Although it may seem like yesterday to some, it is now 30 years since Brazil wrote themselves into the history books by winning the Jules Rimet trophy for the third time. Not only did they win the World Cup, they did it in considerable style, producing some of the most breathtaking and flamboyant football ever seen. Mario Zagalo's outrageously talented side defeated Italy 4-1 in Mexico City's Azteca Stadium on 21 June 1970 to fulfill the destiny of not only a team, but a whole nation.

The trophy was theirs to keep, and the victory symbolised the team's desire to prove that Brazilian football was still the best after disappointing performances in England four years earlier. Following victories in 1958 and 1962, the team had lost its way, relying too heavily on older players.

"In 1966 we went to England with the Brazilian people expecting us to win the trophy for the third time, but the team was not strong enough and our preparation was poor. It made us all the more determined to succeed in Mexico," recalls Jairzinho. "We trained for over three months in Rio prior to going to Mexico, two sessions per day. In the morning we would work on our fitness and stamina and in the afternoon we worked with the ball."

Gerson had seen at first hand the advantage that the Europeans had in fitness and physical strength in 1966. "We knew how to play, they knew how to run," he adds with an arch of an eyebrow. In Brazil's preparations for Mexico, which included observing NASA astronauts, technique and conditioning became the twin religions. Now 59, Gerson lives in Niteroi, acting as sports secretary for the local city hall and heading Projeto Gerson, a charity which helps the legions of homeless children in the area. His out-spoken opinions have also made him a popular television and radio pundit.

Fate smiles on Rivelino
Another familiar face on Bandeirantes Television is Gerson's team-mate Roberto Rivelino. Still sporting his trademark moustache, the former midfielder devotes his time to the Roberto Rivelino Football School and still plays regularly on the veterans circuit. However Rivelino's inclusion in the team would have been unlikely had the Brazilian Federation not decided to change the coach early in 1970. João Saldanha had regarded him as little more than a substitute, but he himself was replaced by Zagalo through pressure from the government. Saldanha had certainly not endeared himself to the military regime: soon after his arrival in power, President Medici had invited the team for lunch at the Presidential Palace, but Saldanha refused to alter the training schedule to allow the players to attend.

However, it was in March 1970, after a match against Argentina, that he committed his gravest error of judgement. Asked by a reporter why he had not included Dario in the side, an irritated Saldanha replied that he thought Roberto of Botafogo and Tostão were better. When reminded that Dario was Medici's favourite, Saldanha shot back: "I don't choose the President's ministry and he can't choose my team."

His reply proved as succinct as it was suicidal, and Rivelino is in no doubt that without the change of coach he would not have been in the team. "Zagalo changed the formation of the side. He wanted three attackers and luckily he included me," he remembers. Thus, with a new coach - and the mass support of the Brazilian media - Rivelino emerged as a cornerstone of Zagalo's plans. Zagalo, a member of the 1958 and 1962 winning teams, had always wanted to be the national team coach. Nilton Santos, his team-mate from his early days, recalls: "Mario was always very dedicated to football - he can't live without it - and importantly his experience as a player meant that he immediately had the respect of the players."

A point to prove
And so it was that they traveled to Mexico, better prepared than any previous Brazilian team and highly motivated to bring the Jules Rimet trophy back with them. But the Brazilian press were very sceptical of the team's chances and in particular they criticized the choice of goalkeeper. Felix, who now helps to run the family garage in São Paulo, was Zagalo's no.1 but Saldanha, now working in the media, accused Felix of being "too frail to play against Europeans, poor on crosses, and unable to play wearing gloves". In the Final the keeper would deliberately wear gloves to prove a point.

Felix describes the pressure that he felt in Mexico. "The newspapers had been saying 'yes, we have a team but we don't have a goalkeeper'. I was very hurt by that, but didn't let it show. I felt it was me against the whole world." He was also conscious of the new age of live television coverage, with millions of viewers around the globe tuning in. "I was very nervous in the first match against Czechoslovakia," he says. In fact the Czechs took a surprise lead before Brazil took control of the match, winning 4-1.

In the aftermath of their opening match the atmosphere in the dressing-room was euphoric. Wilson Piazza, the midfielder moved into defence by another of Zagalo's astute tactical changes, remembers: "It was Pelé who was the first to speak in the dressing-room after the match. He clapped his hands and said it was good, but we must improve. Then he sat beside me, and said quietly, 'if we don't say these things there will be some who think that we are already champions'."

Piazza revealed another detail about the team's preparation. "When we arrived in Guanajato to complete our acclimatization one or two of us decided to pray regularly. It was not a question of asking God to help us to win the Cup: we prayed for many different things, for the sick, for the poor, or those in prison. There was a spiritual force, it made us feel united as a group, a kind of family." Now 57, Piazza is a successful businessman in Belo Horizonte and is also the head of an organisation which tries to help players - and their families - when the glory days come to an end.

