Mexico 70: Tostao and how ‘the little coin’ battled back from nearly losing his sight to win the 1970 World Cup

Tostao Mexico 70 1970 World Cup

It’s a commonly held belief the Brazil World Cup team in 1970 was one of the best ever assembled. It was a time when a number of contributing factors came together at the same time to produce this superstar team. Pelé, Gerson, Rivellino, Jairzinho, Clodoaldo, the names trip off the tongue. But one of the important factors was Tostão.

Eduardo Goncalves de Andrade was given the nickname ‘Tostão’ from the age of six. It means ‘little coin’ and legend has it he scored 47 goals in one game for his primary school.

Born in Belo Horizonte, he made his professional debut at the age of 15 for América Mineiro and eventually moving to Cruzeiro. This was where he made his name.

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Initially a central midfielder, he had goals in him. He was Campeonato Mineiro’s top scorer three seasons running. His 249 goals remains the record for the club.

He was called up by his country just before the 1966 World Cup when Chile arrived in São Paulo for a friendly in May. Three weeks later he scored his first international goals when he hit a double in a 4-1 win over Poland at his home ground. He scored again three days later when they beat Peru at the Maracaña.

Pelé was missing from these matches, but it wasn’t long before Tostão got to see him up close when he came on for the great man against Czechoslovakia.

The young hopeful impressed enough to be included in the World Cup squad. He lined up alongside Pelé for the first time in a Brazil shirt when they stopped off in Sweden for some warm-up matches.

Wearing the number nine with his hero in the famous 10 shirt, Tostão scored twice in Gothenburg. It was his sixth cap and his goal tally was now five.

Tostão only got on the pitch once in England, but he made it count with a goal in the defeat to Hungary.

The tournament was a huge disappointment for a nation looking to win their third successive title, and crucially overhaul their neighbours, & fiercest rivals, Uruguay. Pelé was kicked out of it by some violent challenges. No substitutes in those days so there was a huge advantage to nobble a star player.

Back home and licking their wounds, Brazil now made plans for a renewed attempt on the World Cup summit in Mexico four years later. Tostão was now a regular. During 1968 he scored eight times.

When England visited the Maracaña in the summer of ’69 he was on target as they came from behind to beat the world champions.

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By then João Saldanha was the head coach and a big supporter of Toståo. Qualification for Mexico ’70 was in full swing and Tostão was Saldanha’s diamond.

A double home and away against Colombia and hat-tricks in both meetings with Venezuela gave him 10 goals in six matches as they breezed through. Pelé, helped himself to six goals as they looked unstoppable.

But then his world did stop.

Towards the end of 1969, Tostão suffered a detached retina after a ball hit him in the face against Corinthians. There was the very real concern his career was over and he may never regain sight in that eye again. He had surgery in Houston but for months he was unable to run, tackle or head a ball.

During this time there was a huge power tug-of-war at the top of Brazilian football which threatened to derail their world domination.

Saldanha had been a player at Botafogo. When his playing career ended he moved into journalism and became one of the foremost writers in the country. There are rumours João Havelange appointed him as national coach in a bid to make sure the media were more positive about the national side.

Were they going to criticise a team managed by one of their own?

The media wasn’t where Saldanha had enemies, though. In the grips of a military dictatorship, Brazil was one of many South American nations extremely suspicious of communism. It was suggested Saldanha was a member of the communist party, then an illegal organisation.

The issue for the coach was how the President, Emilio Garrastazu Médici, had his favourite players. One player in particular was Dario (or Dadá, as he was often known), a striker with Atlético Mineiro. When it was suggested to Saldanha Médici had some selection suggestions, he countered with his own suggestions for changes he’d like to see in Brazilian politics.

Worse was to follow from Saldanha as began to question Pelé’s place in the team, claiming Brazil’s star player’s eyesight could prevent him from taking part in Mexico.

It wasn’t long before he was relieved of his duties in March 1970. Three months before the tournament kicked off.

Desperately needing the right candidate, the Brazilian FA plumped for national hero, Mário Zagallo. Zagallo was an important member of the team that gave the country their very first World Cup in 1958 and retained it in 1962. He was the coach of Botafogo at the time.

Zagallo was seen as a safe pair of hands. Perhaps not as noted for his political nous as Saldanha should’ve been, it wasn’t long before Dadá was included in the squad.

This might’ve been okay with the politicians but not all Zagallo’s views were acceptable to the public. He was fairly suspicious of Tostão as he didn’t really know him.

