The Brazil team of 1982: The most beautiful team never to have won the World Cup

For most contemporary Brazilians, the great national football trauma is not the "Maracanazo" of the faraway 1950, but rather the more recent "Sarria stadium tragedy," Brazil's 3-2 defeat to Italy in the quarter-finals of the Spain 1982 World Cup.

”It was not Brazil who lost. It was football. If we had won that title, that could have meant a change in the way of playing from that moment on,” Falcao, who made up with Zico and Socrates the superstar trio of the Brazil team led by Tele Santana, recently said. Credit: picture-alliance / dpa
”It was not Brazil who lost. It was football. If we had won that title, that could have meant a change in the way of playing from that moment on,” Falcao, who made up with Zico and Socrates the superstar trio of the Brazil team led by Tele Santana, recently said. Credit: picture-alliance / dpa

By Diana Renee (dpa)

"That was probably the last time I cried about football," said Brazilian sports reporter Marcelo Barreto, of the channel SporTV.

Retired midfielder Paulo Roberto Falcao, one of the stars of a team where Zico, Socrates, Toninho Cerezo and Junior also shone, says the defeat against Italy - who went on to win their third World Cup in Spain - was a fatal blow against "football-art."

"It was not Brazil who lost. It was football. If we had won that title, that could have meant a change in the way of playing from that moment on," Falcao, who made up with Zico and Socrates the superstar trio of the Brazil team led by Tele Santana, recently said.

Brazil started that match in the afternoon of July 5, 1982 in Barcelona as the absolute favourites, and they needed just a draw to go through to the semi-finals.

After beating the Soviet Union (2-1), Scotland (4-1) and New Zealand (4-0) in their first-round group, they had already beaten their arch-rivals Argentina by a convincing 3-1 in the second round.

Italy, in turn, struggled in their first-round group. They drew their first three matches and, although they beat Argentina 2-1 in the second round, they got to the game against Brazil "very scared."

"Everyone was talking about Brazil as the champions, we were very scared. They were the champions, and it was up to us to achieve a feat. But nothing is impossible for Italy," said the retired keeper Giovanni Galli, who stayed on the bench as a substitute for Dino Zoff in that game.

Italy opened the score just five minutes into the match with a header from Paolo Rossi, but Socrates equalized seven minutes later. In the 25th minute, Rossi again put Italy ahead, but Falcao equalized in the second half.

Brazil's dream of a fourth World Cup title died 15 minutes before the end of the match, when Rossi completed his hat-trick and sealed Italy's triumph.

"Was it the greatest World Cup game ever? Probably, although Hungary's 1954 victory over Uruguay will always have its devotees," the British daily The Guardian wrote in 2012.

The Guardian defined July 5, 1982 as "the day that a certain naivety in football died."

"It was the day after which it was no longer possible simply to pick the best players and allow them to get on with it; it was the day that system won," the British daily said.

Indeed, what hurt Brazilians, more than the end of their Spanish dream, was the defeat of a team that is for sports analysts one of the best in the history of the World Cup.

"It was a kind of football that everyone likes to watch, one that is played to score goals, attacking football," Zico recalled.

"If you can make an analogy between a football team and a rock band, that team was The Beatles," Brazilian football commentator Juca Kfouri said.

Francisco Moraes, one Brazil's iconic football fans, who has attended every Flamengo game - even abroad - since 1968 and has travelled to watch Brazil at every World Cup since Mexico 1970, agrees with Kfouri.

Shortly before the start of Brazil's campaign for their sixth World Cup title, at home in 2014, Moraes shrugged his shoulders over the lack of "genius" in the team coached by Luiz Felipe Scolari.

"Neymar is a giant. He is Brazil's best player. But he would not have been in the starting line-up in that World Cup in 1982," Moraes told dpa.

"Football has changed, and it has changed for the worse," he said.

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