Sadness of a football fan : The greatest World Cup game is always Brazil vs Italy (part 1)

“The history of soccer is a sad voyage from beauty to duty.” ― Eduardo Galeano, Soccer in Sun and Shadow

Winning is simple. It’s about having the good fortune to be better. Or luckier. For me, nothing represents winning more than the great World Cup finals games between Brazil and Italy. Let's look at the statistical records. In 1938, Italy beat Brazil 2-1 in Marseille, the next game wasn’t until 1970 when Brazil won 4-1 in Mexico :-


 Brazil won the 3rd/4th play-off 2-1 in Argentina 1978 :-

 Then in 1982 in Spain, it was Italy 3 - Brazil 2 :-

 The 1994 game ended 0-0 AET, with Brazil winning on penalties:-

 So, the stats show it’s 3-2 so far in Brazil’s favour. Two of the games were finals (1970 and 1994) in which Brazil won. Both times Italy won they went on to be World Cup champions. Brazil have won the World Cup 5 times in total, and Italy 4. But facts and figures never give the full story do they? So, why is Brazil vs Italy my favourite game and the one I consider most important (never the best game mind)? In 1970 the final had an array of talent on show, in colour. Yup, the first World Cup final in colour. The 1978 3rd/4th playoff would have been a deserved final. Brazil being the only undefeated team in the World Cup and Italy beating the eventual winners (Argentina) in the group stages. The 1982 team from Brazil is my all time favourite World Cup team. Zico, Eder, Socrates, Falcao and Cerezo amongst others. Italy? Well, you have Zoff, Cabrini, Gentile, Scirea, Tardelli in the middle and Conti from Roma. Altobelli, such as unsung star and Paulo Rossi, a man just back from suspension for gambling (more of this later). 1994 was a footballing travesty to my mind, for two of the greatest players of the 1980s and 1990s. Franco Baresi and the divine pony-tail, Roberto Baggio, who would miss the penalties that handed the most boring Brazilian team its 4th World Cup. As a fan, watching both the 1982 and 1994 World Cups, the best teams didn’t win. That’s the fun (or pain?) of football. The missed opportunities. I’ll look at each match in turn and the significance of each one. The 1938 World Cup was held in France. The previous winners, Italy, played France in the quarter-final and beat them 3-1. Brazil had won their group stage games, beating Poland 6-5 :-

 Brazilian LeĆ“nidas scored a hat trick, whilst Polish striker Wilimowski scored 4 goals. A sunny Strasbourg suited the slick Brazilians, until the rain nearly scuppered their hopes (Hubbard, 2019). Italy and Brazil met in the semi final. Italian manager, Pozzo, noted the Brazilians’ arrogance, pointing out that buying tickets to fly to Paris for the final would mean they would struggle to get to Bordeaux for the 3rd/4th play off if they lost (Glanville, 2014). This arrogance continued as they made eight changes including Leonidas and Tim. Brazil lost 2-1, and Italy would win a second World Cup, defeating Hungary 4-2 in the final. The 1970 World Cup was in Mexico. It wasn’t only the colour television that made football look exotic but also the location. The football punditry improved too on both the BBC and ITV in the UK (Buckley, 2009).

The Mexico World Cup would see 1966 winners England, an improved team, roundly disliked by the host country and many fans. The team took their own bus, bus driver and food - including fish fingers (Dawson, 2002). Colour and satellite television made the game something new and exciting. Unlike previous World Cups outside of Europe, satellite allowed people to see games immediately rather than waiting for a plane to transport back a reel of film from the previous day. As one critic has said:- Though England lost their world title in Mexico, the tournament was a huge success for television. This was the first World Cup to be broadcast live from outside Europe, via satellite. The vibrant colours of a sun-drenched Mexico were irresistible (to those lucky enough to own a colour set) and the football was of a very high standard.(England Football Online - England on the television, 2019) The World Cup was a vibrant spectacle and ‘clean’ in comparison to what preceded and followed, with no red cards. Brazil fairly marched to the final, only struggling against England and briefly Uruguay in the semi-final.

Brazil included a plethora of greats in the team. Pele obviously. But also Jairzinho, who would be the first and only player to score in every game in the tournament. There were players like Gerson, often described as the ‘brain’ of the Brazilian team and Tostao, an attacking midfielder, was also an excellent player (Jenkins, 1999)

 The Italians had rebuilt after their humiliation to North Korea in 1966 and by 1968 Italy had won the European championship, defeating Yugoslavia:-

 Italy had not particularly struggled in the competition until the semi-final, when they would face West Germany. The match would be called ‘the game of the century’ and Italy would win 4-3 after extra time.

