It is a universal truth of football that there are no favourites in finals. The game’s existentialists will even say that “a final is a final”. The fact is, however, that none of this seemed to apply to the deciding match of the 1962 FIFA World Cup Chile™, quite simply because reigning champions Brazil could have been forgiven for thinking that they had already done the hard part by the time they stepped out at Santiago’s Estadio Nacional to take on the former Czechoslovakia and the great Josef Masopust.
It was a Final in name, but perhaps not in nature. The simple reason for that is that the Brazilians, who were defending the title they had won in Sweden four years earlier, had already overcome so many tests of their ability and character that it was hard to imagine any other outcome in the tournament showpiece than a victory for them.
Their travails had begun in their second group match, against the Czechs, when Pele suffered a groin injury that ended his tournament there and then. Cruelly denied the services of the world’s greatest player, Brazil were suddenly faced with a series of questions: how would Pele’s absence affect the team? Would his replacement Amarildo be up to the job? And would the team’s other star performer, Garrincha, shoulder the added responsibility now on him?
By the time the Final against the Czechs came around, however, all those questions had been answered, leaving little room for doubt in the minds of the Brazilians. Discussing the team’s mental strength in an interview with FIFA.com, inside forward Mario Zagallo said: “It was such a mature and experienced side that not even the absence of Pele could upset us.
"Amarildo came in and we all helped him settle, a task made easier because he played for Botafogo with me, Didi, Nilton Santos and Garrincha. He felt right at home. And Garrincha played like never before. There was no way we were going to lose that title.”
That did not mean to say, however, that every effort was not made to get Pele back to full fitness in time for the Final, as O Rei himself said in his autobiography: “On the day before the Spain game (the final group match, which came four days his injury), I begged the team doctor, Hilton Gosling, to give me an injection. He was absolutely adamant: ‘Not in a million years. It could ruin your career. You’ll need to have treatment.’”
Which is exactly what Pele had, and lots of it. “He wanted to play, no matter what, and he had treatment morning, noon and night,” said the team’s dashing right-back Djalma Santos in an interview with FIFA.com. “In those days we had some pretty basic treatments. Our masseur Mario Americo would get hold of a towel, stick it in a bucket of boiling saltwater and slap it on the guy’s leg. He wanted to play so much his leg was red raw.”
In the meantime, Brazil pressed on, answering every question that had been asked of them in Pele’s absence. In the decisive group match against a strong Spain side, his deputy Amarildo scored both goals in a 2-1 win.
Taking his game to an even higher level, Garrincha then scored braces in the 3-1 quarter-final defeat of England and the 4-2 victory over Chile in the semis, as Brazil swept in their second consecutive Final, a game in which they would once again have to make do without their best player.
It was not for a want of effort on the part of Pele, who underwent a fitness test in the days leading up to the big game. Recalling it all in his book, he said: “I felt good. It hardly hurt at all and I wanted to take part in training. Then I went and took a corner kick – Paulo Amaral (the head of the Brazilian delegation) was right beside me – and I suddenly felt this pain shooting through my groin. I’ve never been in so much pain. And it was then that I knew I wouldn’t be playing. I can’t even begin to describe how devastated I felt.”
Brazil’s unshakeable confidence was not even dented when the Czechs took an early lead in the Final, Masopust receiving a pass from Adolf Scherer 15 minutes in and adroitly clipping the ball over the advancing Gilmar with the outside of his boot.
“It didn’t bother us at all, though,” Djalma Santos told FIFA.com. “We just knew we could turn the game around, which is exactly what we did.”
It did not take long for the comeback to begin – two minutes in fact. Collecting the ball on the left flank, Amarildo recalled one of his goals against the Spanish and darted to the left-hand goal line. Expecting a cross, Czech keeper Vilam Schrojf came off his line, leaving enough of a gap at his near post for the Botafogo man to fire home from a narrow angle and pull the Brazilians level.
The South Americans dominated proceedings thereafter, though the Czechs remained dangerous on the break, forcing Gilmar to make some fine stops. Brazilian pressure eventually told, however, with their decisive second goal arriving 24 minutes into the second half. It came not from Garrincha or the centre-forward Vava, but from the unlikely source of Zito, who scored just two other goals in his international career.
Years later, he recalled his match-winning strike for FIFA.com: “It was a funny thing. They had a corner and I was on the edge of the box defending, just like I always was. The ball came to Mauro and I said to him: “Pass it to me! Pass it to me!” And that’s what he did. Zagallo, who always dropped back to help out in defence, was out on the left. I played the ball to him and ran off down the pitch while he pelted down the wing.
"I shouted to him to play the ball to Amarildo, who was all on his own on the left. So he did, and all the while I kept on running. When I got to the box, Amarildo cut past a defender and sent a cross in. It wasn’t any old cross either. He put it right on my head. I tried to jump as high as I could, thinking it was going to be a bit high, but no, he put it right on a plate for me and I couldn’t miss. It all came about, though, when I started that run from the back.”
No sooner had Brazil taken the lead than they extended it, Schrojf spilling a hopeful high ball in the box and Vava pouncing on it to score from close range. It was the striker’s fourth goal of the tournament, making him joint-top scorer with team-mate Garrincha and four other players. And so A Seleção sealed their second world title, not that the issue was ever really in doubt – not in the minds of the Brazil players anyway.
What they said
“Everybody thinks that Brazil are red-hot favourites, but we’re ready to spring a surprise. I’ve got faith in my players. They’re fit, they’re skilful and they’re in a better frame of mind than they were in the first game against Brazil. We can win.”
Czechoslovakia coach Rudolf Vytlacil, speaking a few days before the game.
“I was inconsolable and I asked the heads of the delegation if I could go home. Their reaction was to sit me down and persuade me that I could do more to help team morale if I stayed in Chile. Dr Paulo [Machado de Carvalho] said to me: ‘If we keep on saying you might be fit for the Final, it will give them another thing to worry about.’ I realised then that they were right.”
Pele, writing in his autobiography, reflects on his disappointment at being told he would not be fit for the Final.