FIFA.com: What does it mean to you personally and professionally to have played at three World Cups? Bebeto: In my opinion, playing in a World Cup is as good as it gets for a footballer. It was a great thrill to be there representing my country, knowing that you hadn't disappointed the 170 million Brazilian fans who were watching you. But the responsibility at such times is immense. I gave up many things in life in order to participate in those World Cups and win, (Editor's Note: Bebeto won only one FIFA World Cup - 1994). That's what really mattered to people.
The first FIFA World Cup you played in was in Italy in 1990. What memories do you have of that one?
Those were very sad moments. It was one of the biggest disappointments of my career, because I was injured during a training game while playing with a great friend of mine, goalkeeper Ze Carlos. That spelt the end of my World Cup, as my knee swelled up really badly during the game with Scotland. We lost our next game against Argentina and were eliminated. We desperately wanted to win that tournament, but that's life for you. I leave everything for God to decide. Then came the 1994 World Cup, which we won.
The 1994 FIFA World Cup made you a household name. What do you remember about Brazil's first game there, against Russia?
Truth be told, I clearly remember every World Cup game I was involved in. At that World Cup we had a really tough match against Russia, but we were extremely well prepared. There was a great sense of togetherness in the team, which proved crucial in helping us win. The team worked very hard to avoid making the same mistakes as in 1990.
In your opinion, which was your best performance at that tournament?
I believe that I was able to maintain a certain level of consistency in every game I played for the Seleção. That said, one game really stands out as being both the most important and most difficult match of all, and that was against the USA on 4 July. It was during that game that I became convinced that we'd win our fourth World Cup. I'll never forget that date because that's when they [Americans] celebrate their Independence Day.
Leonardo, who had been one of the outstanding performers on show during that World Cup, was sent off. As it happened, he was trying to get away from his opponent but, in so doing, he accidentally caught the USA player with his elbow. In spite of such a heavy blow, the team went from strength to strength as the game went on. It was then that Romario was able to work the ball through to me. I found myself one-on-one with their keeper Tony Meola, who was a very big guy, but I spotted a narrow gap where the ball could go through and in it went. 1-0, Bebeto the scorer.
From that moment on I was convinced that we would become four-time World Cup winners. When I went into the dressing room at half-time in that game, I saw Leo, someone I've always been very fond of because we started out together with Flamengo. He was sitting there in the corner, crying his eyes out, so I told him not to worry as I would score the winning goal for us. And with the help of God I did. When I returned to the dressing room afterwards, he gave me a big hug and thanked me profusely. Without a doubt, I felt something very strong in that game. Something God-given.
*Many people feel you played an even bigger role in your next game, the quarter-final against the Netherlands. What can you tell us about that? * First of all, I'd really like to give thanks to God, because the night before, just before going to bed, I asked Him to give me the chance to score a goal as a tribute to my son, who'd been born the day before. So, I went to sleep with that thought in my mind and during the game the opportunity arose in a way I can only describe as truly divine. The ball was sent towards me, Romario had just broken through a tackle but he was tired... and so I picked up the ball, beat a defender, dribbled past the keeper and walked the ball into the net.
After scoring that goal, the first thing that popped into my head was my son, because he was the only one of my children whose birth I missed, and that was because I was at the World Cup. I was present at the birth of my other two children. So, when I scored it occurred to me to gesture as if I was taking him in my arms... even speaking about this now it gives me goose bumps and makes me feel very emotional. Then, while I was gesturing as if I held a child in my arms, I looked sideways and saw Mazinho and Romario doing the same thing and suddenly there we all were making the same gesture... and that's how it happened.
I think that celebration sticks in the memory because it all happened so spontaneously. It was straight from the heart and all very natural. I hadn't thought about it beforehand, but, thanks to the grace of God, I was able to honour my son. Incredible as it may seem, he is the only one of my boys who likes football and who was born with a gift for the game. He is now playing for the Flamengo boys' side and has the talent to be a great player.
Do you think the joyous way Brazilians celebrate their goals is one of the reasons why their football is so endearing?
Yes, I think so. I always celebrated goals with a great deal of enthusiasm. Football has always been my passion - I began playing when I was only six or seven. In Brazil kids are born with a ball at their feet and they always want to play. I've played all my life and always done so with a great deal of joy. I believe you have to enjoy things in life for them to come out right. And not only football, but also basketball, athletics, etc. We should do everything with a lot of passion.
Wearing the yellow of Brazil has always been a source of pride for me, and that's why I've always been very happy taking to the field. I do my bit to help foster group unity, a quality that enabled us to become four-time world champions. We had a very united team and the desire to make football history, and in the end our togetherness took us there.
Even though you were close to all your team-mates, there was a special bond between you and Romario, wasn't there?
The partnership with Romario brought great results for the Seleção. We won everything together; we had a really good understanding. Look, in football there's always the possibility of disagreements between players, but there was none of that between us. On the contrary, we understood each other really well, the moves came off naturally, I always seemed to know where he was on the pitch and he also always knew where to find me. It was perfect. However, it would be very unfair to mention only Romario.