When Zagallo came in he originally told Tostão he would be Pelé’s reserve. But in the warm-up games, Tostão performed so well he was to be used in a forward role.

Traditionally, teams would play with two up front, or maybe one with two wide players. The formation Zagallo favoured had Pelé in a slightly withdrawn role, more a ‘number 10’ as we know it today. This allowed Jairzinho on the right and Tostão on the left, to provide the width and attacking threat. With teams concentrating almost exclusively on stopping Pelé, the other two were given far too much space to cause chaos.

But in the build-up to the tournament there were still concerns over Tostão health and fitness as Pelé explained in Andrew Downie’s book The Greatest Show on Earth;

“I had a particular concern in this World Cup. It was Tostão. When we spoke to [him] we could see that he was worried about the eye that had been operated on. He didn’t head the ball in training and we were worried, it shocked us all. I was afraid that he would be worried during the games like he was in training.”

The player himself backed this up;

“For months I was totally side-lined, reading, resting. The restrictions diminished over time. I couldn’t travel by car because it could shake, I couldn’t use this or that, I couldn’t run. So it was a difficult time, and there was a lot of uncertainty. And to make it worse, 10 or 15 days before the World Cup started, Zagallo changed his mind about having me start. He said he wanted Dario or Roberto (Roberto Miranda of Botafogo). Then he saw that they weren’t players who could play alongside Pelé and Gérson and he stuck me in a different position from where I played for Cruzeiro. I remember it even today, the doubts were killing him and we had a training match against a Mexican team but I played alongside Pelé and Gerson. We played this game and everyone was over the moon. So the game ended and Zagallo came up to me with a big smile and said ‘You’re going to play’

It’s likely the game he is referring to was against Deportivo León where Brazil won 5-2. Pelé scored twice with Tostão also scoring. But things were far from straightforward as the tournament drew closer.

“A few days after that, when I was at my best, to complicate matters and make them more dramatic, a haemorrhage appeared in my eye; it was a red conjunctivitis, just like a blood clot. The doctor from Houston came down to examine me at the concentracão. We were in Guanajuato, which was a long way from Mexico City, and he spent all day driving up in his car. He examined me and said ‘No, it’s just conjunctivitis. The internal surgery, the retina, is intact, it’s cured and it’s back to normal so there’s no problem.’ But even then there was a big kerfuffle, the team doctor, the backroom staff, the coach, all of them, they had a team meeting to decide whether they could trust the word of the doctor”

In the end, they decided to go with the medical opinion.

When talking about his change in role, Tostão expanded;

Young people who watch tapes of the selecão in the 1970 World Cup see me as a centre-forward who played further forward than Pelé. The truth is I never played that way with Cruzeiro. In actual fact, that was an adaptation because I couldn’t play in Pelé’s position. I would have had to be his reserve and so I said, ‘No, in order not to be his reserve I am going to adapt my game.’ So I learned a new role. But my real position at Cruzeiro was as an attacking midfielder. We agreed that I would play behind the opposing back four. That means I sacrificed myself individually to play close to the libero so he would have to mark me. For example, with the goals Brazil scores the libero should have provided cover but he didn’t because he was marking me.”

Goalkeeper Felix added his own view;

“For me, Tostão was tactically the best player in the team. Tostão kept two players occupied, and that left Pelé free to do what he wanted, the best player in the world, that way he does things, so it was all over, man!”

Tostão has later said of his partnership with Pelé that both had a similar vision to the way they wanted to play, the difference with Pelé was that he was able to execute this vision.

During the Mexico tournament, there are countless examples of Tostão pulling defenders away from the centre, allowing space for Pelé and Jairzinho. Jair scored in every game. Pelé had the space and freedom he’d only dreamed of in previous tournaments. So much so, he was able to produce moments of brilliance seen for the first time in glorious technicolour around the world.

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One of the best examples of his influence came in the crucial game against England. Brazil feared the world champions more than any other team in the competition. They were compact, disciplined, well-drilled and very good defensively. This game was considered ‘the final’ by both teams.

Team sports such as football are all about manoeuvring the opposition where you want them, to create space for you to exploit. During the first half, England had been resolute, patient and hard to break down.

Pelé said at the time England had the best defence and Brazil, the best attack. On the hour Tostão was instrumental in creating the move which decided the game. You could argue it decided the World Cup.

The move began on the right with Carlos Alberto. Jairzinho made a run down the right, taking Cooper with him. The Brazilian skipper chose to look left and found Tostão, always a willing outlet. He controlled it, turned onto his left foot and hit a shot which Labone blocked.

