Uruguayan kids break Brazilian hearts
© AFP

1982 was a forgettable year for South America’s first two global kings. Uruguay watched a second successive FIFA World Cup™ from home for the first time in history. Brazil sent what they believed was international football’s greatest-ever team to Spain only see their assumed destiny unravelled by Italy.

But a new year brought them both a crack at redemption. Carlos Alberto Parreira’s Copa America 1983 squad comprised Leandro, Junior, Socrates, Renato Gaucho, Eder, Roberto Dinamite and Careca, and as expected they reached the final.

Uruguay’s hopes of snatching Group A’s ticket to the last four didn’t look promising heading into its final set of matches, but 19-year-old striker Carlos Aguilera’s last-gasp winner against Venezuela, coupled with Chile’s inability to beat a Venezuela side they had thrashed 5-0 in their first meeting, proved enough for the 1930 and ’50 world champions to sneak through.

Uruguay coach Omar Borras realised performances as such would be insufficient to overcome Peru, who had beat them to a trip to Spain 1982, for a final place. He therefore decided to unleash attacking midfielder Enzo Francescoli, a 21-year-old with just four caps to his name, on the Copa America.

“He didn’t look like a footballer – he didn’t even run like one – but the boy can really play!” remarked goalkeeper Rodolfo Rodriguez of El Príncipe. Peru found out the hard way. The gangly No15 inspired Uruguay into the decider.

Its first leg unfolded at the Estadio Centenario on 27 October. Every time Francescoli got possession, the crowd was abuzz, and just before half-time he made them ecstatic. Francesoli controlled a Brazil clearance, spun swiftly, played a one-two with Cabrera, who was on the edge of the box, and masterfully curled a low, first-time shot just inside the post.

He didn’t look like a footballer – he didn’t even run like one – but the boy can really play!
Rodolfo Rodriguez on Enzo Francescoli

Uruguayan celebrations were abrupt. The referee had penalised Marcio Rossini for clattering into Cabrera and, if neglecting to play on wasn’t bad enough for the boys in sky blue, the man in black had adjudged the infraction took place outside rather than inside the box. The official was encircled by irate Uruguayans. The remonstrations went on for minutes. Intervention from the linesman was even required to usher away Rodriguez, who had sprinted the length of the field to protest.

“I argued a little but then I just wanted [my team-mates] to stop so I could take the free-kick,” recalled Francescoli. “Even when they did, the referee and Junior were both still stood in front of the ball, and then the wall was out of place. It was taking ages but my mindset didn’t change. I thought, ‘Ok, you denied me a goal, but I’m putting this free-kick in the back of the net.”

That’s exactly what Francescoli did, combining pace and curl to beat Leao and break the deadlock.

With ten minutes remaining another player broke his Uruguay duck. Right-back Víctor Diogo intercepted Junior’s bouncing clearance on his chest, did a couple of keepy-ups to retain possession, conned two Brazilians with an extravagant chapéu, cut inside from the right, played a one-two with Aguilera, dribbled around the keeper and slotted home what remains arguably the greatest goal in Uruguay national team history.

That 2-0 victory nevertheless guaranteed the 1930 and ’50 world champions nothing heading into the return, 30 years ago to this Monday, at the Fonte Nova in Salvador. La Celeste were, after all, up against a star-stacked side, 95,000 intimidating fans, and the statistics: they had, since Maracanazo, lost all seven of their meetings with A Seleção in Brazil.

An eighth successive victory was all the hosts required to ensure the Copa America final would be decided by a play-off – goal difference over the two legs mattered not in that era – and 23 minutes in the Brazilians were firmly en route to making it eight, with Jorginho Putinatti pouncing on Rodriguez’s spillage of a shot to put them 1-0 up.

Brazil continued to dominate thereafter – Francescoli’s classy touches provided brief Uruguayan respite – and were cantering towards the result they needed until being devastated by a sucker-punch 14 minutes from time. Venancio Ramos collected possession on the right and was immediately confronted by Junior. Rather than succumb to the intimidating spell the man considered one of the finest left-backs in history cast on a majority, the pacy Penarol attacker left Junior on his backside and skipped past him, before whipping an excellent ball into the box. There, Aguilera produced a superb leap between two Brazilians and powered a header goalwards which Leao couldn’t keep out.

It earned Uruguay a 1-1 draw in Bahia that moved them level with Argentina as the record 12-time South American champions. Francescoli, meanwhile, was named the tournament’s best player. El Príncipe had become king.