We were the strikers and scored almost all of the goals, but it would be unfair of me to ignore Taffarel, Jorginho, Aldair, Marcio Santos, Leonardo, Zinho, Dunga, Mazinho and Mauro Silva. The entire group was crucial to winning that title. Romario and I wouldn't have achieved what we did without the help of the rest of the team. The same goes for all the rest of the delegation, from the kit-man to the masseuse. All of these people were important in helping Brazil get back to the summit of world football after a 24-year wait.
Brazil go into every World Cup with an obligation to win. It has always been like that and always will. Of course, this brings with it an enormous responsibility, which you feel from the moment you are chosen for the team. Coming into the finals, we felt a tremendous feeling of anxiety because of Brazil's failure to win at previous editions. Consequently, that 1994 victory released all Brazil's pent-up frustration, so much so that winning the fifth championship was much less stressful. In 1994 we were fighting to win back the trophy after 24 years, which is why it was more difficult than other times.
You said that the 1994 side were very strong. How did it differ from the 1990 and 1998 teams?
Well, with the 1990 squad, I think the coach lost control a little bit. At that time, he organised several meetings with the team, where we could each gave our suggestions on how we thought it could play better. Naturally, we all put our own interests first, which wasn't good. Personally, I don't think that this should happen with a football team. The coach alone has to select the players; that's his decision and the players have to accept that.
In my case, I came into the 1990 tournament on the back of my 1989 award for 'Best Player in the Americas'. I was top-scorer at the 1989 Copa America and considered to be the best player in the South American World Cup qualifiers. However, when the finals came round, the coach left me out of the starting XI. Instead he went with Muller and Careca who, in spite of being two great players, did not have the same mutual understanding as Romario and I. Even though I was at the peak of my career, the coach began that World Cup by omitting myself and four other players from a title-winning side that had played together throughout the Copa America and the qualifiers. So, he started out on the wrong foot, that's for sure.
During our first game at that World Cup, I think it was against Costa Rica, (Ed's Note - Costa Rica was their second game, although Bebeto didn't play in their opener against Sweden) the coach only put me on with four minutes to go. The team hadn't been playing well, and nor had the two forwards. In our training games between matches, I showed that I was improving and finally got my chance against Scotland. Unfortunately, by then I had injured myself, and so it was all in God's hands. Romario had just had an operation and wasn't feeling too good, so of course he didn't play well against Scotland. Then for the Argentina game, he wasn't even on the bench. I didn't play either that day, and that was when we were eliminated.
In 1998 we had a great team. Without taking anything away from France, who were strong and played very well, I believe things would have been completely different if we hadn't had the problem with Ronaldo. It happened just four hours before kick-off and it unbalanced the whole team. My greatest concern was Ronaldo's health, because anyone who saw how sick he was would have thought he was going to die. It was horrible, with everybody running around and Edmundo shouting that Ronaldo was dying. It was a madhouse, and not something I like thinking about. It was originally decided that Ronaldo wasn't going to play and he was sent for tests. I recall telling the [CBF] President that there was a World Cup every four years and that Ronaldo's health was much more important than this. Our greatest concern was certainly the state of Ronaldo's health.
I saw Ronaldo again at tea time, this was after he'd been ill, and he didn't remember anything. He asked me what had happened to him, and I just told him everything was fine. Then he went for the tests and didn't participate in the pre-match meeting. Without a doubt, it knocked the whole team for six, and that influenced the way the game was played. We conceded two goals from set pieces, which you just can't do at the World Cup, and that's how we lost that game.
So you're saying that psychologically the team couldn't have won that game?
Precisely. Dunga and I tried to motivate the players, but the gloom was visible on their faces. We were very sad and the team was completely despondent.
*You said that pulling on the yellow jersey brought you great happiness, but what was your most disappointing moment with the national team? * The saddest day of my career was in 1990, the day I hurt my knee. I felt extremely downhearted because I was playing very well until then. The day I bashed my knee really was the saddest day of my career. However, that moment was also a lesson for me, because I think we can learn a lot from our defeats. As it happens, we don't get paid a lot for representing Brazil, it's only for the joy of playing. We earn a lot more when we're transferred to Europe, for example. That 1990 team was not very united, however, with some players demanding more payment than others.
In 1994, when the President met with us to talk about prize money, we told him that we weren't interested in that. We explained that our main objective was to win, regardless of what was on offer. We'd all sacrificed a great deal to get where we were and none of us were thinking about money or anything else, we just wanted to win. Our only thought was to make our country happy. And we managed to go down in the history of both Brazilian and world football!
How did it feel to lift the actual FIFA World Cup Trophy in 1994?
