Diego Maradona and the 1986 World Cup are inextricably linked in the minds of all. It is impossible to think back on those sun-soaked images of Mexico and not immediately think of Argentina’s iconic number 10 casting his spell over all who witnessed it.
Maradona weaving through England’s defence while scoring one of the greatest World Cup goals of all time; Maradona bamboozling the Belgian defence before scoring when most mortals would have fallen off balance; Maradona playing the pibe and picking England’s pocket with his left hand. These scenes have become so iconic that the common narrative has since become that Maradona effectively won the World Cup for Argentina.
As with all viewpoints that grow over time, the kernel of truth has become somewhat exaggerated. To simply say that Maradona won the World Cup single-handed is to conveniently forget that football is played by 11 and somewhat disrespectful to his teammates.
There is no argument that Maradona was the best player at the 1986 tournament by some margin and that his overall play throughout did propel Argentina to the trophy. A goal against Italy in the group stage followed by his doubles against both England in the quarter-finals and Belgium in the semi-finals were definitely the driving force behind La Albiceleste’s success. But Diego was assisted throughout by the likes of Jorge Burrachaga, Jorge Valdano and Oscar Ruggeri to name just three. Teams win tournaments, not individuals.
It is still fair to say, however, that Maradona’s influence on the 1986 World Cup was seismic and his name will always be most closely linked with that event. But it is sadly often forgotten that Maradona was not the first player to dominate a World Cup so strongly. In looking at that, we need to go back 24 years prior to Mexico and move south, down to Chile.
Name a World Cup and each has a historic story arc attached to it, often centring on the final itself. The Maracanazo in 1950 saw Brazil mourn defeat against Uruguay; 1954 is the Miracle of Berne as Germany start to regain pride as a nation by defeating Hungary. Moving on to 1958 sees the emergence of a new superstar – a teenage Pele – scoring twice to announce himself on the world stage; 1966 will always be held in reverence by the English and the image of Geoff Hurst blasting the last-minute goal. And the 1970 final remains the gold standard for all finals with arguably the greatest team and greatest goal ever.
But the awkward stepchild of these post-war tournaments seems to be Chile 1962. While the other competitions all have moments of beauty associated with them, 1962 is usually first associated with the emergence of more ruthless football – and in particular the Battle of Santiago.
Even though earlier World Cups had their fair share of violence too – just read about Brazil-Hungary in 1954 for proof of that – the 1962 edition is often glossed over as one of the poorer spectacles. Sadly, that is unfair, especially to one player who dominated to a similar extent to Maradona in 1986: Garrincha.
Much has been written about Garrincha and his extremely eventful and colourful life, and I cannot recommend highly enough grabbing a copy of Ruy Castro’s excellent book for an in-depth account that will have you laughing one minute and crying the next. As with George Best or Paul Gascoigne, it is easy to get dragged into the more salubrious sides of their lives and distracted from their eras of genius.
Tales of womanising and drinking have sold newspapers for decades and sadly can influence the narrative and legacy of great players. Like Best and Gascoigne, Garrincha’s life is definitely not short of such tales – but also like Best and Gascoigne, he was one of the greatest players on the planet during his pomp. And his performances were never bettered than those he produced in Chile during the summer of 1962.
Garrincha was a player who enjoyed nothing more than dribbling and beating opponents. It was often commented that even after having beaten them, he would occasionally turn back and do it again, just for the sheer joy of it. If ever a player moved to the samba beat, it was Garrincha. And all this was done famously with one leg shorter than the other and one knee bent in and the other out. His skills were discovered and honed at club level by Botafogo, leading to international recognition as part of the 1958 World Cup squad.
While Garrincha had entranced Brazilian spectators, he had competition for his place, primarily in the guise of Joel, the Flamengo winger, and Julinho, who plied his trade in Italy for Fiorentina. The school of thought at the time leaned towards Julinho, who had played during the 1954 World Cup and actually came out of that in a good light.
As part of the preparation for Sweden, Brazil were to play a friendly against Fiorentina and Julinho was invited to join the squad. However, in an example of true sportsmanship, he felt that his inclusion would be unfair on the Brazilians who had got Brazil to the finals, and so he declined. Had he accepted, it is probable that Julinho and Joel would have travelled to Sweden and Garrincha would have missed the cut. On such decisions is history made.
