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1982 FIFA World Cup™ – News – Tele and his gods of ’82

  • Brazil’s class of 1982 is considered by many their best-ever side
  • They didn’t win the trophy but they indubitably wowed the world in Spain
  • Coach Tele Santana passed away 15 years ago today

Brazil entered Spain 1982 on a 19-match unbeaten run, having scoring 46 goals and conceded just ten in the process. That sequence included ten successive victories in which, within seven days, they beat England in London, France in Paris and West Germany in Stuttgart.

Did you know?

  • Left-wingback Junior released a samba track, Povo Feliz (Happy People), which was better known as Voa, Canarinho (Fly, Canary-Yellows), shortly before the global finals with composers Memeco and Nono do Jacarezinho. It was a huge hit in Brazil.
  • For the first time ever Brazil included overseas-based players in a World Cup squad: Falcao of Roma and Atletico Madrid’s Dirceu. The likes of Julinho Botelho (Fiorentina), Evaristo de Macedo (Barcelona), Dino Sani, Mazzola (both AC Milan) and Canario (Real Madrid) had previously been excluded.

The Careca KO

Careca hadn’t played for Brazil heading into 1982, but the 21-year-old sensation had meteorically established himself as their first-choice striker by the time Tele Santana named his Spain 1982 squad, starting three of their last four friendlies, including their last two. Then disaster struck three days before it kicked off, when the Guarani player suffered a thigh injury in training and was ruled out of the tournament.

Brazil had a nine-day break between their last match of the first group stage against New Zealand and their first match of the second one against Argentina.

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Brazil 2-1 Soviet Union
Brazil 4-1 Scotland
Brazil 4-0 New Zealand
Argentina 1-3 Brazil
Italy 3-2 Brazil

The coach

“As soon as he came in things changed drastically,” explained Falcao of Tele Santana’s appointment. “Playing for A Seleção became a lot more fun. He wanted us to play intuitively and not systematically. He urged the fullbacks to attack. He didn’t want central midfielders who only knew how to stop the opposition – he wanted ones who knew what to do with the ball. He gave us freedom to try what we wanted. He always wanted us to put on a spectacular show.”

Tele famously said “I’d rather lose playing beautiful football than win playing badly”. Brazil may not have conquered Spain 1982, but they went down as one of the most beloved XIs in history.

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Tele Santana at Spain 1982

© imago images

The stars


He arrived at the World Cup known as ‘The Vespasiano Bomb’ and ‘The Cannon’, billed as the hardest-shooting player in the sport. Eder lived up to that reputation with a ferocious volley against the Soviet Union and by threatening the life of a crossbar against Argentina, which earned him a new nickname: ‘Exocet’ after the French missile. The mercurial left-winger also belied his monikers with one of the most delicate goals the tournament had seen: a palatial chip against Scotland.


Mozart on grass, composer extraordinaire, ‘The Eighth King of Rome’, a precursor to Andrea Pirlo and Xavi, Falcao remains one of the most cerebral midfielders and best passers in history. He also chipped in with three goals in five games in Spain, including a fine equaliser in the 3-2 loss to Italy.


Having someone who would have surely been one of the best No10s in history in the No6 shirt seemingly wasn’t cheating in 1982. Junior – battler, leader and ball-lord – was exceptional in Spain, scoring a superb goal against Argentina after a one-two with Zico and being central to innumerable spellbinding Seleção attacks.


Another man whose astronomical ability belied his position. Leandro and Junior formed arguably the finest fullback pairing in football history – in the rubro-negro of Flamengo and the canarinho of Brazil.

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Utterly unique – in appearance, personality and play – ‘Doctor’ was an immeasurably elegant playmaker. At almost 6ft 4ins, in a trademark headband, he would surgically slice open defences with his through-balls, hypnotise opponents with his feints, and is probably the greatest exponent of the back-heel in football history. He could hit the bullseye with his right boot too – from anywhere, right Rinat Dasayev?


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The god of gods at the apex of arguably the greatest – surely the most thrilling – midfield in football history. Zico was at his electrifying best on Iberian soil. Like Johan Cruyff at Germany 1974, his displays were worthy of gold.

Did you know?

  • On Socrates’ World Cup debut, he captained and scored for Brazil in a 2-1 victory over the Soviet Union in their Spain 1982 curtain-raiser. His brother Rai, on his World Cup debut, captained and scored for Brazil in a 2-0 victory over Russia in their USA 1994 curtain-raiser.
  • Brazil, the only nation to participate in all 21 World Cups, have only scored at least two goals in all their games at one edition: Spain 1982.
  • Tele Santana went on to lead Sao Paulo to back-to-back Intercontinental Cup conquests. Barcelona and AC Milan. Toninho Cerezo, Cafu, Rai and Muller helped inspire an upset of Ronald Koeman, Pep Guardiola, Michael Laudrup, Hristo Stoichkov and Barcelona in 1992, before they sunk Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini, Marcel Desailly, Jean-Pierre Papin and AC Milan the following year.

Zico finished the tournament with eight goals and assists combined (four and four) – more than any other player. He was followed by Pierre Littbarski and Paolo Rossi (seven apiece).

The quotes

“Brazil in ‘82 was the most wonderful national team that ever existed. Junior, Falcao, Socrates, Eder, Zico… so many phenomenal talents playing together. It was truly an extraordinary team.”
Pep Guardiola

“Maradona was up there, but Zico was sensational. You couldn’t even get near enough to foul him.”
Graeme Souness on the best player he ever faced

“Brazil had an unbelievable team. They had magnificent players, they seemed to play telepathically, they had such creative ideas, they could improvise and they had an excellent coach in Tele.”
Cesar Luis Menotti

“The touches, the one-twos, the dribbles… they had so much class it was beyond belief. They never seemed to score a normal goal. I don’t know if they were the best team in history, but nobody has ever played football like they did.”
Alan Rough

“In all my time covering football as a player, coach and journalist, I have never known another team, no matter how well they were playing, not receive some form of criticism. There’s always something. But nobody, nobody said a word against us. It’s because we genuinely played extremely beautiful football.”

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