Fanta, Rossi and the Greatest Team Never to Win the World Cup

IT was an afternoon, a cool and nice afternoon in 1982. My father was 7-years-old and he went to buy an orange Fanta before the game started. The game in question was Brazil V Italy in the 1982 World Cup in Spain. When my father was walking towards the bakery, he felt the atmosphere of euphoria and festivity among the people. After the game was over and everybody had drunk the Fanta, my father went back to the bakery to return the empty bottle. As he was getting back to his home, the streets were silent and empty; he felt a sense of mutual grief. Brazil had just lost the game.

Brazil has always been a country where the World Cup really mattered for the people. The “Maracanazo”, the way Brazil’s defeat in the 1950 World Cup final is referred, is still to this day one of the biggest tragedies in our history. After the fateful day in Rio de Janeiro Brazil went on to win three World Cups in 1958, 1962 and 1970. Despite all those glories, the day my dad went to buy a Fanta in 1982 entered the list of Brazilian tragedies: “The Tragedy of Sarrià”.

Like other football tragedies or miracle depending on the way you see it, the Brazil team in 1982 didn’t deserve to lose. Football is a game of results, it doesn’t matter how you play, the only thing that really matters, in the end, is the win. Like Hungary in 1954 and the Netherlands in 1974, Brazil in ‘82 played so great that not winning the World Cup was a tragedy not just for the Brazilians, but for football as a whole. This is the beauty of football; these teams got marked in history for the football they played, not for the final result.

Guided by Telê Santana, Brazil’s generation of 1982 is considered one of the best in football’s history. The flair and fluidity that made Brazil so famous in the football world had disappeared after the 1970 World Cup, changing to a more defensive and pragmatic style of play under Zagallo and Claudio Coutinho.

But then came Telê, a man that all football lovers should be thankful. Telê managed to resurrect the beautiful game, he made the Brazil team in 1982 play in the sound of Samba, attacking fluidly and playing beautifully. As Tele himself said: “Football is art, is entertainment, not just kicking a ball long”. Telê would prefer losing playing beautifully rather than winning playing negatively.

Telê had the tools to perform his show. Despite having great players after 1982 such as Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Kaká and more recently Neymar, I don’t think that any Brazil generation has had as many talented and technically gifted players as the generation of the 1980’s. It was football at its best.

Zico was the leader on the pitch, the star that had the responsibility of making everything tick. Part of the formidable Flamengo team that won everything possible, domestically, continentally and worldwide, Zico is seen by many people as the greatest Brazilian player besides the king, Pelé. Technically one of the best players the world has ever seen, Zico had a capacity of making everything look easy. The little dribbles that would take the opponents off their balance, the killer passes that would leave the opposition wide open and the cool and calm finish that would kill the game.

Zico had everything. He was a lot more than just a midfielder, he was a genuine leader. His work-ethic was perfectly balanced with his skill and ability to make things happen. He was the heart of that Brazil, Telê found in him a perfect player to make his “Jogo Bonito” work in the most beautiful way possible.

Completing the midfield was Falcão and Cerezo. Falcão is arguably the first Brazilian player to be successful playing in Europe. Signed from Internacional to AS Roma, Falcão’s class was unbelievable. Called “the eight King of Rome”, Falcão was a deep-lying playmaker who orchestrated everything from midfield. He had the ability to set the tempo with his passing precision and the ability to be as good offensively as he was defensively.

Toninho Cerezo, similarly to Falcão, boasted an incredible ability with the ball at his feet, being able to pick the long passes and helping to control the midfield. Cerezo was successful at club level, winning 10 state championships with Atlético Mineiro and constantly fighting for the league title with the “Galo

A midfield of this quality was enough to supply Brazil’s astonishing attack. Sócrates was an instrumental part of the team together with Zico. These players were the soul of the team, they made everything happen. Also known as “The Doctor”, Sócrates was one of the best Brazilian players ever and a cult hero. Sócrates made his disapproval to Brazil’s military regime very clear, being an avid supporter of a direct election.

The leader of the Corinthians Democracy, one of the first ideological movements in Brazilian football and a leader on the pitch. A clever player on the ball who had an incredible ability with his feet to create scoring opportunities and to score a goal himself. Playing on the right-wing, Sócrates was also athletic and one of the most intelligent players the world has seen, highlighting his importance in this team.

On the other wing was Éder, a perfect player for Telê’s style of football. Known as “The Cannon”, Éder had an incredibly powerful shot, together with his energy to make runs and his skill to create opportunities. A big and a strong personality meant that he could never settle in a place, playing for more than 10 teams throughout his career, although his brilliance was undisputed.

