DAWN OF THE PELE ERA

In Sweden in 1958, Pele scored his first goal against Wales, followed it up with a hat-trick against France and added two more to his tally in the final against the host. Six goals on debut and a star was born.

Two years before the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, founding father Jules Rimet passed away. The edition signalled the arrival of the prodigiously talented 17-year-old Brazilian going by the name Pele. In the years to come he would become a legend. In Sweden he showcased his talent in no uncertain way — he scored his first goal against Wales, followed it up with a hat-trick against France and added two more to his tally in the final against Sweden. Six goals on debut and Pele the star was born.

Pele did not match the 13 goals (a record that stands to this day) of French star Just Fontaine, but he helped Brazil record its first Cup win.

A record 55 countries took part in the tournament. Television coverage widened, enabling the fans to enjoy the mastery of great players such as Kopa, Fontaine, Charlton, Yashin, Garrincha, Vava and Pele. There were surprises too in the tournament, as Belgium, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain, Uruguay and the biggest of them all, Italy, made their exit. New forces rose in the form of Wales, Northern Ireland, the USSR and Sweden. The focus was as much on Brazil as France, which thrived on Fontaine's brilliance as also the opportunism of Kopa and Piontoni. But France's fairytale run ended in the semifinal at the hands of Brazil, nay Pele's outstanding play. Brazil, earlier, topped its group that had Austria, England and the USSR. In the other semifinal, Sweden proved it was no scratch outfit by shocking defending champion Germany. Spearheaded by Liedholm, the team seemed set for more as it earned a shot against Brazil in the final. But Zagallo, Vava and Pele demolished the Swedes.

Chile 1962

The World Cup went back to South America, as Chile hosted the tournament in 1962. Not many approved of this, for Chile seemed ill-prepared in terms of infrastructure. However, the competition went on and Chile did well to reach the semifinal, though en route it had the dubious distinction of being one of the teams (the other was Italy) involved in the `Battle of Santiago', a corrosive match of fouls and tackles. Two Italians were sent out, another had his nose broken. Chile won the match 2-0. Having beaten Switzerland earlier, the loss against Germany did not come in the way of Chile qualifying for the quarterfinals. The USSR and Yugoslavia too moved ahead from other groups. However, the USSR goalkeeper Lev Yashin, considered one of the best in the world, had a miserable time, particularly against Colombia, allowing it to catch up from 1-4 down. The USSR's run ended against Chile.

Brazil was without Pele, who was injured against Czechoslovakia but in Amarildo, the country found a new hero. But it was Garrincha and Vava who packed off Chile in the semifinal. With the Czechs also qualifying (after 28 years) at the expense of Yugoslavia, the stage was set for a great finale. The Czechs, however, finished next best to Brazil, which recorded its second consecutive title victory.

England 1966

Thirty-six years after the launch, the World Cup came to England, the land where the game was born. Despite the euphoria, the tournament did not have a pleasant beginning. To start with, the Jules Rimet Trophy was stolen and it required the ingenuity of a dog, named Pickles, to recover it from a patch of shrubs. And as the competition got along, the genius of Pele was not as much the talking point as the efforts by cruel legs to snuff out his brilliance. He was brutally hacked down and injured in the two matches he played. The Bulgarians and the Portuguese ensured that Pele's sojourn in England ended early.

With 70 countries taking part, the preliminary competition burgeoned. FIFA decided on quotas: Europe 10, South America 4, North and Central America 1 and Asia/Africa 1. Africa protested, as did most Asian countries. North Korea remained the lone Asian team. It not only beat Australia to enter the main round, but also went into the second round to emerge as the surprise packet. Beating Italy 1-0 was a gigantic effort, but when it ran up a 3-0 lead against Portugal, North Korea looked unstoppable. However, Eusebio's outstanding effort, easily the most memorable phase of this edition, kept newcomer Portugal in the race before England stopped that in the semifinal. England had by then sent back Mexico, France and Argentina and raised its rating.

Germany, inspired by Beckenbauer, too progressed to the final despite the tough physical tackles of Uruguay and Hungary (conqueror of Brazil) and the USSR. Over 95,000 spectators, including Queen Elizabeth II, were present for the final and the Wembley Stadium reverberated with the English win (4-2) on extra time, notwithstanding the debatable goal by Hurst (who scored a hat-trick).

Mexico 1970

The next edition was to go to Argentina, but considering the country's economic condition the tournament was allotted to Mexico, which had hosted the 1968 Olympic Games. With the telecast going global the event became a major TV spectacle. The qualifying phase of the tournament witnessed bitter rivalry between El Salvador and Honduras. El Salvador went through to the finals for the first time, but it eventually got locked in an armed conflict with Honduras following border tension.

The tournament was significant for the exit of traditional powerhouses such as France, Portugal, Spain, Yugoslavia and Argentina, while Israel and Morocco made their debut in the final round. Host Mexico and the USSR qualified from Group I, Italy and Romania from Group II, Brazil and England from Group III and West Germany and Peru from Group IV. The 1966 finalists England and Germany met in the quarterfinal and the defending champion went out against a sensational display, powered by Beckenbauer and Uwe Seeler. Level at full time, it was `De Bomber' Gerd Muller who nailed the English in extra time on way to becoming the top scorer (10 goals). Italy sent out host Mexico, while Brazil progressed past Peru. When Uruguay edged Russia, the semifinals had four former champions.

Pele, who returned to action after vowing not to owing to the rough treatment he suffered in earlier editions, starred for Brazil, which beat Uruguay for a place in the final. Italy and Germany fought a memorable battle, with the injured Beckenbauer playing his heart out, arms strapped to his side. Italy, however, squeaked into the final in extra time, thanks to Gianni Rivera's goal. In the final, Brazil dazzled, thanks to Pele, Gerson, Jairzinho, Tostao and Rivelino. The defence-oriented `catenaccio' system of Italy was razed to the ground. The verdict was 4-1, with Jairzinho scoring in every match. Having bagged the title for the third time, the Jules Rimet Trophy came into Brazil's permanent possession.

Germany 1974

The 1974 edition in Germany brought in the new `FIFA World Cup Trophy'. A whopping 98 nations featured in the qualifying phase. Those who missed the bus included England, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Austria, France and Portugal. The USSR was disqualified for refusing to play Chile. West Germany's shaky start, when it lost to East Germany, caused a furore, an emotional backlash. It required `Kaiser' Beckenbauer and team-mates to come on television to appease the public. West Germany never looked back from there.

The competition witnessed the `total football' concept of Holland with Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens, Jonny Rep and Rob Rensenbrink wrecking Argentina, East Germany and the rough-tackling Brazil en route to the final. West Germany was locked with Poland, both going neck and neck in the second round (which was also a league). Gzregorz Lato (tournament's top scorer) proved the scourge. As it happened, on a rain-soaked Frankfurt turf and with goalkeeper Maier in great form, West Germany managed to push out Poland — Gerd Muller doing the `kill' job.

The final started sensationally with Cruyff winning a penalty in 80 seconds. Neeskens converted. Sustained German effort brought the equaliser — Breitner converting a penalty after he was tripped. The match was also known for the Cruyff versus Beckenbauer rivalry. Germany finally emerged on top, thanks to Gerd Muller, who bombed in the match-winner.

S. R. Suryanarayan