How the 1982 Brazilian team became one of the most beloved in history

(CNN) — Every time Socrates took the field, all eyes were on the man they called “Doctor.”

In addition to being an enormously talented soccer player (his mesmerizing technical ability, power, and lean legs made him a wonder to watch), he was also an exceptionally intelligent man, earning a medical degree from the University of São Paulo early in his race.

Socrates’ nickname “Doctor” stuck with him, though his practices were unconventional; he was known to like to smoke and drink, but his vices never seemed to hinder him on the field.

He also captained the Brazil team at the 1982 World Cup, long before cable TV and streaming made every soccer game and player data available. National teams and their star players were a mystery coming into a World Cup, with the Seleçao and their stars having an almost mystical quality.

When Brazil took to the pitch for their first game of Spain 1982 against the USSR, resplendent in that famous yellow and canary blue kit, few fans knew what to expect.

Yet after 90 minutes, they were mesmerized by what they had seen, and Socrates, the team’s captain, the brains and the heart, was at the center of it all.

Socrates in action against Argentina during the 1982 World Cup. Credit: Manny Millán/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

Despite trailing 1-0 in the early stage of the match, Brazil played a flamboyant and fluid style of football, reminiscent of great Brazilian teams of the past, eventually winning 2-1 thanks to surprising late goals from Socrates and Eder, two names that often come up in praise about the squad.

“We were all very, very optimistic about what would happen at that World Cup,” Juca Kfouri, one of Brazil’s most decorated commentators, told CNN Sport.

“First of all, because they were exceptional players, each one with their characteristics, their personality was very, very strong and they were kind, captivating and seductive.

“You have ‘Doctor’ Sócrates as an example, a democrat, a militant of good things for his people,” Kfouri added of the man who had been a leading voice in opposition to Brazil’s military government and who would become known for his messages on headbands in Mexico four years later.

In Uruguay 18 months earlier, Brazil was one of six teams competing in the World Champions Gold Cup, known as the ‘Mundialito’ or ‘Little World Cup’, which consisted of five of the six winners of the World Cup at the time and the Netherlands, which had replaced England.

Despite losing to Uruguay in the Gold Cup final, Brazil beat West Germany, one of the favorites for the 1982 World Cup and eventual losing finalist, 4-1 in the group stage. It was a “categorical” victory, recalls Kfouri, “a football spectacle.”

As the tournament in Spain progressed, optimism in Brazil only grew. Complete and beautiful victories over Scotland and New Zealand followed, 4-1 and 4-0 victories respectively, as Brazil progressed to the second group stage of the World Cup with a flourish.

Cerezo was considered among the best players on the 1982 Brazil team. Credit: Peter Robinson/EMPICS/PA Images/Getty Images

“I don’t give a beating from Brazil”

At the 1974 World Cup in Germany, Scottish commentator and author Archie Macpherson recalls a very different Brazil team than the one that had last been in Europe for the 1966 World Cup in England.

“After 1966, the Brazilians were so outraged by the way they had been treated on the field, particularly Pelé, whose legs were barely visible from the bruises and cuts — he was beaten in plain sight — they decided that if going back to Europe they would have to toughen up considerably,” recalls McPherson, author of Touching the Heights.

“So when they came back in ’74, it wasn’t the type of Brazilian team that we really expected. They had one or two outstanding players… but they were tougher, and they mixed it up and instead of playing in that fancy style they had become, if I can put it that way, ‘Europeanized’ just to survive.

“So we wondered what they were like [en España ’82] but these first three games that they played, they had clearly resorted to the type, to the style, to their natural rhythms. So it was good to see them back like that and that’s why they started to gain support.”

Scotsman John Wark defends Falcao during the group stage clash. Credit: Peter Robinson/EMPICS/PA Images/Getty Images

Macpherson’s Scotland were the unfortunate recipients of one of the most riveting performances from the Brazil team. Such was the beauty with which he played that team, however, that Macpherson was only left with feelings of awe once he finished the game.

Despite trailing a goal again, Brazil never changed their style of play, though Macpherson notes that this admirable stubbornness in playing only beautiful football may have also led to the team’s downfall.

“We made the mistake of insulting the Brazilians by scoring after about 18 minutes,” laughs Macpherson, “and then we got shot. At the center of the team was, of course, Socrates, the smoking, guitar-playing doctor who seemed to contradict all medical advice in his lifestyle.

“He embodied that elegance and that almost casual nature of the way the Brazilians started to play, relying on big feet and great speed. He was really at the center of it all. Perhaps, his distinctive style made him a focal point to watch, but after David Narey scored that goal…the Brazilians went all out.”

