Mexico 70: Sunday 21st June, the 1970 World Cup Final and *that* goal by Brazil…

Mexico 70 1970 World Cup Final Brazil vs Italy

Welcome back to our day-by-day account of Mexico 70, the 1970 World Cup. If you have missed any of this fantastic series so far you can catch up here. Every single day, Pete Spencer will be telling you the story of the Greatest Show on Earth.


After three weeks of football, we have reached the Final. 75 nations entered a qualifying competition beginning back in May 1968. After 171 qualifying matches and 31 in the finals stage in Mexico, now it came down to just two countries, Brazil and Italy. It was a fascinating contrast in styles.

Sunday 21st June 1970


Estadio Azteca, Mexico City, 107,412

BRAZIL (1) 4 (Pelé 18, Gérson 66, Jairzinho 71, Carlos Alberto 86)

ITALY (1) 1 (Boninsegna 37)

BRAZIL: Félix; Carlos Alberto, Brito, Piazza, Everaldo; Jairzinho, Gérson, Clodoaldo, Rivellino; Tostão, Pelé

ITALY: Albertosi; Burgnich, Rosato, Cera, Facchetti; Bertini (Juliano), De Sisti, Mazzola, Domenghini; Boninsegna (Rivera), Riva

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The 1970 World Cup Final marked the first time two former world champions met in a Final. It would also mean one of these countries would be the first nation to win the tournament three times. Italy had won the 1934 and 1938 editions, with Brazil winning in 1958 and 1962.

Brazil players have spoken of their confidence of winning, perhaps more in expectation and belief than sheer arrogance. But then they’d played the sort of football which deserved that level of belief.

The Italians were worried how much the extra time against West Germany could take out of them. Seven of the side were in the team that lifted Euro ’68 against Yugoslavia, so they had big game experience. They could become the first European champions to win a World Cup.

Both coaches named unchanged teams, as they had done throughout the knockout stage. Brazil had eight players (Félix, Carlos Alberto, Piazza, Brito, Clodoaldo, Jairzinho, Pelé & Tostão) who played in every game, with Rivellino and Everaldo missing just one.

Italy changed even less. 10 players started every game. Rosato started in five and made a sub appearance in the one he didn’t. If you were reading earlier you’ll know coach Ferruccio Valcareggi ran a strategy of playing Sandro Mazzola and Gianni Rivera in each half of matches. They called it the staffeta. Many of the players thought it was bonkers. Rivera always came on for the second half and had actually made more of an impression than Mazzola had in many of the games. The strategy was expected to be the same for the Final.

An attendance of 107,412 filled the Azteca. Interestingly it was about 700 short of the highest for the tournament, Mexico v Belgium in Group One. They were hugely in favour of the South Americans.

The whole event had been a great success for FIFA, especially via televisions around the world. An incredible estimated audience sat down to watch the Final, more than had done for any match in history.

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Brazil began the brighter of the two sides and it wasn’t long before De Sisti left a foot in on Pelé, just to try and soften him up. But of course, the great man had seen it all before and this was his time.

In the build-up to the game, Pelé had struck the figure of complete calm and confidence. But he admitted afterwards to being nervous.

Two minutes in and Riva struck a long-range effort from almost 30 yards out. Unlike nearly every other effort in this tournament, it didn’t balloon over the bar, and Félix was forced into making a smart save to send it over the bar himself.

Soon the game fell into a pattern with Italy adopting their man-to-man marking system with Bertini picking up Pelé.

Zagallo had devised a tactic to combat the Italian marking. They knew Facchetti would stick to Jairzinho, so the wide man played more and more inside. Pelé and Tostão moved across as well so this left space on the right wing. Space available for Carlos Alberto to move into.

Watching it back this seems obvious. On commentary Bobby Moore, summarising for ITV, made the observation as early as 10 minutes in. However, the Italians never either noticed or were worried enough to do anything about it.

15 minutes in and Italy had a golden chance to open the scoring. They’d been awarded a free-kick in a fairly central position about 25 yards out. Mazzola took it and floated it to the far post where Riva had beaten his marker. The Cagliari striker had a free header which Félix did well to tip wide.

Brazil then made progress down the left, with Tostão very influential as he adopted the role more of a winger. Twice he crossed into the six-yard box to see Facchetti clear it. Further evidence of how Brazil were moving their opponents across the park.

The second cross was headed away by the Italian skipper for a throw-in on the left. Tostão took it, Rivellino volleyed it to the edge of the six-yard box where Pelé leapt like a salmon.

In the England game, his prodigious leap led to Banks pulling off one of the greatest saves ever. This time his bullet header beat Albertosi and Brazil had the lead. Fittingly Pelé had scored Brazil’s 100th World Cup goal. 1-0.

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Pelé was lifted up by Jairzinho and another iconic picture was set to the world’s psyche of Pelé with his arm in the air.

