Mexico ‘70 is widely regarded as one of the greatest World Cups. Italy were involved in some memorable matches but, as Mario Risoli reminisces, they had to eventually give way to a great Brazil side.
The craggy faced Valcareggi was Italy Coach Edmundo Fabbri’s No 2 during the 1966 World Cup disaster and replaced Fabbri the following November. A midfielder whose clubs included Triestina, Fiorentina, Bologna and Vicenza, Valcareggi restored credibility to Italian football by winning the European Championships in 1968 and reaching the Final of the 1970 World Cup.
The second half of his spell in charge of the national team was not as successful - Italy failed to make an impact in the 1972 European Championships and were knocked out of the first round in the 1974 World Cup where dressing room disharmony badly affected on-the-pitch performances.
The disappointment in West Germany, where the Azzurri were among the hot favourites, marked the end of Valcareggi’s reign but it’s worth remembering that in the 58 games under his stewardship Italy lost only six times. He later coached Verona, Roma and Fiorentina.
Mexico ‘70 remains for many the finest World Cup of them all. It was littered with fabulous players - Pele, Rivelino and Jairzinho of Brazil, Cubillas of Peru, Moore and Charlton of England, Beckenbauer, Overath and Muller of West Germany, Riva and Rivera of Italy. It also threw up several classic matches, such as Italy-West Germany, England-West Germany and Brazil-England.
The red and yellow card system was used for the first time and, to accommodate European television, teams were shamefully forced to play in the midday heat. England, thanks to manager Alf Ramsey’s undiplomatic comments, were the villains of the tournament and their quarter-final exit at the hands of West Germany was celebrated as if it was a Mexican victory. England ‘keeper Gordon Banks missed the game with an upset stomach after drinking a fateful bottle of beer, but Ramsey was blamed for the defeat. He substituted Bobby Charlton when England were 2-1 up instead of taking off the exhausted left-back Terry Cooper. West Germany won 3-2 after extra time.
Belgium, seen as dark horses, were the flops of the tournament as they failed to reach the last eight. Football boots were blamed for their woeful displays - some players had boot sponsorship, others did not and that affected morale.
A dour Uruguay side managed to reach the semi-finals where they gave Brazil a real scare. It was the Uruguayans who benefited from the most contentious refereeing decision of Mexico ‘70, against Russia in the quarter-final. In extra time Victor Esparrago headed the winner from Luis Cubilla’s cross, but the ball clearly crossed the goal line before Cubilla delivered it into the Russian six-yard box.
There were several minnows in Mexico - Morocco, El Salvador and Israel - but none progressed beyond the first round although the Moroccans had the audacity to take the lead against West Germany in their first game before losing 2-1. Israel returned home with great credit after holding both Sweden and eventual finalists Italy.
As for the West Germans, they had their most exciting side for years and striker Gerd Muller scored 10 in Mexico. But Brazil were the undoubted stars, scoring 19 goals in six games and playing football that was, quite simply, out of this world. Brazil Coach Mario Zagallo became the first man to play in and manage a World Cup-winning team. Zagallo starred for Brazil in their 1958 and 1962 triumphs on the left wing.
Mexico, the hosts, reached the last eight thanks to some dubious refereeing decisions inside the partisan Azteca Stadium. Their first goal in the 4-0 win over El Salvador came after a Mexican player took an El Salvador free-kick while their 1-0 victory over Belgium in the decisive first round match came from a penalty that never was.
Several players could lay claim to being the outstanding performer of the 1970 series but Jairzinho - the first and only player to score in all six rounds in the Word Cup Finals - just shades it. The Brazilian winger scored some of the most explosive goals of the tournament and added another dimension to the Selecao’s already frightening attack.
He got off to a flyer in Brazil’s first match against Czechoslovakia, scoring twice in a 4-1 win. He blasted home the winner against England, grabbed another against Romania, scored from a seemingly impossible angle against Peru, netted the crucial second against Uruguay and Brazil’s third in the final against Italy. He played for Brazil in the 1974 Finals but was not as effective in the role of centre forward and he only scored twice as Brazil finished fourth.
Brazil’s fourth goal in the Final came when Italy were tired and demoralised, but that should not deflect from its sheer brilliance. In the 87th minute Clodoaldo began the move deep inside his own half. He evaded four Italian players before finding Jairzinho who had switched from the right wing to the left, dragging his marker, Facchetti, with him. Jairzinho then picked out Pele who rolled the ball nonchalantly to Carlos Alberto who, with Facchetti now out of position, came charging forward from his full-back berth to rifle the ball past Italian ‘keeper Albertosi.
Forget the 4-1 scoreline in Brazil’s favour, for just over an hour Italy matched the sublime South Americans. Pele opened the scoring after 18 minutes but Roberto Boninsegna levelled eight minutes before the break. But in the second half the exhausting semi-final against West Germany began to take its toll on the Italian players and when Gerson hit a stunning 20-yard shot midway through the second half there was no way back for them. This was not one of the best games of the competition as much of it - especially in the first half - was a cat and mouse affair. Valcareggi was criticised for his rigid tactics and questionable substitutions.
Brazil 4-1 Italy
Pele 19 (B), Boninsegna 37 (I), Gerson 65 (B), Jairzinho 70 (B), Carlos Alberto 86 (B)
Brazil: Felix; Carlos Alberto, Brito, Piazza, Everaldo; Clodoaldo, Gerson, Jairzinho, Tostao; Pele, Rivelino
Italy: Albertosi; Cera, Burgnich, Bertini (Juliano), Rosato; Facchetti, Domenghini, Mazzola, De Sisti; Boninsegna (Rivera), Riva
Ref: Glockner (East Germany)