 The Italian team had two real superstars, Gianni Rivera And the more pedestrian Sandro Mazzola. Unfortunately, Italian manager Ferruccio Valcareggi would only play one at a time, and in the final that would be Mazzola. Valcareggi played what was termed the staffetta: He devised a system he called la staffetta: the relay. Mazzola would play the first half, Rivera the second. It worked, by and large: Rivera inspired wins over Mexico and West Germany and only that immortal Brazil side beat the Italians in the final. The problem, of course, was that the system was too rigid: Rivera had been the hero against the Germans in what became known as the "game of the century" but because of la staffetta, he was back on the bench for the final. (Smith, 2014) The final itself is remembered as a feast of goals, but it was 1-1 until the 66th minute. Italy’s surprisingly attacking display was countered by Brazil's cut and thrust. WhenRivera did come on, it was for the last 6 minutes of the game. In many ways the 1978 game arguably has least importance as it was the 3rd/4th play off. ‘Just what is the point of the World Cup third place play-off?’ (Tyers, 2018) What is important was that both teams very much deserved to be in the final, but either lost through a lack of concentration (Italy) or felt cheated (Brazil).

This team could play and came second behind Austria to get through to the final group stages. They were up against host nation Argentina, Peru and Poland. Argentina would face Peru, needing to win by at least 4 clear goals. They put 6 past Peru’s goalkeeper, the Argentinian born Ramon Quiroga.

 Much has been written about the ‘questionable’ way Argentina advanced to the final and rules changed about game formats (Longman, 1998), but Brazil had been robbed of a final they seemed to deserve. Italy had qualified for the World Cup by defeating England. In the initial group stages they would face the ‘group of death’ that included hosts Argentina, France and Hungary. Italy would win all games, defeating Argentina 1-0 from a Roberto Bettega goal.

 The Italian team had some stalwarts but also some outstanding players. Probably the best was Bettega, who had single handedly defeated England in the qualifier in Rome. For me, a wonderful Italian striker who is not remembered so well because of Baggio, is Signori. Add to this some youngsters, such as Marco Tardelli, a combative midfielder :-

 This was a very strong team. Their final group stages included West Germany, Austria and Holland. Italy defeated Austria and drew with Germany. They needed a win to proceed to the final, as did Holland. Although Italy took a first half lead, Holland won 2-1. Arie Haan sealed it with a long range shot and a dreadful mistake from the Italian keeper Dino Zoff.

 The play-off against Brazil showed the weak underbelly of Italy, who lost 2-1 after leading. Again, long range efforts beat a 36 year old Dino Zoff. The aging keeper needed dropping. But that’s another story. So these first games were notable for Brazilian arrogance in 1938, the tactical misfortune of the Italian side in 1970, and in 1978 sporting controversy and an improving Italian team. In 1982 and 1994 Brazil and Italy would meet again. That’s for the next chapter.

Kindly written for @TFHBs by Les Crang - a long time (suffering) Arsenal fan. He has a Msc from Birkbeck in Sports Business management and given papers at the BSSH, Football Collective, Birkbeck Sportbusiness and Footycon on football and Rugby. He can be found on twitter at @morethanagame66

References 1. Buckley, W., 2009. The Forgotten Story Of ... The Sports Broadcasting Revolution (And Idwal Robling) | Will Buckley. [online] the Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 17 April 2020].

2. Dawson, J., 2002. Back Home: England And The 1970 World Cup. 1st ed. London: Orion.


4. 2019. England Football Online - England On The Television. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 April 2020].

5. Foot, J., 2010. Calcio: A History Of Italian Football. 1st ed. London: 4th Estate.

6. Glanville, B., 2014. The Story Of The World Cup: 2014: The Essential Companion To Brazil 2014. 1st ed. London: Faber & Faber.

7. Goldblatt, D., n.d. Futebol Nation: A Footballing History Of Brazil. 1st ed. London: Penguin.

8. Hubbard, R., 2019. From Partition To Solidarity: The First 100 Years Of Polish Football. 1st ed. London: RAH.

9. Jenkins, G., 1999. The Beautiful Team. 1st ed. London: Pocket.

10. Lewis, T., 2014. 1982: Why Brazil V Italy Was One Of Football's Greatest Ever Matches. [online] Esquire. Available at: [Accessed 18 April 2020].

11. Longman, J., 1998. SOCCER; Fixed Matches Are Darkening Soccer's Image. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 April 2020].

12. Smith, R., 2014. Right Players Needed, Not The Best Ones. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 April 2020].

13. Tyers, A., 2018. Just What Is The Point Of The World Cup Third Place Play-Off? Examining Sport’s Least-Loved Fixture. [online] The Telegraph. Available at: [Accessed 18 April 2020].

14. Wilson, J., 2016. Angels With Dirty Faces: The Footballing History Of Argentina. 1st ed. London: Orion. The Football History Boys, 2020


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