“I don’t mind a beating from Brazil because it was wonderful to watch. It wasn’t a defeat, it was the culmination of a display of the best of football: the display of skill, the cleanliness and the fact that at 4-1 — and this was the greatest achievement of all and the best compliment of all — Scottish fans were far from discouraged.”

“They eliminate Brazil”

Before the change in the World Cup format, the top two teams from six groups created another four three-team groups, with the four winners of the second group stage as semifinalists.

Zico celebrates his goal against Argentina. Credit: Mark Leech/Offside/Getty Images

Brazil was placed in a group with Paolo Rossi’s Italy and Diego Maradona’s Argentina, the defending champion four years earlier.

After Italy defeated Argentina 2-1 in the opening game, Brazil beat Albiceleste 3-1 thanks to goals from Zico, Serginho and Junior, with Maradona sent off and Ramón Díaz’s late consolation goal. for the Argentines.

So it all came down to Brazil vs. Italy on July 5 for a place in the 1982 World Cup semi-final.

“I have to say that Italy played better than Brazil and their victory was indisputable,” says Kfouri. “It’s just one of those things in football. They [Brasil e Italia] they could play 10 times, Brazil won seven, tied two and lost on July 5. That day was the day of Italy, that is indisputable.

“This image of a great Brazil team stuck anyway. I will never forget the headline of a newspaper in Andalusia, which said the following: ‘Nobody understands this world anymore; they eliminate Brazil’”.

Italy had taken the lead twice thanks to Rossi’s goals, but Brazil fought back both times through Sócrates and Falcão. However, when Rossi completed his hat-trick with 15 minutes remaining, there was to be no third Brazilian comeback.

Italian striker Francesco Graziani tries to reach the ball with his head, but Brazilian goalkeeper Valdir Peres, assisted by his defender Oscar, deflects the ball with a punch. Credit: Melchert/picture alliance/Getty Images

Macpherson described the result as “a great anticlimax” for neutrals watching the World Cup.

“I remember feeling miserable, it was almost like my home team had been beaten, my home country had been beaten,” recalls Macpherson.

“I was so disappointed, like many others around the world, but I insist that it was their own doing. They couldn’t change the style at all to suit the circumstances.”

“Nobody liked Italians,” he adds. “Italian football, of course, had this reputation of being cynical and defensive. Helenio Herrera, an Argentine, established the Catenaccio throughout Italian football and indeed throughout Europe, and this was the antidote, a complete antidote.

“So that’s why they were so disappointed. I mean, I can remember getting frustrated not being able to see this group of players again.”

“Outside of Italy itself, and I was there with Italian journalists, there was not a soul outside of that group who wanted Italy to win. They cheered on Brazil, hoping that this would prove that their brand of football could be sustained and successful.”

Brazil came from behind twice against Italy, but failed for the third time. Credit: Mark Leech/Offside/Getty Images

The legacy of Neymar and Tite

Before Brazil’s first game against Serbia in Qatar, the Seleção enters the tournament, as they often do, among the favorites to lift the trophy. Such is the admiration for the ’82 squad, however, that Kfouri says even victory in Qatar wouldn’t put the current group of players on the same pedestal.

If Neymar was to win the Golden Boot en route to leading Brazil to victory in Qatar, Kfouri admits he will be considered better than the beloved ’82 stars, rising to the heights of Ronaldo, Romario and Rivaldo, but probably not. be loved in the same way.

“The ’94 team won, the ’02 team won, and they don’t compare to the ’82 team,” says Kfouri. “Now, of course, if you ask me by any chance, I don’t think so, but if by any chance the current team shows fabulous football in Qatar, it’s possible, but there’s nothing to indicate that this is going to happen.”

Brazilian players celebrate a goal against Argentina. Credit: Mark Leech/Offside/Getty Images

Despite that heartbreaking loss to Italy, there is no feeling of regret that Brazil’s team in 1982 failed to lift the World Cup trophy, just a sense of pride that the nation produced and was able to witness one of the most beloved teams in history.

“I am not going to speak, I will let Pep Guardiola speak when he says that it is a selection, a football team, that has survived for 40 years as something spectacular,” says Kfouri.

“Today’s team has at most one outstanding player, Neymar, who is not capable of doing only what Sócrates, Zico, Falcão, Cerezo, four extraordinary players, four geniuses, have done.

“So I think there is no comparison, in the same way that there is no comparison with the two teams that won later, from 1994 and 2002, the 1982 team is better than both. That team didn’t win like the Netherlands didn’t win in ’74, like Hungary didn’t win in ’54; these things just happen in football.”