How The 1982 World Cup Still Haunts Brazil
The 1982 World Cup defeat against Italy and the 7-1 thrashing at the hands of Germany may have come 32 years apart, but one has played a massive part in the regression of Brazilian football. The cultural influence that the public have upon the national team means that Brazil’s support can only be described as ‘manic depressive’ – one day they are the greatest team in the World, the next they barely deserve to walk the pitch that they play on. It’s this emotional factor which, after the 1982 World Cup, caused Brazil to take a massive step backwards.
At the heart of all Brazilian football there lies great emotion, this emotion has been at the root of all style changes as far back as 1958. Back when the team ran by 17 year old Pele conquered Sweden, the fans at home booed them mercilessly in their final friendly. And again before their triumph in 1970. But the loss to Italy sparked a regression and loss of pride in Brazilian football so big that the aftershocks of that earthquake can be felt today.
That team of 1982 was revered, full of talent that played mercurial football for many years and seemed destined to win the World Cup until the faced the sheer brutality of the Italians. They played football in every third of the pitch. Even their defensive midfielders Falcao and Cerezo were as skilled as their attacking quartet – no player has matched the talents of those aforementioned midfielders until the arrival of Xavi and Iniesta. The Selecao were the ultimate footballing side. Expansive, expressive and emotional. They cared for the ball as if it was their one true love.
However, the defeat against the Azzuri on that fateful day in Barcelona changed the whole outlook of Brazilian football. No longer would the boys in yellow, o Canarinho, play the expansive style of football that had the world in awe, dribbling awestruck as Zico, Falcao and Eder tore teams apart with ferocious tenacity and skill. From that moment on they regressed. The pitch became two halves – one half for attack, the second for nothing but defence. Defensive midfielders would no longer retrieve the ball from their centre-backs to start an attack, only break up and clear. Centre-backs started playing decidedly deeper. Counter attacking football almost became an obsession.
The role of the midfielder changed entirely from ’82 onwards, and there is a distinct correlation between this change in ethos and the production of the ball playing centre-midfielder from Brazil. Whilst European and even other South American countries have produced these to no end with the likes of Xavi, Zidane and Schweinsteiger, Brazil have produced not one. Their brand of football today is distinctly broken in the middle third of the pitch, no player in their squad is actively able to control a game from deep. No player has the ability to connect up the defence to the attack – the passing range of Luiz Gustavo, Elias or even Fernandinho is just simply not good enough at international level.
This problem stems directly from the backwards step taken in 1982, and the same style of football in Brazil exists today. Direct, elongated football that lacks any real quality in midfield. Often, whilst watching a European game on the television the majority of the players will be in shot, in Brazil the shot is more likely to show around 10 players. Defensive lines rarely make it as high as midway through their own half, which is why defenders from the Brazilian Serie A struggle when adapting to the higher lines in Europe. The problem arose again in the 2014 World Cup when Brazil’s complete domination at the hands of Germany showed that they were crying out for a player who could control the game from deep, as well as launch counter attacks.
Brazil will continue to be a world class team due to their massive attacking prowess, but the abolition of the ball playing midfielder 33 years ago still leaves massive gap in their desired style today. Brazil were once the most admired team in the World – today’s team it’s lack of fluidity, control and expression means they will never come close to emulating those heroes.