Monthly Archives: June 2011

The 30 greatest international teams of all time

It’s astonishing how close the world came to being denied perfection. Not to mention how fragile the conditions are that foster it in international football.

Three months before Mexico 1970, Brazil gave no indication they were about to produce the most sumptuous tournament performance ever seen. Indeed, they had just been beaten at home by non-qualifiers Argentina after a display that led defender Roberto Perfumo to describe them as “the poorest Brazil I have played against”.

So scared was then coach Joao Saldanha that he dramatically scaled back the team’s attacking approach and publicly admitted he might drop Pele. The actual response, however, was to sack Saldanha and instate Mario Zagallo. The rest, well, made history.

By imposing a loose system designed to let “great, intelligent players play” and “seeing where it takes us”, Zagallo facilitated a wondrous World Cup that transcended the sport itself. Individuals as uniquely talented as Carlos Alberto, Clodoaldo, Gerson, Rivelino, Jairzinho, Tostao and Pele were all integrated in an ideal formation at the very peak of their powers.

Coincidentally, it was another inspired – yet entirely improvised – movement of Zagallo that allowed Brazil the freedom to lift their next most legendary World Cup.

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