The fitting culmination to what was, in the eyes of most observers, the quintessential FIFA World Cup ™ tournament. This match had all the ingredients of a great final - goals, end-to-end football and star players. In the end, Pele, Jairzinho and Carlos Alberto got the better of Facchetti, Rivera and Riva in a match which, for over an hour, was much closer than the final score-line suggests.
More was at stake in Mexico City's purpose-built Azteca Stadium than "just" the honour of winning the FIFA World Cup ™. FIFA had previously decided that the first country to win the tournament three times would be given permanent possession of the trophy, and for the first time in history, both teams involved in the final were double past-winners, Italy having won in 1934 and 1938, Brazil in 1958 and 1962. Both teams, therefore, were playing for keeps...
Italy had found the going tough en route to the final, managing only one win and two draws in their group matches and scoring one solitary goal. Their semi-final against West Germany was an epic, finishing 4-3 after five goals in extra time, whilst Brazil had had things more their own way. The Auriverde won all three of their group games, including a 1-0 defeat of holders England, and strolled through the quarter and semi-finals.
With so much at stake, the opening exchanges were bound to be tight, with most of the play, and the players, bunched in the middle third of the park. Luigi Riva was the first to register a shot, and what a beauty it was - making a yard of space for himself with a quick turn, he unleashed a pile-driver from 25 yards which Felix did well to tip over the bar. The Squadra Azzurra forward again went close on the quarter-hour mark, connecting with a header from an Alessandro Mazzola free-kick but just failing to hit the target.
Pele scores Brazil's 100th FIFA World Cup
With Pele being subjected to rough-house treatment from the first whistle, Brazil's first chances came from set pieces, but Rivelino's early aim was far from true, either from free-kicks or corners. It was somewhat against the run of player, therefore, when the Auriverde took the lead in the 18th minute. A seemingly harmless throw-in from Tostao, level with the edge of the area, was hooked across the area by Rivelino and that man Pele was there, belying his lack of height to outjump Tarcisio Burgnich and head the ball into Enrico Albertosi's top left-hand corner. It was Brazil's 100th goal in FIFA World Cup ™ competition and "O Rei" thoroughly enjoyed his celebrations.
The goal gave life to a previously listless Brazilian team, and the Italians were forced into making ever more desperate attempts to halt the yellow-and-green attacks, Burgnich being the first man to go into East German referee Mr Rudolf Glöckner's book after 25 minutes. To Italy's relief, the South Americans continued to squander chances from set-pieces, Rivelino struggling to come to terms with a ball made slippery by the persistent rain that had fallen up until kick-off.
Sloppy defence brings the equaliser
The balance of power shifted after half-an-hour, heralded by Mazzola breaking clear into the left of the box and bringing an inch-perfect, goal-saving tackle from Gerson. The Azzurri were not to be denied, however, and were back on level terms before the break. Clodoaldo attempted a hazardous back-heel just inside his own half which was intercepted by an alert Roberto Boninsegna. The replacement forward, who was only in the squad because of an injury to Juventus forward Pietro Anastasi, took the ball round Carlos Alberto and capitalised as Brito slid in front of his own goalkeeper in an attempt to clear, gathering the loose ball and slotting it into the empty net from just outside the box.
Brazil attempted to step up a gear in the remaining minutes of the first half, but all they could manage was a yellow card for Rivelino for a tackle from behind on Mario Bertini, followed by a second Pele "goal", after the Italian defenders stood stock still, having heard the referee's whistle. Mr Glockner had indeed blown for half-time, saving any embarrassment for the European side and leaving the teams locked at 1-1.
More urgency from Brazil
The Brazilians came out with much more determination in the second half, and within minutes Carlos Alberto had got to the bye-line and sent over a cross that somehow eluded 'keeper, defenders and the outstretched leg of Pele at the far post. Italy seemed content to remain on the back-foot - a dangerous tactic as illustrated in the 51st minute when Rivelino finally found his range in a dead-ball situation and forced a good save from Albertosi. Angelo Domenghini almost succeeded in putting the Italian master-plan into effect, however, joining the forwards on a fast counter-attack only to see his shot deflected by Everaldo and finish in the side netting with Felix beaten.
Brazil pressed more and more for the second goal and were within the width of the crossbar from finding it, Rivelino choosing his right foot from a set-piece only to see his powerful shot, teed up by Pele from 20 yards, cannon off the top of the woodwork. The free-kicks in the Italian third of the park began to mount up but the decisive goal was to come from open play. Jairzinho found his path blocked by Fachetti on the edge of the box but the Brazilian managed to turn and lay the ball off to Gerson, who gave Albertosi no chance with a perfectly-placed left-footed strike from 20 yards.
2-1 after 66 minutes became 3-1 five minutes later. A foul on Pele gave Brazil a free-kick on the half-way line, and the Italian defence were slow getting back into place. Gerson floated in a perfect cross towards the far post: Pele headed back across goal, leaving Jairzinho to keep up his unique goal-a-game scoring feat by virtually walking the ball into the back of the net.
Captain Carlos rounds off the scoring
Antonio Juliano replaced Bertini in an attempt to inject some pace back into Italy's counter-attacks, but despite their valiant efforts, the Azzurri never looked like overcoming the two-goal deficit. Brazil dominated the last quarter of an hour, Rivelino fluffing a shot from the edge of the area and Pele and Everaldo being denied by brave blocks from Albertosi. Fittingly, however, the Brazillian captain Carlos Alberto was fed by, who else, Pele with four minutes to go and blasted home a right-foot bullet to put the result beyond doubt. The Jules Rimet trophy would thus belong to Brazil, to the immense pleasure of manager Mario Zagallo, who became the first man to win the FIFA World Cup ™ as both a player and a coach. Above all, football fans the world over were satisfied - a team playing flowing, innovative, audacious and above all attacking football had reaped its reward, and the crowd had the opportunity to fete Pele, who was carried shoulder-high, bare-chested and emotional, from the pitch.