Paulo Rossi and the Telê Santana Blues

by | Jul 31, 2020 | Sport

paolo rossi and the tele santana blues

My first ever football wallchart was for the World Cup in 1982.

They were handed out to everyone in my school, which meant all my friends were equally invested in the tournament to come.

This was mainly because we all had some admin duties to take care of, filling in the scores, ensuring each team in each group were correctly positioned.

The right teams progressing to the next phase, the right teams being eliminated.

The chart was big and covered a significant area of my bedroom wall.

At some point it picked up an injury; a slight tear along the middle fold that threatened its very integrity. Mum rescued things with Sellotape, the stationery equivalent of the magic sponge.

The chart was divided into sections, from the first round groups in the top left, working down to a big box at the bottom, reserved for the end of the tournament and the one team left standing.

The cream of the crop, tournament winners: the world champions.

A few days into the tournament, I was pretty certain I already knew who was going into that box.

The Eder Flick and Fan-Club

I was excited to watch Brazil play for a number of reasons.

I’d heard a lot about them in the build up to the tournament, people tended to mention them with a certain reverence that was unlike any other team. On holiday in Majorca, shortly before the tournament, my dad and his friend told tales of the Brazil team of old. Of Pele and the romantic, artful way that they played the game.

This was in Mano’s Bar in Magaluf, who liked to let a duck loose around 11pm each night. For the life of me, I’ve no idea why.

panini world cup 82

Men who looked old before their time; from the bald pate to the lustrous mane. And moustaches galore.

Men with exotic names. Dino Zoff, Karlheinz Förster , Daniel Passarella or Paul Mariner.

Marco Tardelli , an Italian that just sounded so good to say when pretending to commentate . Rivalled only in its five syllabled beauty by Telê Santana, the Kojak-sounding manager of the Brazilians.

The Brazilian players , however, all seemed to go by singular names: Falcao , Oscar, Junior, Socrates and Zico.

Then there was Eder.

Brazil played it differently, with a fluidity that made it look like a dance routine. Rangy footballers, in gold shirts and tight blue shorts, gliding over the grass, caressing the ball in short patterns of passing, before unleashing a shot from nowhere.

Across the team, there was a nonchalant skill, an easy, instinctive control of the ball and a sense of joy and revelry in their own talent.

For all the build-up, all the hype, all the exuberance in their early play, they were losing and time was moving on.

They attacked relentlessly, searching for an equaliser. Slick moves and deft touches to open the defence, rasping shots from Zico , Falcao and Eder. Finally, the breakthrough, Socrates, skipping past two defenders, a searing shot past Dasayev in the Soviet goal.

There was something quite outrageous about it. The audacity, in the heat of a high-intensity match, in front of a global audience, to score in that fashion. The laconic leave from Socrates, the flick and volley from Eder.

Everyone knew who they’d be emulating in the playground the next day.

The Samba Procession

Four years later, kids from around the world would be temporarily seduced by the unlikely elegance of the Danish football team. How they passed their way through teams, their seeming unbeatable brilliance in the early stages of the tournament, and their iconic red and white Hummel kit.

In 1982, however, the world seemed enchanted by Brazil and the artistry of their play.

Scotland and New Zealand were swept aside, 4–1 and 4–0 respectively. The goals were sublime, the play from Zico, Eder et al, on another level. Matches you didn’t want to end.

The Spain World Cup had a unique format, never used before and never to be repeated. Of the 24 teams to start, 12 would progress to four groups of three teams. The four group winners would move onto the semi-finals, everyone else would go home.

Brazil were in a group with Italy and South American rivals, Argentina, who they would play first.

It was another masterclass in the Spanish sunshine. Goals from Zico, Serginho and Junior easing them to a 3–1 win.

I pencilled their name into one of the semi-final boxes on my wallchart. They only needed to draw against Italy to progress.

Almost forty years on, the game remains vivid in the mind. One of the truly great matches ever played.

Brazil were, well they were Brazil. They played the way they had played all tournament, a Samba-inspired demonstration of the game at its most beautiful.

Italy, pragmatic, stubborn and aggressive, yet not without their own style and class, proved an opposite yet very much an equal.

Rossi put Italy in front, Socrates levelled soon after. The match ebbed and flowed. I watched at a friend’s house, having tea there after school. A sunny summer evening in Cardiff.

Rossi scored again. Like the Soviet’s before, Brazil responded with attack after relentless attack. Passing and moving, fluid motion in search of gaps in the defence. Times they came close. Other times they were shut down.

Telê Santana was shown in the dugout, the man destined to lead Brazil back to the pinnacle, looking concerned. His name captioned on the screen in wavering white lettering. John Motson providing the narrative, as though talking through a phone with a faulty line.

Brazil were behind to Rossi’s goals and unable to breach the blue wall before them.

And then Falcao scored.

A powerful drive from the edge of the box, he peeled away with arms aloft, an impassioned release of emotion, an uncontrolled cry that distorted his entire face.

The breakthrough, the pathway to the semi-final and certain World Cup glory.

It was a glory that lasted six minutes.

Paulo Rossi stole in for his hat-trick, Italy’s third and a crucial, crushing final blow for Santana and his team.

Later, I rubbed Brazil’s name from the semi-final box, wrote in Italy’s in blue ink. The wallchart was stowed under my bed for years to come, the blemish beneath the name of the eventual champions, never fully erased.

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