Mario Zagallo ranks as the most successful individual in the history of the FIFA World Cup™, having been involved, in different capacities, with no less than four separate victorious Brazilian teams, spanning four decades.
As coach, he led Pele and Co. to triumph at Mexico 1970, then as technical advisor to Carlos Alberto Parreira, he helped steer the Auriverde to victory at USA 1994. Long before that, however, in 1958 and then 1962, he won the trophy twice as a gifted left winger. He will turn 77 next month, but as he recalls, the 1958 final against Sweden, in which he scored Brazil's fourth goal, remains etched vividly on his memory.
FIFA.com: What do you remember best about the 1958 FIFA World Cup?
Mario Zagallo: Firstly, the fact that, after three days of rain, the Swedes had covered the pitch to keep the grass in good condition to ensure that the final would be a better game. They knew that the Brazilian team was very skilful and that it would be a better match for the fans if the pitch was dry. And of course, I can't forget the goal that I scored in the final. I challenged for the ball with a central defender and got clear. The ball span away and I ran after it. When I got to it, the goalkeeper was advancing fast, so I knocked it over him with a toe poke and scored Brazil's fourth goal.
Another strong memory was the moment that Sweden scored the opening goal. My mind went back to 1950, when we were losing finalists. I thought to myself: 'Oh my God, are we going to lose the final again? Oh no!' Before the equaliser, [Lennart] Skoglund, who was being marked by Vava, had a great chance to increase their advantage but I was behind Gilmar and I kicked the ball off the line. If we'd lost that goal, rescuing the game might have been beyond us. So it was just as well I managed to stop it. Those are my greatest memories of the 1958 World Cup.
There was a funny story about the hotel where you were staying at in Stockholm. What do you remember about that?
The flags of all the competing countries were flying outside the hotel. [My team-mate] Joel and I were walking around outside and we couldn't see the Brazilian flag. So we went to the hotel manager and complained that our flag was missing. We didn't speak English very well, so I mimed hoisting a flag. The manager went outside and pointed to the flag of Portugal, who weren't even in the tournament, and said it was the flag of Brazil. We went back inside to the reception area and he got out a book to show us the Brazilian flag. Then he saw the mistake he'd made; he looked up at me and Joel, apologised, went outside, took down the Portuguese one and replaced it with a Brazilian one.
Was that side the best team you ever played in?
It was definitely the best team I was involved with as a player. After the defeats in 1950 and 1954 we won a title that no-one expected because we were not the favourites. And we left Sweden with the whole world talking about the beautiful football we played. The arrival of Pele, Garrincha, Vava and Zito made us an even better team than the one that had already made its mark at the previous World Cup. We'll never forget the goals scored by Pele, Garrincha, Vava...those will always stay in people's memories. It was an unforgettable World Cup.
At the end of the Final, King Gustav Adolf of Sweden came down onto the pitch to congratulate you. What do you remember about that?
The fact that the King of Sweden came down onto the pitch showed how cultured the Swedes are. They had already shown that when the dried the pitch out before the game. Seeing King Gustav Adolf come down on to the pitch to celebrate with the players was marvellous. And he even made a speech thanking us for the great game and for the show the Brazilian team had put on. I was really touched. It was fantastic being there for that. We did a lap of honour with the Swedish flag, which was the least we could do to pay the local people back for the special way they had treated us.
And do you remember much about the reception you got when you arrived back home?
Of course I do. When we arrived in Rio, the celebrations spilled out on to the streets, supporters met us at the airport and they followed us all the way to the Palacio da Gloria. That was an unforgettable experience. At the time you could not have imagined something like that happening. We never thought we'd see anything like it. Seeing the streets of Rio's city centre filled with people out to welcome us home was tremendously emotional - one of the most emotional moments of my life.
Were you pleased to see the 50th anniversary of the 1958 final being commemorated recently with a rematch in London?
Without doubt. I have the whole memory in my head. From the moment we arrived in Sweden, the entrance to the hotel, going onto the pitch for the first game and all the rest. Remembering triumphant moments from the past is always good, always emotional. It's right that we don't let the 50th anniversary of Brazil's first World Cup triumph pass unnoticed. I'm delighted this story is being remembered again.