Rai helps Sao Paulo rule the world
Though not unusual to see a large crowd gathered on Avenida Paulista in the heart of the financial district of Sao Paulo, the long queue of people snaked along the pavement late one evening in November 2012 nevertheless stood out. Making up their number were a throng of devoted Sao Paulo fans, all eager to celebrate one of the most memorable moments in the club’s proud history.
The buzz that evening was for the launch of the book 1992 – O mundo em três cores (1992 – The World in Three Colours) and showed just how much the triumph of 13 December 1992 still means to the club’s passionate supporters. On that unforgettable evening in Tokyo (early morning in Brazil), the team led by Tele Santana backed up their claim to be one of the best club sides in the world and that of their idol Rai to be one of finest players of that era.
In 1992 – O mundo em três cores, co written by Rai and the journalist Andre Plihal, the ex-midfielder reveals the significance of that evening both for him and the club. As important as winning Sao Paulo’s first Intercontinental crown and downing a star-studded Barcelona team was, no less momentous was the stylish and fearless manner in which it was achieved – as the former No10 revealed.
“We were in their half and Ronaldo Luiz [Goncalves] sent a throw-in towards me out on the left. The ball bounced and I pulled off a fantastic chaleira (overhead heel-flick) to get past my marker. I did it as I wanted the other players to think ‘If a no-nonsense player like Rai is doing something like that, then we can too’. I’d forgotten but the victim of that exquisite chaleira was none other than Pep Guardiola.”
Long before the victory was sealed, however, O Tricolor Paulista were given a real fright. With only 12 minutes on the clock, Bulgarian legend Hristo Stoichkov fired the Catalan side into the lead with a sumptuous curler from outside the box. Recalling that moment in his book, Rai wrote: “That goal confirmed two of our fears: that we’d concede an early goal; and that one the players we’d been most wary of would get it.”
"It was my time"
Fortunately for the Brazilian side, their No10 was in particularly inspired form that evening. “It was my time – a bit like it was for Romario in 1993-94 and Neymar in recent times. Everyone knows that the youngster is on fire, even the opposition, but they still can’t stop him deciding games.”
Indeed, everyone knew that if there was one member of Santana’s side that could turn a game against that Barça ‘Dream Team’ containing the likes of [Ronald] Koeman, Guardiola, [Michael] Laudrup and Stoichkov, then that man was Rai. And so it proved.
The attacking midfielder got his first of two goals on 27 minutes with an unorthodox and somewhat fortuitous finish. After a mazy run down the inside-left channel, Muller turned Barça right-back Albert Ferrer inside-out before whipping a ball into the six-yard box. The cross came in about waist high – perfect for Rai to dip his body and turn it in with his midriff for the equaliser.
As important as that goal was, the truly decisive moment would follow just 12 minutes from full-time, as Rai described. “Fifty seconds: the amount of time from when Palhinha was fouled to when I scored. I’d be lying if I now said it seemed like an eternity. It didn’t. I was supremely confident and very focused. I knew it was a pivotal moment and that I was going to hit it. Muller came up to me and said something like ‘Make it count, Rai’.
"I didn’t want to lose my concentration so answered quickly ‘Leave it to me’. It was a move we’d practiced. I nudged it to Cafu, who put his foot on it, and I swung it over the wall into the right-hand corner. I’d placed the ball in front of the wall to try and hide it from the keeper, so when I rolled it to Cafu, Zubizarreta took a couple of steps to his left to see where it was coming from and narrow the angle. Then when I flighted it in to his right-hand corner, he was unable to react."
And so one of the most important goals in the history of Sao Paulo would transform the image of that collectively strong team and its finest individual member. The tireless work of Tele Santana, who Rai ran to after scoring the winner, was rewarded in spectacular fashion and with victory – in contrast to his campaigns at the helm of A Seleção at the 1982 and 1986 FIFA World Cups™.
“Tele taught us, indeed instructed us day after day, on what collective beauty in football means,” said Rai in his book. “He gave poetic meaning to the cliché that a great player or two you will win you games, but a harmonious team will win you titles. And in that final we put on a show and certainly proved that.”