Brazil and England were at the meridian of their might heading into the 1970 FIFA World Cup Mexico™. The latter were the reigning champions and had, consensually, an even better side than the one that conquered four years earlier, with Alan Mullery and Francis Lee now complimenting goalkeeper Gordon Banks, centre-back Bobby Moore and attacking midfielder Bobby Charlton; a trio widely regarded as the world’s best players in their respective positions. The former, who had won the 1958 and 1962 editions, boasted a team saturated by the genius of Rivelino, Jairzinho, Pele and Tostao.
A Seleção versus the Three Lions would have made a dream Final. Destiny, however, dictated that they would collide in their second Group 3 encounter, in a mega-match that would all but guarantee the victors a quarter-final place.
It was the country that gave birth to football against the one that cultivated its own inimitable style of the sport. It was Europe against South America. It was the world’s most impregnable team against its most prolific.
It transpired to be a game that involved a plethora of exceptional moments, including one of the finest tackles ever witnessed, a save popularly considered as the finest in history, innumerable spectator-wowing tricks, a sublime, solitary goal and an inconceivable, fatal miss. It was a game that categorically fulfilled its colossal expectations.
7 June 1970, Estadio Jalisco, Guadalajara, Mexico
Brazil 1-0 England
Scorer: Jairzinho (BRA) 59’.
Brazil: Felix; Carlos Alberto, Brito, Wilson Piazza, Everaldo; Clodoaldo, Rivelino, Paul Cesar Caju; Jairzinho, Pele, Tostao (Roberto Miranda).
England: Gordon Banks; Tommy Wright, Bobby Moore, Brian Labone, Terry Cooper; Alan Ball, Alan Mullery, Bobby Charlton (Colin Bell), Martin Peters; Francis Lee (Jeff Astle), Geoff Hurst.
A Geoff Hurst goal proved enough for England to beat Romania in their curtain-raiser, while Brazil overwhelmed Czechoslovakia 4-1. Those results meant that the winners of the showdown would effectively seal qualification to the knockout phase.
The two teams entered the pitch under searing heat and in front of 66,843 spectators convinced they were set to witness a classic. The early action vindicated that supposition.
England started brightly, with the vision of Mullery and Charlton impressing. The former combined with Geoff Hurst to set up Martin Peters, whose firm strike from the edge of the box was gathered by Felix, before a right-touchline cross from Tommy Wright almost left the questionably positioned Brazilian goalkeeper red-faced.
Mario Zagallo’s side came closer to breaking the deadlock minutes later. Carlos Alberto's masterfully weighted through-ball sent Jairzinho galloping down the right flank, and after skipping around the challenge of Terry Cooper, he delivered a pinpoint cross towards Pele, who was eight yards out.
The Brazil No10 generated power and precision on his downward header and everybody inside the Estadio Jalisco thought he had opened the scoring - everybody except Gordon Banks, that is. The England goalkeeper hurtled himself down to his right and, somehow, managed to claw the ball round his post with his outstretched arm.
Paulo Cesar, deputising for the injured Gerson, was next to try his luck, cutting in from the left, playing a one-two with Tostao and thumping the ball over the crossbar. The lively Francis Lee then spurned a glorious chance to put England in front, his stooping header from seven yards saved by Felix, and there was still time for Charlton to fizz a low drive just wide of the post before the referee brought a riveting first 45 minutes to a close.
Brazil immediately seized the initiative upon the restart. A Paulo Cesar strike from distance brought a neat save from Banks, before Rivelino feinted his way past two opponents and a produced a trademark thunderbolt, which the Stoke City custodian did well to parry to safety.
Just when it was looking as if Banks was invincible, A Seleção made the breakthrough thanks to a masterclass in teamwork just shy of the hour mark. Tostao exchanged passes with Paulo Cesar, shrugged off Alan Ball, nutmegged Moore, skinned Wright, swivelled and chipped the ball into the feet of Pele, who was centrally positioned in a congested area. Three England players charged at the No10, who coolly poked the ball into the path of the charging Jairzinho. O Furacão took a touch and, with Banks diving at his feet, smashed the ball over the England goalkeeper and into the net.
England refused to accept defeat, with only a smart interception by Wilson Piazza denying Hurst a run on goal and Charlton firing wide from the edge of the box. Danger loomed, however, when Jairiznho collected possession on the right touchline and charged goalwards. The explosive No7 raced into penalty box, but a back-pedalling Moore executed an impeccable sliding challenge to halt his foe.
The Three Lions needed a slice of luck and they found it when Everaldo’s miscued clearance fell perfectly into the path of substitute Jeff Astle, nine yards out. A goal appeared a formality. By contrast, a miss that will decorate highlight reels for eternity transpired, with the West Bromwich Albion attacker slicing the ball wide.
Opportunities continued to flow in the last ten minutes. Alan Ball’s fine strike beat Felix but cannoned against the crossbar and over, and the same player’s composure deceived him when Felix left his goal unmanned moments later. At the other end, Paulo Cesar and Roberto Miranda called the excellent Banks into action, before Pele’s audacious chip was slightly overhit.
It would be the last of several misses in a match that proved an absolute and unforgettable hit.
What happened next...
England beat Czechoslovakia 1-0 to advance from the first phase as runners-up in their pool, but suffered a blow prior to the kick-off of their quarter-final with West Germany when Banks was ruled out through food poisoning. They nevertheless dominated the first hour, and led 2-0, before Franz Beckenbauer inspired the Helmut Schon’s team, aided by a mistake by deputising goalkeeper from Peter Bonetti, to a 3-2 victory after extra time.
Brazil edged Romania 3-2 in their last group game, before beating a formidable Peru 4-2 in the last eight. A Seleção overcame Uruguay 3-1 to march into the decider, where they beat Italy 4-1 with the most exhilarating FIFA World Cup Final performance of all time.
“The England match was our toughest test,” said Zagallo afterwards. “That was the real Final,” Had Brazil not edged it, they may never have gone on to become sanctified as ‘The Beautiful Team’ or popularly regarded as the greatest side in history.