Serginho Chulapa led the attacking line and was seen as the weak-link of the team, despite being São Paulo’s all-time top goalscorer. Serginho did not have the technical ability of his teammate, a traditional fox in the box striker who fought for the ball and did everything to score goals.

On the defensive side, Zico’s Flamengo teammates Junior and Leandro were seen as the best full-back duo in the world. Junior was known as “O maestro”, he was a left-back with pace, versatility and he had something that was rare for a defensive player at that time: his technical ability was outstanding. His creative mind meant that he could be as creative as a midfielder playing in a defensive position, something that didn’t happen very often.

On the other side, Leandro was seen as one of the best right-backs Brazil has ever produced, even better than the likes of Cafú and Dani Alves. Another Flamengo legend, he was similar to his fellow full-back Junior, boasting incredible power and creativity.

Finishing the defensive line, Oscar and Luisinho made a great partnership. Both technically good with the ball at their feet, both strong in the air and both athletic, they made Brazil’s team look strong offensively and defensively. Due to Brazil’s attacking mentality, the defenders were exposed but in general, Luisinho and Oscar were solid at the back. Completing the team, goalkeeper Waldir Perez was selected ahead of Emerson Leão and did a great job, being one of the best goalkeepers throughout the tournament.

This Brazilian team was built on winners. Most of those players had won a title in their careers; the players’ winning mentality was there, combining perfectly with Telê’ ambitions. It doesn’t get into my mind how this team, with so many incredible players at their best, was not able to win the World Cup in 1982.

A Brazilian football magazine called Placar made DVDs about the history of every World Cup. I had the 1982 version and as a kid, I loved watching the way football was played when my dad was a kid. Watching that Brazilian team made me so happy, even though many years had passed from that tournament. Every work of art goes through the years and still is art, doesn’t matter how much time has passed. That Brazil team is the same thing, what was art, still is to this day.

Watching the same DVD, I remember the stage when I got to watch the highlights for Brazil V Italy. At that time, I didn’t know the importance of the game and how much that team meant for a lot of people; neither did I know how the game ended. As I was watching and looking at how the game went, one thing that sticks to mind is the name Rossi.

Paolo Rossi is the man responsible for knocking the Brazil team out of the World Cup in 1982. Three years before the World Cup, Rossi had received a three-year ban from football for a betting scandal involving his club Perugia. Although claiming to be innocent, Rossi spent two years from 1979 without playing, coming back to play as a Juventus player in the end of the 1981/82 season.

By the time the World Cup approached, Rossi featured in Italy’s group stage matches, despite being in poor form. Before the game against Brazil, Rossi hadn’t even scored a goal. However, it was his performance against Brazil that made him immortal in football history.

Playing in the Stadium of Sarriá in Barcelona, Brazil only needed a draw to book their place in the semi-finals, having won against Argentina but with a superior goal difference to Italy. The game started and Rossi opened the scoring for Italy after five minutes, heading precisely towards goal and giving Waldir Perez no chance. As an attacking minded team, Brazil tried to get back to the game and did, after Zico’s brilliant turn and pass put Sócrates clear on-goal as The Doctor finished with class.

It was 1-1, the result Brazil needed to qualify. After 25 minutes Brazil were controlling possession. Cerezo tried to play a pass towards Luisinho but Rossi’s attention caught the defender off guard as he intercepted the pass and finished past Waldir Perez. Brazil’s attempts to enter half-time level were in vein, as the first 45 ended 2-1 Italy.

The second-half started with Brazil pressing for a goal. Both Falcão and Serginho missed big opportunities to put Brazil level. Nonetheless, after 68 minutes, Junior’s pass reached Falcão. As an extremely smart player, Falcão faked a pass to Cerezo, tricking Italy’s defender, and with a brilliant placed shot from the outside of the box, Falcão equalised for Brazil.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be Brazil’s day. Six minutes after Falcão scored, Italy had a corner. With the ball hanging in the box, the opportunity to put Italy in front again arose for Rossi, who completed his hat-trick. In the last minute of the game, Brazil had an opportunity to go through, with Oscar heading the ball from a corner and Zoff making a miraculous save at the goal line.

The way the Brazil team played will never be forgotten. It brought the joy to watch Brazil back, something that had been missing since the 1970 World Cup triumph. Their willingness to attack may have been their biggest enemy against Italy. Despite having the result that would guarantee them in the next round, Brazil continued to attack and it may have cost them.

However, the one thing that echoes through eternity is the name Rossi. When I remember the DVD from the ‘82 World Cup, what I remember is Rossi, Rossi and Rossi, three times.

By Gabriel Coelho with artwork by Debanjan Chowdhury

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