Mazzola revealed afterwards he recognised the marking was going wrong. Bertini, a midfield player was supposed to track Pelé with Burgnich, a defender picking up Rivellino. That left them short in midfield and there was a lot of running to do.

Having to come from a goal down would now be a much harder task. Particularly with those extra 30 Semi-Final minutes in their legs.

The Brazilian dominance was such they retained possession for much of the rest of the half. But they were still prone to the odd moment of over-confidence. Four minutes after taking the lead, Brito was far too casual when trying to return a pass to Gérson and Riva nicked it. But the ball ran away from the Italian and Félix was alert enough to come out of his area to clear the ball.

This started a period where Italy came more into the game. One promising move was when Mazzola played the ball into Riva in the area. He backheeled it for Mazzola who’d kept running but Piazza made a last-ditched tackle.

Then with eight minutes to go before the break, after Brazil were again casually knocking the ball around in midfield, Clodoaldo made a huge mistake. Brito headed it to him in his own half just outside the centre circle. His aim was to get the ball out to Everaldo, but he chose to backheel it and Boninsegna saw his chance.

He intercepted the ball, beat Piazza and Brito. As he reached the edge of the box Félix came out, but Boninsegna knocked it past him and then passed it into the open goal. Italy were level. 1-1.

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It was a wonderful moment for the Inter striker. He’d been a late replacement for Pietro Anastasi, who was ruled out through injury. Actually he had appendicitis. Anastasi had scored in their Euro ’68 triumph and was expected to be a key part of Italy’s squad. Big boots to fill. But Boninsegna had performed admirably throughout, scoring in the Semi-Final and now had equalised in a World Cup Final for his country.

Right on half-time, there was an odd moment, especially for the referee. Rivellino was booked for going in hard on Bertini after Tostão had been taken out by Rosato. Brazil won the free-kick and initially the ref, East German Rudi Glöckner, had his red card out but then waved the yellow.

Gérson took the kick, wide on the left, and aimed for the far post. Burgnich misjudged his leap and the ball fell to Pelé, who took it on his chest. Just as he was about to fire it at the goal he stopped. A moment of confusion until everyone realised the ref had blown for half-time. Pelé actually put the ball in the net as he protested. Much of the confusion revolved around the fact there were still some seconds left of the 45. Of course, Brazil would experience similar strange behaviour from a referee eight years later. But that’s for another series.

The game was level at the break and appeared finely poised. But not in the respective dressing rooms. The Italians were tired. They were finding it hard to get the ball off the Brazilians and had to rely on a mistake to get back into it. That’s what gave the Brazilians confidence. Cut out the silly mistakes and the trophy could be theirs.

No subs at half-time, which meant Valcareggi had either changed his mind about the stafetta, or he’d forgotten. Either way, Rivera remained on the bench.

It took Brazil just three minutes to show how dangerous they could be in the second half. Burgnich’s poor clearance when challenging Pelé only went out to Jairzinho on the right. In a move we would see a lot in this half, Carlos Alberto ran round him and the Brazil number seven played him in. He fired it right across the area, beating everyone and Pelé almost turned it in at the far post.

What was dangerous was when Carlos Alberto ran round the back, no one in a blue shirt picked him up.

Brazil were all over Italy now. Pelé had a couple of claims for fouls turned down. Then Rivellino tested the keeper with a long-range free-kick. In the first half, he’d been uncharacteristically wayward with his shooting. The fact he’d now adjusted his sights on the goal would be ominous for the Italians.

Then there was another strange decision from the ref. Gérson looked to play a one-two with Tostão on the edge of the box. Tostão hit his return up in the air and as Pelé looked to head it, Burgnich decided to try a bicycle kick. The Brazilians all appealed for a foul. All this happened inside the penalty box. The ref blew for it, but for some inexplicable reason, he awarded an indirect free-kick.

In the end, Gérson took it but hit it straight at the wall.

Italy immediately attacked and worked the ball from left to right, where Domenghini came in. He got into the area but his shot was deflected just the wrong side of the post by Everaldo with Félix stranded.

It was an odd passage of play. Italy had been penalised for the foul on Pelé, yet an indirect free-kick inside the penalty area with a wall in the way hardly gave them much chance of capitalising. Then Italy were able to counterattack and almost scored.

This signified a spell of three successive free-kicks in a short time just outside the area. Rivellino and Pelé took the first two and blasted them over, but the third one Rivellino took with his right foot and it rattled the crossbar.

There was a fourth soon after as the game descended into a bit of a farce. This one was just to the right of centre and once again Rivellino took it. He blasted it wide of the far post but in his follow through he ran into Riva. He managed to convince the ref he was fouled. Gerson took the next kick but hit it straight at the wall.

The game had become a bit scrappy. Finally, there was a passage of play where the ball was moved around without anyone being kicked. Brazil used both full-backs as Everaldo found Jairzinho in the middle, about 30 yards out. He was tackled by his shadow, Facchetti and the ball ran loose to Gérson. He took it on and hit a fizzing left-foot drive into the opposite corner, giving Albertosi no chance.

