The Greatest Team Ever?
There could be a lot of candidates for team of the century. Just who is the “greatest team ever”? Well, I’m going to give you my opinion, as usual. The greatest team ever to play soccer is the World Cup-winning Brazilian team. Hold on a minute Joe, that only narrows it down to four possibilities. You see, Brazil has won the World Cup on four occasions: 1958, 1962, 1970 and 1994. It wasn’t the 1994 side, although I think it was marginally the best team in that tournament. Older aficianados will remember a 17-year-old youngster called Pele in 1958 charming the world with a classic goal in the final. It was undoubtedly a great team. To be honest, I was two years old so I don’t really know how great that particular team was.
The 1962 side was obviously top notch also. It’s a great shame that Pele was “injured” in 1966 and the world was deprived of the chance to see an individual win an unprecedented three world cups. Happily, the “greatest player ever to have played the game,” (oh oh, there goes another argument) survived the hackers long enough to grace the field in Mexico, 1970. He went on to win that elusive third medal in what was breathtakingly exciting action.
The good news was that I was now 14 years old and a TV veteran of two world cups. I had to sneak downstairs at one a.m. and quietly put on the TV each night to get the “live” pictures from Mexico. I was 6,000 miles away but wasn’t going to wait until the next day to find out what happened next. No beer, no chips, not even pop, but it was worth it. It educated me in the game and how it “could” be played, so much so that to this day, I still draw on those experiences. You see, I don’t believe that any team, before or since, quite got the delicate balance of attack and defence that Brazil 1970 possessed. You’ve probably all heard of 4:4:2 and 4:3:3 formations among many others. The wonderful Dutch teams — beaten in successive finals later in the ’70s — were credited with playing what became known as “total football” — and it was truly wonderful to watch. Well, the truth is Brazil 1970 did not play any recognizable formation. It might be decribed as 0:5:5. I just know that nobody has managed to match their style since.
Naturally, it helped that the team was made up of players like Rivelino, Pele, Tostao, Gerson, Carlos Alberto and a fellow named Jairzinho who scored in every round. But these guys were so good that you didn’t have to tell them how to play. They were unstoppable. In the entire World Cup campaign, qualifying and finals, they were never held scoreless, and never held to a draw. In fact, only once did they “fail” to score more than once — and that game included the “greatest save ever made” — (oh oh, another argument) when Gordon Banks somehow prevented a “perfect” — as in textbook and every other book — header from crossing the line. I probably shouldn’t remind English fans (oh well, I can’t resist) that they were the only team in that campaign to fail to score against the Brazilians — remember the 0:5:5 formation.
The thing was that Brazil didn’t care how many goals the opposition got, they knew that over 90 minutes, they were going to score more. Pulsating action, speed and skill in perfect harmony, almost but not quite arrogance on display — all the things a 14 year old could wish for. The seeds of my undying love for the game were conscientiously planted in that tournament 28 years ago and the enthusiasm with which I look forward to France ’98 only six months away can only be the result of that sucessful planting.
Please feel free to comment, expand, analyze, critique or even just agree with me. I won’t be offended because this game has as many different views as it has fans.