, who held up the ball, then slid a perfect diagonal through-pass to Falcao.  Falcao picked it up on the right side of the box with plenty of space, then fired a perfect cross to the unmarked Serginho at the back post, who made no mistake and struck home.  Finally, something the lanky center forward could make use of.  It was a wonderful, wonderful play.  Zico and Serginho atoned for their previous transgressions, while man of the match Falcao earned himself a well-deserved assist.  This, this, this is the Brazil I think we all want to see.

Serginho goal

In the 30th minute, Brazil would score again, after Waldir’s perfect kick found Serginho.  Serginho headed to Zico.  Zico rushed toward the box, but for once was rather selfish, as instead of returning the ball to Serginho (perhaps understandably) he chose to keep it.  A defender brought Zico down, but Eder, following behind, slammed it home.  As the crowd started to celebrate, the official waved his hands.  The goal was disallowed.  Zico, he claimed, had already been fouled.

But it was only a minute later that Brazil would notch their third.  Eder, on the left, gave the ball to the overlapping Junior, who passed to Zico, then proceeded to run up the middle of the pitch.  Zico saw his run, and sent in another beautiful through-ball to the left back, who slid it easily past the onrushing Argentine keeper.

If you only watched the highlights of this match, you’d think that it was the Zico show, as he scored the first, was heavily involved in the second, and assisted the third.  His overall play was poor by his awesome standards, but geniuses always prove their worth when it really counts.

So, Brazil 3, Argentina 0.  There’s really not much more to say.  Argentina would get one back after playing increasingly cynical, with Passarella crudely hacking Zico from behind.  It was deserving of a red card, but he didn’t get one.  Zico was taken off, injured, replaced by Bautista.  From the amount of pain Zico was clearly in, it makes you wonder if he was truly fit for the quarterfinal against Italy.

Maradona would get a red for a cleats-up kick on Bautista that was nothing but pure frustration, still chafing from his denied penalty thirty minutes earlier.

In the 89th minute, Argentina finally scored, from a Ramone Diaz thunder-strike.  The cause was another sloppy mistake from Brazil’s back line, giving the ball away cheaply.  But by then, it was too little, too late.


Not the best match Brazil ’82 played, but it was certainly against superior opposition than what the likes of Scotland or New Zealand had provided.  And the thing that made Brazil ’82 so memorable – the vision, the passing, the off-ball movement, the cheeky back-heels and feints – were all very much in evidence.  It also illustrated their two main offensive problems – the fact that they lacked a striker that could combine with the midfield, and the fact that the team lacked true width to take advantage of the striker they had.

I’ve already gone on at lengths (and repeated myself often, no doubt) about the things Mano Menezes’ Brazil – and indeed Brazilian football in general – can learn from Tele Santana’s squad.  Certainly these things do not address all of the problems Brazil currently faces, but they represent aspects that, should they be applied, would not only go a long way to boosting Brazil’s chances of winning, but also how much we enjoy watching them.

Now, for player ratings:

Waldir – 6

Looked a bit shaky early on but did well to tip Passarella’s header over the bar, and made one or two other decent saves.  Could do nothing to stop Ramone Diaz’s strike.  He would prove a major let down against Italy, but against Argentina, he was fine.

Leandro – 6

Didn’t get forward nearly as much as you’d think, but when he did get forward, he looked good.  Was able to handle Kempes well in the early stages, though he was skinned a few times by Maradona later on.

Luisinho – 5.5

He could be a bit sloppy in possession, but he combined well with Oscar to drop deep when defending, preventing Argentina from penetrating too deep inside the box.

Oscar – 6

See above.

Junior – 5.5

Had a very well taken goal after an eyebrow-raising run, but in defense, was careless with the ball and was lucky he wasn’t burned.  Could do nothing against Maradona in 1v1 situations (who could?) and indeed was lucky that he didn’t cost his side a penalty, which he probably should have.

Toninho Cerezo – 6.5

A good match.  Was very active and energetic in defense, with good marking off the ball.  Made several fine interceptions, and then quickly and accurately launched attacks from deep.  Was not as forward-thinking as his partner, but he was a major part of why this midfield was so fluid and attractive.

Falcao – 8.5

Man of the match, easily.  His powerful free-kick led to Zico’s goal, and he twice struck the bar.  Constantly got forward, whether up the center or down the wings, beating his men for pace.  Made several excellent runs.  Assisted Serginho with an excellent cross.  In defense, he was very active.  Not much of a tackler, but read the game beautifully and could often predict where the ball would be going, enabling him to made several excellent interceptions.  The under-sung hero of this team, in my opinion.

Socrates – 6.5

Easily the quietest game of the tournament from him.  Never once took a shot, and indeed rarely got near the goal.  But his touch, vision and quick thinking never abandoned him, and if he did not directly contribute to any of the goals, he was a metronome that kept the attacking humming.

Zico – 7.0

A hard performance to rate.  Honestly, he was quite sloppy and made several bad decisions throughout the match.  From start to finish, undoubtedly it was the worst Zico played in the tournament.  Yet he was at the heart of all three goals, rebounding alertly for the first, building up the second, and assisting the third.  That raises his score up considerably.

Eder – 6.5

Like Socrates, Eder was a bit quiet in this match, but when he got the ball he usually did something with it.  A good dribbler, and offered a bit more of a threat that way.  Was harshly disallowed a fine goal, but was integral in setting up the third.

Serginho – 5.5

His header, and the tackle he made that started the move that lead to that header, were about his only positive contributions to the match.  Just did not fit in with this side at all, at all.


Well, I hope you all got something from that.  I know I probably spent too much time in certain areas than I should have, and no doubt some of you can find holes in my logic, but anyway, 1982 was and continues to be such a crucial stage in Brazil’s history.  This was the longest article I’ve written yet – maybe it’s too long – and yet we barely covered the team’s defense (perhaps no other back-line has ever caused such fundamental changes in a country’s style of play as Tele Santana’s backline did.)  At some point I’ll write up about the match against Italy, but for now, this will have to do.

This will be the last article I write this year, and probably the last for several weeks.  If Duvel is still MIA in early January and the comments start piling up, I’ll probably create a discussion thread or two, but for now, this is the last you’ll hear from me for a little while.  I may put up some thoughts on Muricy Ramalho.  We’ll see.  As a little spoiler, for any who are interested, I’ve just been hired to write articles for another website.  This one will still be my main focus, but if anyone is curious to read my stuff elsewhere, I’ll give more information as soon as I can.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy.  And for all of you who celebrate the holiday, Merry Christmas, wherever you are.  For the rest, have a happy Sunday and an excellent New Year.


(I do know basic Portuguese, dammit!  I do know it!)