The ball bounced back out allowing the Cruzeiro man to retrieve it. Always on the move he played it to the left where Paulo Cesar drew Tommy Wright towards him. Tostão offered himself and once he had the ball he sensed Alan Ball closing in. He forearmed Ball, a challenge which would probably have ruled the goal out today, and moved towards the left-hand edge of the area.

Bobby Moore was next to challenge. With beautiful close control, Tostão nutmeged possibly the greatest defender on the planet. He went round Moore and then skipped passed Wright. But Moore wasn’t finished and was soon back at the Brazilian’s heels. He turned back round and in one move hooked the ball, right-footed, to where he knew Pelé would be.

The Brazilian talisman was just near the penalty spot. The thing about Pelé was that time seemed to stand still when he received the ball in that position. His mind was always way ahead of everyone else, and he was the coolest dude on the pitch.

Almost without looking he immediately laid it off to where he knew Jairzinho will be. The Brazilian number seven took one touch to create the angle, then fired the ball into the roof of the net.

It was an attack which was fast, energetic and clinical. Brazil had their lead and all they needed to do was hold onto it. Despite England’s best efforts, they managed to do just that. Now they knew the door to the Final was wide open.

Tostão went through the group stage creating chances but was yet to hit the target himself.

As soon as the knockout stage got underway he was in his element. He picked the Peruvian’s pocket as he and Rivellino combined to see him beat the keeper on the near post. In the second half, he doubled his tally from close range after the keeper had parried Pelé’s shot.

In the Semi-Final against the arch-enemy, Uruguay, he created the chance for Clodoaldo to level the score.

The first half of this game was the only chink in the Brazilian armour. For half an hour they were awful. They didn’t seem to be able to pass the ball properly, they were hesitant, and definitely off colour.

It was Gérson who hit upon the solution. Noticing he was heavily marked, he swapped positions with Clodoaldo. Just before the break the swap paid dividends.

Clodoaldo made a forward run on the left of midfield. Tostão was hugging the left touchline. Clodoaldo played it out to him then sprinted into the area. Tostão waited just long enough before making the perfect pass ahead of the Brazilian number eight. Clodoaldo didn’t need to break stride he just thumped it in.

He was the perfect outlet too for Brazil taking the lead. It was a rapid counter-attack begun in his own half by Jairzinho. Pelé again knew where Tostão would be when he laid the ball off, without looking, into his path. As Jairzinho was haring down the pitch, he held on just long enough to allow him to hit top speed.

He played the ball in between two defenders allowing Jairzinho to get ahead of his marker and beat the keeper.

The Final has gone down in legend. If their first-half performance against Uruguay was abysmal, their whole 90 minutes against Italy was near perfect.

19 goals in six matches and Brazil were generally considered to be the greatest team at the greatest show the world had ever seen.

Tostão gave his winners’ medal and his shirt to the man who operated on his eye, Dr Roberto Abdalla Moura. Moura had stayed on in Mexico throughout the tournament.

Tostão then revealed how the doctor helped Brazil in more ways than just get one of their stars fit for the tournament.

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As they were preparing for the England game they were concerned the Estadio Jalisco in Guadalajara was going to be boiling hot as the game kicked off midday. The stadium was good, but there was only electricity in one dressing room.

That evening as the players had gone to their rooms, the doctor was one of four people, musketeers he called them, who made their way, secretly over to the stadium.

“They woke up the security guards and after explaining what was going on, they were let in to grab the ideal dressing room, with their Brazilian flag and all that. The result was that in the infernal heat the English team didn’t even go into the dressing rooms at half-time. They say the World Cup is won with tiny details and we proudly felt like we contributed to the victory.”

It’s fair to say it’s not quite true England didn’t go to the dressing room at half-time. Several players have spoken of how the non-playing members of the squad were helping out by filling towels with ice.

One abiding memory for many of that game was how England were made to wait out on the pitch for Brazil to emerge for the second half. It was all part of the mind games.

In 1972 Tostão became the most expensive player in Brazil when he signed for Vasco da Gama. But at the age of 27, he was forced to retire as his sight problems resurfaced.

He played his 54th and final match for Brazil in July 1972 in a 1-0 win over Portugal at the Maracaña. In all, he scored 32 goals for his country.

Given his eyesight issues, his country, and the world, were lucky to see his contribution to one of the finest teams the world has ever seen.