Just prior to leaving for Sweden, Brazil manager Feola decided to try Garrincha out in a friendly against Bulgaria alongside a young teenager by the name of Pele. Brazil won 3-1 and, from then, would never lose a match in which both prodigies played together. The final warm-up game was the Fiorentina match and it is here where Garrincha scored one of his most famous goals.
Receiving the ball, he dribbled past four defenders and rounded the goalkeeper. But then he couldn’t help himself – he stopped at the goal line, turned around, and proceeded to dribble past a returning defender just one more time before finally scoring. While a piece of outrageous skill and showboating, it unfortunately caused concern to the Brazilian coaching staff that perhaps Garrincha did not always take football seriously enough.
Although Feola was nominally the manager of Brazil, the team selection was done by committee between Feola, Nascimento, Gosling and Paulo Amaral. In considering their opening match against Austria, they felt that Austria would probably pack four into their midfield and so Brazil would need the chosen right winger to drop back into midfield too when needed to balance the equation.
It was then that Amaral, who knew Garrincha well from Botafogo, announced that he felt the winger would not follow such instructions due to his unpredictability. And so the more tactically disciplined Joel got the nod – and Garrincha sat on the bench for the opener.
Similar committee tactics concluded that Garrincha should not start the next game against England due to concerns that his dribbling would result in him being fouled out of the game early. A win against Austria and a draw against England left Brazil with a do-or-die game against the Soviet Union in order to move on.
Analysis of the supremely fit Soviet side had the Brazilian committee convinced that they needed to get off to a fast start against them and grab the initiative early before the Soviet fitness gave them the advantage later in the match. And so Garrincha was finally selected to hit them early with his pace and guile.
To say Garrincha and his teammates followed the committee’s recommendation to start fast is an understatement. The ball went to Garrincha almost straight from kick-off and he mesmerised the Soviet defence, running rings around them before hitting the post after just 40 seconds. Just 15 seconds later, Pele hit the bar.
Garrincha continued to torment and finally Vava scored after exactly three minutes. A French journalist, Gabriel Hannot, would later describe the start as the greatest three minutes in the history of football. Brazil went on to win 2-0 but completely dominated a strong Soviet team, with Garrincha in fine form throughout. He had finally landed on the world stage.
Garrincha-mania began in Europe as they marvelled at his performance. A quarter-final against a defensive Wales proved trickier for him as he was heavily man-marked but he still managed to start the move that saw Pele score the only goal of the game. France were next in the semi-final where, like against the Soviet Union, Garrincha beat three men to start a move that saw Brazil take the lead after just a minute and a half.
From there, Brazil cruised to victory and a final date against the host nation, Sweden. Legend has it that Garrincha was not aware of this and had to ask Nilton Santos after the France game who their next opponents would be. Not that Garrincha was ever too fussed about such details – defenders were all the same to him, there to be dribbled around.
An early scare when Sweden scored after just four minutes was soon calmed by Garrincha destroying the opposition on the right-wing. Firstly, four minutes after going behind, Garrincha received the ball on the edge of the area, eased past the covering defender to the byline and then crossed for Vava to equalise.
Time after time, Garrincha tormented the Swedish left-back until, after 30 minutes, he once again made for the byline before again crossing for Vava to score. From there Brazil went on to a 5-2 victory and scenes of unbridled joy as the ghost of 1950 was finally put to rest. In all, Garrincha hit the byline an incredible 15 times during the match.
The World Cup success made instant celebrities of the teenage Pele and the magical Garrincha. He had missed the first two games but more than made up for that with his subsequent performances. But it had been a great team effort – Garrincha was just part of a successful squad that included Pele, Nilmar Santos, Didi, Zagallo and Vava.
It had been his international coming-out party but he had been just one of many strong performers. But the story was to be very different four years later in Chile – a story where the parallels with Maradona and 1986 appear.
Entering the 1962 World Cup as holders and favourites put Brazil under pressure, and that was reflected in their opening game where a misfiring team managed to register an unconvincing 2-0 win over Mexico, aided by a fine performance from their goalkeeper, Gilmar. Next up were Czechoslovakia and it was in this game that the drama really began.
Midway through the first half, Pele hit a fierce shot that the keeper did well to parry – and then fell to the ground. He had pulled a groin muscle. With no substitutes at the time, Pele had no choice but to play on but was clearly incapacitated for the remainder of the match, hanging out on the wing and watching as Brazil stumbled to a 0-0 draw. Their marquee player was seriously injured.
