Precisely 50 years ago football experienced one of the most important days in its history.

On June 21, 1970, Brazil beat Italy 4-1 in Mexico City’s Aztec Stadium to win the ninth version of the World Cup with a performance of breathtaking skill. The first half was a relatively even game — the score at the break was 1-1 — but after the interval there was no holding Pele, Jairzinho, Gerson, Tostao, Rivelino, Clodoaldo, Carlos Alberto and Co. Brazil ran riot, and set a benchmark for footballing greatness which has served ever since.

Would this team be able to beat Brazil 1970? Were they as entertaining as Brazil 1970? These are questions used to assess the pretensions to greatness of any subsequent team.

It is possible to make an argument that Brazil’s 1958 team was better. They defended with more solidity, not conceding a goal until the semifinal. And with Pele and Garrincha together, it is hard to find fault with the attack. They remain the only Brazilian — or South American — side to have won the tournament in Europe. But the boys of 1970 can count on a powerful advantage to press their claims: Television.

The 1970 World Cup was the first to be broadcast live to much of the planet, and the global audience got lucky. The tournament was a great success. There were none of the unsavoury incidents that had blighted the previous two — the infamous “Battle of Santiago” in 1962 and all of the controversy surrounding the sending off of Argentina’s Antonio Rattin, and the refereeing in general, of 1966. During the course of the action in Mexico, not a single player saw the new red card — the yellow and red cards were introduced for this tournament to ease communication.

 The memories were all positive. And the images, bleached out by the Mexican sunshine, had an ethereal quality that gave them an exotic beauty. It is hardly surprising that a link was frequently made between the achievement of the Brazil team and the moon landing a few months before. Both were jaw dropping displays of human potential with images that were unforgettable for a new, worldwide TV audience.     Continue reading

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