Referee Rudolf Glockner’s final whistle on that fateful 21 June 1970 signalled more than just the end of a game. It also put the seal on a mythical football team and a relationship of mutual adoration between two nations – as well as the start of a pitch invasion never before seen in FIFA World Cup™ history.
Brazil’s 4-1 win over Italy in the Final of Mexico 1970 earned them the world title and permanent rights to the Jules Rimet Cup, but the vast majority of those enjoying the party atmosphere in the Estadio Azteca were from the host nation.
“The game ended and, suddenly, as well as being happy we were all a bit taken aback,” recalled the captain of A Canarinho at that FIFA World Cup, Carlos Alberto Torres, speaking to FIFA.com.
“There were Mexicans appearing from all angles and they all wanted to get involved in whatever way they could: they grabbed us, kissed us, hugged us and wanted to take something, anything, as a souvenir – socks, shinpads, anything. No word of a lie, it was the kind of festa you’d expect if the host nation had been playing in front of one of the most passionate faithfuls around. It was as if we were heroes to them, the Mexicans.”
And the fact is that, at the time, they were. Even in Brazil, the 1970 FIFA World Cup is seen as a ‘perfect storm’ that brought together all the ingredients necessary to ensure a lasting magical image of Brazilian football. Victory made A Seleção the most successful nation in competition history; the tournament was transmitted live and in colour – a first in Brazil; and the already legendary Pele remained at the peak of his powers.
What is more, that team featuring the likes of Gerson, Rivellino, Tostao and Jairzinho rattled in over three goals a match on average in winning all six of their encounters. It is therefore not hard to understand why followers of Mexican football, then still in the developmental stage in international terms, fell in love with everything Verde e Amarelo.
The square in front of Guadalajara’s Estadio Jalisco, where Brazil played all five of their matches prior to the Final, was newly christened the Plaza Brasil. And for years after the competition, there was a boom in Mexican babies being named Carlos Alberto, Clodoaldo or Edson.
“For Mexican people, the ’70 Copa turned Brazilian football into an example to follow, an ideal,” said Mario Zagallo, coach of that winning squad, to FIFA.com. “Even so, in the future, that admiration never turned into an inferiority complex. On the contrary, it seems that whenever Mexico play Brazil, however much they respect us, they’re also much more fired up.”
Brazil’s bête noire?
Levels of motivation are difficult to accurately quantify, but results since certainly bear out Zagallo’s statement – particularly in encounters with silverware at stake. Let us begin with the 1996 CONCACAF Gold Cup in which Brazil, coached by Zagallo and using the core of their Olympic Football Tournament qualifying squad, were guest participants.
In the final in Los Angeles, played in torrential rain, a Luis Garcia and Cuauhtemoc Blanco-inspired Mexico clinched a 2-0 success. That was the first of two Gold Cup finals in which El Tri sank A Seleção, with the second coming in 2003. Roared on by the fans at the Azteca, a Brazil side including such luminaries as Kaka and Robinho were unable to avoid defeat to the host nation, via an extra-time Golden Goal.
Another example was the final of the FIFA Confederations Cup 1999, again played at the Azteca. A Canarinho squad featuring the likes of Dida, Alex and Ronaldinho had steamrollered their way to the title decider, only to again fall short against Mexico in a nervy encounter.
Nor must we forget the FIFA U-17 World Cup Peru 2005, a competition that gave a huge boost to Mexico’s hopes of future success and a resounding stamp of approval to their player discovery and development work. Come the final between Mexicans and Brazilians, a Tricolor side spearheaded by Carlos Vela and Giovani dos Santos cut loose in an emphatic 3-0 triumph.
Still not convinced? Well, let us throw in A Seleção’s latest disappointment at Mexican hands. Under fierce pressure to win the last major title missing from their honours’ list – the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament – and boasting a squad packed with big-name performers such as Neymar, Oscar and Hulk, Brazil strode all the way to the final of London 2012. Awaiting them at Wembley were El Tri and, even with key man Dos Santos out through injury, Mexico upset the odds to run out 2-1 winners.
That said, given the sides’ recent shared history, was it even logical to suggest Brazil are still favourites when taking on Mexico? “Historically, we play better against the big boys, and that’s what happened today. That particularly tends to be the case against Brazil, who generally send out teams that play a more open game,” said the Mexican supremo at that competition, Luis Fernando Tena.
“They went head-to-head with us without fear because of one simple reason: they’re a quality side,” said Tena’s then opposite number Mano Menezes. “They’ve got a talented new generation and the experience of their three overage players (Carlos Salcido, Jose Corona and Giovani dos Santos) has helped them grow in stature still further. They may only have made the step up, development-wise, in recent decades, but they are now a global footballing force.”
A small but far-reaching migration
The very attentive among you may have noticed that the ‘Dos’ in the surname Dos Santos is Portuguese, with the Villarreal star literally a result of a small but, in football terms at least, significant flow of Brazilians to Mexico. As well as Gio himself and his brother and fellow pro Jonathan dos Santos – both children of Francisco dos Santos, better known as Zizinho, who played for Mexican outfits America, Leon, Necaxa and Monterrey in the 1980s – another important name in this evolutionary process was Zague.
Jose Alves, nicknamed Zague, was an inside-left forward who played for Corinthians and, during a spell lasting between 1961 and ’67, became a legend at America. His son, Luis Roberto Alves, also known as Zague or Zaguinho, also went on to enjoy iconic status as a prolific goalgetter for America, as well as starring up front for the Mexican national team.
Highly successful Brazilian coach Muricy Ramalho also has roots in the Mexican game having, during his playing days, left Sao Paulo in 1979 for humble outfit Puebla. And it was at the same club that, come 1993, he would begin a coaching career that has so far included four Brazilian championships and a Copa Libertadores, amongst a host of other titles.
The ongoing shared history between Brazil and Mexico is set to gain another intriguing chapter shortly, at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil. After having already been drawn in the same group in last year's FIFA Confederations Cup - when Neymar led Brazil to a 2-0 win - A Seleção and El Tri are again set to meet, with the tantalising mix of respect, history, influence and surprises sure to come to the fore again in their meeting on 17 June in Fortaleza.
Once more, the footballing passion begun in 1970 will resurface. Once more, fans and media will surely comb over all the occasions when Mexico, up against the nation that were once their inspirations in the beautiful game, went toe-to-toe with A Seleção as equals. And, once more, they will have the opportunity to prove that approach can produce spectacular results.