The final group game against Spain saw Pele replaced by Amarildo, whose two goals saw them prevail 2-1. And it was at this moment that Garrincha stepped into the spotlight. Quiet in the first two games, he received the ball midway in the opposition half, teased two defenders before beating them both and supplying an inch-perfect cross for Amarildo’s second match-winning goal. Brazil were now moving on to the quarter-finals – and Garrincha was about to set the World Cup alight and make it his finest hour.
England were Brazil’s opponent, a team who liked to play against other structured, organised sides rather than unpredictable ones. Unfortunately for them, Garrincha was in one of his unpredictable, maverick moods and played with abandon around the attacking half, not just sticking to the wing as usual.
Firstly, the winger scored with a powerful header from a corner, something he rarely did. Then a powerful free-kick of his could only be parried by goalkeeper Ron Springett and Vava pounced. Finally, he scored Brazil’s third goal with a beautiful shot into the top corner from outside the area. England had no answer to his skills on the day and Garrincha’s outstanding performance helped Brazil get over the loss of Pele and move onto the semi-finals, where they would meet the hosts, Chile.
Again Garrincha was in the mood and again he was to score twice and lay on a third. A fierce left-footed shot and another header from Mane set Brazil up before assisting a third for Vava. But unlike the England game, this time Garrincha had to perform despite the close attention paid to him by the Chilean defender Rojas.
This close attention meant frequent flirtations with the rules and, with only six minutes of the game, Garrincha finally snapped. Yet another foul drove him to meet out some retaliation and a knee to the Rojas’ back saw the Chilean collapse in apparent agony. The referee did not hesitate and Garrincha was off.
To make matters worse, a stone thrown from the stands and hit his head as he trudged off. The referee had a terrible game, no doubt intimidated by the partisan crowd, but despite some very questionable decisions, Brazil were through with a 4-2 victory – but at the cost of Garrincha missing the final against Czechoslovakia.
Like Maradona, Garrincha had always had to cope with being kicked, fouled and provoked by opponents, especially when humiliating them with his trickery. He nearly always resisted retaliation but every person has a breaking point. In 1962, a sending off was not an automatic next-game suspension, however, but would be the decision of a FIFA disciplinary committee.
Brazilian officials called in as many favours as possible from colleagues within governments and football to lobby on their behalf. Luckily in the end, the referee commented that he had not directly seen the foul but had relied on the word of his linesman, who had since left the country. Garrincha got away with a slapped wrist by five votes to two.
The question now was could Pele join him on the field? He had enjoyed some downtime and the injury was starting to heal, but it was still a risk. It was probable that he would need pain-killing injections to do so and memories were still vivid of Ferenc Puskas and his failed attempt to play through an injury in the 1954 World Cup final. It was decided not to run the risk, but to let the Czechs believe that he would be playing to mess with their tactical set-up.
The other secret kept from the Czechs was that Garrincha was running a fever ahead of kick-off and dosed up on aspirin. But for once, Brazil did not need to rely on him as they cruised to a 3-1 victory and retained the Jules Rimet trophy. Garrincha had scored four goals when they mattered most in the knockout stages with Pele absent – giving him a share of the tournament’s Golden Boot and winning him Player of the Tournament – with two goals in the quarter-final and two goals in the semi-final.
Twenty-four years later, Diego Maradona would also score two goals in the quarter-final and two goals in the semis before also not scoring in the final. The similarity is eerie.
While Maradona played at the next two World Cups, Garrincha’s career faded more quickly, pushed by a knee injury which he never fully recovered from. He did play in the opening game of the 1966 World Cup, and even scored an outrageous free-kick, but then played his final ever international in the defeat to Hungary shortly before Brazil were eliminated – the first and only time Garrincha ever experienced defeat in 50 appearances in a Selecao shirt.
His life spiralled downwards from then on as he battled chronic alcoholism, a road accident in which his mother-in-law died, and numerous affairs leading to fathering at least 14 children. He finally died of cirrhosis of the liver aged just 49 in 1983.
But that is all a separate, tragic story – on the field, Garrincha was a magical presence who, like Maradona, seemed to represent the common man and to play the game how we would like to imagine it should be played: with care-free abandon and fun, while at the same time leading his team to the biggest prize in world football.
To watch both players is to bring a smile to the face. Two players who could never resist beating just one more opponent, all the way to the top.
By Dominic Hougham