In the second match of their World Cup campaign, Brazil met reigning champions England in the searing heat of Gudalajara. Piazza looks back: "We knew this would be a real test for us. It was a close match with only Jairzinho's goal to separate two excellent teams." Following a 3-2 victory over Romania, Brazil qualified as group winners for the quarter-finals where they faced Peru, coached by Brazilian legend Didi. An exciting game ended in a 4-2 victory, with Jairzinho maintaining his record of scoring in every game.Revenge is sweet

The semi-final provided the Brazilian team with a chance to settle a score against an old adversary, Uruguay. The most famous meeting between these two sides had taken place in the last match of the 1950 World Cup at the Maracana Stadium in Rio. Brazil were confidently expected to win their first World Cup, but the Uruguayans stunned their hosts with a 2-1 victory. No defeat in history has been taken so badly. Brazil did not play as an international team again for almost two years afterward. It was four years before they could bring themselves to return to Maracana, and the white shirts worn that day were never worn again.

After 18 minutes of their match in Guadalajara it seemed that Uruguay's hold over Brazil might be about to deny them yet again. Confusion between Felix and Piazza allowed Cubilla's mis-hit shot to spin over the line. For a few moments Felix lay on the floor holding his head. As the Uruguayan fans chanted "we repeat Maracana" Brazil stared into the abyss.

But then a 21 year-old former altar-boy drew them back from the brink. Clodoaldo was born in the northern town of Aracaju, the youngest of ten children. When he was just six years old his parents were killed in a car accident. From the age of nine he worked in a coffee warehouse and played football in the street whenever he could. As his love of football developed he was noticed by Santos and the coaches encouraged him to skip work to concentrate on his training. When his bosses at the coffee warehouse detected his waning interest they sacked him. He then turned to the Catholic Church for salvation. The church had offered guidance when his world had been shattered and he had performed duties as an altar boy for years.

Clodoaldo considered a life of the cloth, but before he could make up his mind Santos offered him a remarkable alternative. The club allowed him to live at the Vila Belmiro stadium and for the next two years it became his "orphanage", offering security he had never known before. "I had lost my job and had no means to support myself. I had no salary but at least there at the Vila Belmiro I had somewhere to sleep and somewhere to eat." For the next two years of his life the Santos ground became his life, and today he is a vice-president of the club, a position he shares with his former teammate Pelé. He has also maintained his devout faith, and it is no surprise to discover that he gave his No. 5 shirt from the Final to a church at Aparecida do Norte, one of Brazil's holiest shrines.

Tears of frustration and joy
As half-time approached in Guadalajara, a minute of injury time had already been played when Clodolado broke forward on the left to crash in a crisp right-foot volley. Back in the dressing-room Clodoaldo found himself mobbed by his teammates. As he remembers it, it was the extraordinary spectacle of Zagalo crying that brought the celebrations to an abrupt ending. The sight of his team's limp capitulation proved too much for the coach, and he went on to make his most impassioned speech of the campaign. By the time he had finished, his were not the only tears on the dressing-room floor. The team returned to the pitch to sweep Uruguay aside, Jarzinho scoring his sixth goal before Rivelino sealed the match with a third.

Sunday, 21 June 1970 had dawned to torrential rain and thunderstorms. As the team boarded the coach for the journey to the stadium, keeper Felix remembers, "Clodoaldo asked me how I thought it would go, and I replied that we came to Mexico with no-one in Brazil expecting us to stay long, but there we still were, and in second place already!" But second place was not to be their destiny. Brazil produced some of the most exhilarating football ever seen in a World Cup Final. Jairzinho, still the only player to score in every match of a World Cup, lived up to his nickname of "Furacão" (Hurricane) to blow Italy away with his seventh goal in six matches. Pelé and Gerson claimed two more before captain Carlos Alberto smashed in the fourth to seal victory.

One man who did not see that goal clearly was "the little coin" Tostão. He freely admits that "after the third goal by Jairzinho I knew we had won, and I began to cry with joy. I played the last fifteen minutes with tears in my eyes." His eyes had been the subject of great concern before the competition: he had suffered a detached retina during a game in September 1969 and the eye had required potentially risky surgery. He had been doubtful until just two weeks before the teams left for Mexico. After the Final, Tostão gave the surgeon who saved his sight his medal as a token of thanks. Sadly, just five years later, his eye problems returned and he retired from football on medical advice. He became a doctor and cut himself off from football until 1997, when he gave up medicine and began to write about the game. His columns now have a wide readership in Brazil.

When the final whistle blew, scenes of colourful and chaotic celebration were beamed around the world by live television, and Tostão was clearly seen being stripped down to his pale blue underpants as fans rushed to claim a souvenir from the historic day. The following day the team traveled home to Brazil to join a nationwide party that had started the previous afternoon and which would last for a whole week. When they arrived in Rio, Jairzinho remembers that "the journey from the airport to Copacabana took five hours. I have never seen so many people. It was the party of a lifetime."

However, no sooner had Carlos Alberto brought the Jules Rimet trophy back to Rio than it was stolen from its cabinet, never to be seen again. Perhaps we shall never see another "Beautiful Team" either.