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World Cup would not be the same without the legendary Carlos Alberto

A tribute to the recently passed Carlos Alberto, who scored the defining goal at the first FIFA World Cup to be viewed around the world.

Carlos Alberto

Carlos Alberto during the 1970 FIFA World Cup for Brazil Source: Supplied

If you want a 30-second resume of why Brazil’s 1970 FIFA World Cup team were so great, then all you need to do is watch the last goal they scored in the tournament. The one that sealed their 4-1 win over Italy in the final.

The team had been wonderfully well prepared from a physical point of view. 

Despite the intense heat of the Mexican afternoon, Rivelino once told me that he could not remember once needing to go to the side of the pitch for a drink of water. 

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And that aspect of their excellence is confirmed by the start of the move, when centre forward Tostao runs back into his own half to tackle an Italian and win possession of the ball. Then the show begins. 

Clodoaldo, the defensive midfielder, goes on a mazy dribble full of wild stepovers, taking opponents out of the game as he goes. The ball is worked down the left flank – where the team’s tactical nous becomes apparent.

Brazil had noticed the rigidity of Italy’s man for man marking. Italy’s left back Giacinto Facchetti, for example would follow right winger Jairzinho wherever he went. 

It was all planned, then, for Jairzinho to move across to the left flank – it opened up a gaping hole in the defence on the other side of the field, which Brazil would now exploit as they switched the play. 

Pele kissed off a perfectly weighted sideways pass into the path of his great friend and Santos team-mate, Brazil’s captain and right back Carlos Alberto.

At this point even the ball seemed to in on the act, sitting up nicely for Carlos Alberto to crash it home before keeper Enrico Albertosi had even moved. 

Brazil’s third World Cup win had been crowned with a goal that united their technical, tactical and physical qualities.

It is a golden moment, which has replayed over and again all over the planet in the last few days following the sudden death of Carlos Alberto. 

One leading British sportswriter said that watching that goal often moves him to tears.

It is true, though, that not everyone is so moved.

A decade ago I contributed to a book on Pele. Co-ordinating the work from a London office was a young Arsenal fan who could not see what the fuss was all about. He was used to seeing goals that were at least as good, he said, on a weekly basis.

Might he have a point? In his defence it is probably worth noting that the Carlos Alberto goal was hardly decisive.  It came at a time when Italy were clearly a spent force in the match, waiting for the final whistle after having been over-run in the second half.

But there is also a bigger picture. 

Because that Carlos Alberto moment is much more than a celebration of one goal, one match or one team. 

It is a joyful commemoration of an age of football innocence which will not come back.

The game had existed for a century before that goal, and the World Cup had been around for 40 years. But it had not been a mass spectacle for the TV millions. 

Some countries saw the 1966 World Cup live. Most had to wait for 1970 – when some even got to see it in colour.

This was a time when the World Cup was still the undisputed king of the game, and when the audience knew little of other teams before the tournament began. 

Younger readers might struggle to understand this, but a huge part of the fun of old World Cup was discovering the teams and the best players during the course of the competition, as the action unfolded.

A few months before man had landed on the moon. The images from Mexico were just as exotic and much more lively. 

So when Carlos Alberto took a few attacking strides for a right back, he ended up crashing home a goal that set the seal on an event that had been a giant leap for mankind’s favourite sport. 

After watching that team win in that way, ending on that high – it is no wonder that the habit of gathering round the screen to watch the World Cup was an instant success. 

If Brazil 70 set the bar for all subsequent Brazilian sides, then Mexico 70 set the bar for the type of spectacle we all dream of seeing every four years.

In the Brazilian tradition, the funeral of Carlos Alberto took place the day after his sudden death in his native Rio de Janeiro from a heart attack at the age of 72. 

Some of his old team-mates were present, but it was mainly a family affair. Of course, there had been no time for people to fly in from elsewhere around the world.

Surely, then, it would be a splendid idea to hold, in good time, some kind of memorial service for him which could be attended by the great and the good from football’s past. 

It would be a celebration of his huge contribution to the extraordinary success of the world game.


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5 min read
Published 4 November 2016 at 1:04pm
By Tim Vickery