I was the first to take the Cup when the FIFA representative brought it into our dressing room. When they took my picture at that moment, I was wearing the shirt of the Italian player Baresi. He'd asked me to swap shirts, since his son was a big fan of mine. Baresi is one of best players I've ever seen. The game against Italy was really tough. In my opinion it could have been a much better spectacle if only Italy had tried to play football, but I feel that they restricted themselves to defending for the entire game. Their goal was to take the match to extra-time and penalty kicks, and that's what they did. Even so, it was Brazil who ended up winning the World Cup for the fourth time.
We took to the field determined to win. Romario and I set out to score the goals we needed to win. We tried to improve the quality of the game by creating opportunities. I remember Romario running past me, and I linked up with Cafu, who slid a ball in behind the Italian defence only for Romario to miss the opportunity. He was involved in another move with Mauro Silva, who had a shot at goal. Their keeper Pagliuca let the ball slip through his hands but it came back off the post.
Viola had another opportunity, when he dribbled past everyone and nearly scored. Italy had one or two opportunities, but we had many more. Brazil really went out there intent on becoming world champions for the fourth time. As fate would have it, I was in line to take the last penalty kick, but it wasn't necessary as Roberto Baggio missed for Italy and we won. It was an incredibly joyous moment and a real thrill for me to hold the Cup.
How did it feel to decide the FIFA World Cup Final on penalty kicks after having come through seven games?
After the game against the United States, it was really up to God, I was sure we would be four-time champions. Once the penalty shoot-out came around, we were all really tired, it was extremely hot, and our legs ached terribly. But I'd been practising a lot, I'd take about 70 penalties a day. I'm a great believer in hard work, in training well, and that's why my confidence was so high. I even asked coach (Carlos Alberto) Parreira if he'd let me take the first kick, but he said that he wanted me to take the last, decisive penalty, because my success ratio was so high, along with Marcio Santos'. He shot and missed and I was last in line.
Is it true that if a Brazilian player wins a FIFA World Cup Final, he's a god, but if he loses, he becomes a nobody?
It really is impressive. In Brazil, whenever we take the field, we have to win. Coming second means nothing. However, for us players, or at least for me, finishing second means a lot. In the two World Cups in which I participated (I don't count the 1990 Cup because I got hurt), I got to the Final. Unfortunately, the problem with Ronaldo meant we had to wait for the next edition to become world champions.
I played for five years in Europe, and things are different there. For countries like Italy, France, Spain, etc, finishing runners-up means a lot, but for Brazilians it means nothing. That's the way it is here. We're used to it, because the people are so passionate about football here.
When you laid hands on the Trophy, was there a sense of having accomplished what you had set out to do in life?
For a player, it's the ultimate moment. As well as playing at two World Cups, I also participated in the Atlanta and Seoul Olympics Games. I was a world and South American champion with the youth team, and I've been a Brazilian international since I was 17. I've won everything that a player can win with the national team. I always thank God for having given me the opportunity to share this joy with the Brazilian people, who have suffered so much. I think Brazil grew after lot winning that title in 1994.
I have given up a lot of important things in my life to get to the top, for example, the birth of my son and being away from my family. I spent more than a month in a training camp without seeing my relatives, but if I had to do it all over again to give Brazil that title, I would. I don't regret anything. On the contrary, all this has brought me and my country enormous happiness, and this something you can't put a price on.
If you could keep one trophy, which one would it be?
Every trophy that I've won in my career has been very important. However, I think I'd choose the first one: the World Youth Championship from Mexico 1983. That's where it all began. When Brazil won the World Cup for the fourth time in 1994, Dunga, Jorginho and I had been playing together since that World Championship in Mexico. After such a long time together, we were like brothers, and today these guys are part of my family. That's why I'd choose Mexico 1983. The first one is always the hardest, or at least it was for me, coming from Salvador, from the Vitoria team in Bahia. It's difficult for a player from the northeast of Brazil to be called up to the national team.
How does it feel touching the FIFA World Cup Trophy now?
I feel a real thrill holding it, because all the memories come flooding back, just like in a movie. As I said, I was the first to touch it when the FIFA representative brought it to the dressing room. So many great things happened during that World Cup, particularly winning it. That made the Brazilian people so happy. A lot of training and dedication went into winning it, and the Brazil shirt feels like a second skin.
Do you remember the reaction of the people at the airport when you arrived back in Brazil?
Of course. The first stop was in Recife, and when we arrived, we were driven down Boa Viagem beach. Oh my God, it was totally crazy! Our plane was painted yellow and green, in the colours of the Brazilian flag, so people knew that we were on our way. The sheer emotion of the people there to welcome us was tangible. Once we'd landed and drove through the streets on top of a fire truck, everyone was copying the way I'd pretended to be rocking my son Mateus. That's something I'll remember for the rest of my life, that feeling was priceless.
For a footballer, nothing is as important in life as winning a World Cup. The country grows in stature, people are happy and everything's great. Everywhere I went, people wanted to embrace me. To this day, the people treat me with great affection and still make that rocking gesture when they see me in the street. Thirteen years have passed since the victory but it seems like yesterday. I travel all over the world and people know my son Mateus because of it.