It was clinical. Slow-slow-quick-quick and the finish was emphatic. Brazil were back in front. 2-1.

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Cries of ‘Brasil!, Brasil!’ rang round the Azteca.

Pelé was then kicked to the ground twice in quick succession by Domenghini, although his rather theatrical falls belied the talent of the man. The second incident occurred just inside the Brazilian half on the left. Gérson came forward with the ball and floated a long pass to the back post. Pelé got up and headed it down for Jairzinho, who rather clumsily bundled the ball into the net. 3-1.

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He’d scored in every match of the World Cup. Alcides Ghiggia scored in all four Uruguay matches in 1950. Just Fontaine scored in all of France’s six matches in 1958. But Jairzinho became the first man to score in all six games and in every round, including the Final.

Brazil were home and hosed at this stage. The game was played almost exclusively in Italy’s half. Italy knew the game was up now. Brazil walked the ball all over the pitch at will.

Valcareggi eventually made a change but not the one everyone expected. Antonio Juliano, a midfielder from Napoli, came on for his first appearance in the tournament. He’d been in the Euro ’68 winning side. He’d also been in the ’66 squad, without getting a game. He was also in the ’74 squad. In a remarkable international career, he was in three World Cup squads yet only ever got on the pitch once, which was for the last 16 minutes of the 1970 World Cup Final.

With the game long since lost, Valcareggi finally brought on the golden boy, Rivera, but gave him just six minutes to make an impression. For the first time in the tournament, he and Mazzola were on the pitch at the same time.

Within 90 seconds of him coming on Brazil had scored the goal of the tournament. Juliano was dispossessed down the right and what emerged was an exhibition in team play, the like of which few had ever seen.

Juliano ran down the right wing and Tostão tracked him back. After winning possession passed back to Everaldo who found Clodoaldo. He played it to Pelé, who knocked it to Gérson, and he played it back to Clodoaldo. He beat four men in close quarters with a wonderful display of dribbling, before finding Rivellino on the left wing. He played it along the line to Jairzinho who turned and ran at Facchetti. The Italian captain shepherded him onto his right foot allowing him to find Pelé just outside the area. Without looking, Pelé instinctively knew Carlos Alberto would be thundering up on his right. He laid the ball off and the Brazilian captain blasted it into the net. 4-1.

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It was a stunning team goal where all but two of the outfield players had touched the ball. Their tactics had worked, forcing Italy to drift out of position. Jairzinho had hardly spent any time on the right wing and as the Italians had never cottoned on throughout the game, it seemed fitting Carlos Alberto should make them pay the ultimate price.

BBCTV’s commentator, Kenneth Wolstenholme, seemed to particularly enjoy the build-up. As Clodoaldo did his twinkle-toes dribble in the middle of the move, he said;

“Oh this is great stuff. They seem to be taking it in turns to give an exhibition.”

Then as Pelé received the ball from Jairzinho, he saw the ensuing incident;

“Here comes Carlos Alberto on the right. And he’s scored! Ah that was sheer delightful football.”

A phrase as iconic as his “they think it’s all over” from the previous Final.

The game ended a little tamely. The ball was kicked into the crowd and they wouldn’t give it back. Eventually, they did but not before a few supporters got onto the pitch. As Brazil tried to play the game out there literally were ‘some people on the pitch thinking it was all over’. Glöckner finally blew the final whistle and people invaded the pitch. Many of the Brazilians were forced to give up items of their kit just to satisfy the vociferous fans.

All that was left was for Carlos Alberto to lift the Jules Rimet Trophy. An award they would now get to keep forever.

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The tournament had been a huge success for FIFA. A worldwide television audience had been treated to the greatest team goal scored by the greatest team, the greatest save and the greatest game, all in glorious technicolour. No player had been sent off and there were no controversies as there had been in the two previous tournaments. In 1962 with the Battle of Santiago, or in 1966 when Argentine captain, Rattin, refused to leave the pitch after being sent off.

Pelé was able to ride off into the sunset with his perfect World Cup, after the bitter personal disappointments of the previous two. Hopefully, you will have got a sense, reading this day-by-day of how that Brazilian team wasn’t just Pelé. They may not have been as defensively strong as the ’58 side, but they were more potent in attack.

They were led by one of Pelé teammates of ’58, Mario Zagallo. During a time when tactics weren’t a particularly apparent consideration, he had tactically out-thought England, Uruguay and Italy to become the first man to win the World Cup as a player and a coach.

Mexico 70 comes to an end

I hope you have enjoyed following this tournament as much as I have enjoyed writing about it. There’s so much I have discovered I just didn’t know. Being able to refer to Andrew Downie’s book The Greatest Show on Earth: The inside story of the 1970 World Cup has made the whole experience a memorable one.

I’ll need to give some thought to the next series, so watch out for another World Cup day-by-day.

Thanks for reading.