1970 Mexico

To Mexico City there came
A Brazilian team of great fame
They showed one and all
So much skill on the ball
It was dubbed as 'the beautiful game'.

After the dreadful 1960s, the World Cup got back in gear in Mexico in 1970, with probably the most complete World Cup performance in its history. Although Brazil had unquestionably the world's best player in Pele, at 29 years old at the height of his powers, this was far from a one man team, with about the half of the team true greats of the game.

What was going on in the world in 1970?

  • Satellite Explorer 1 re-enters the earth's atmosphere after 12 years in orbit
  • Ulrike Meinhof helps Andreas Baader escape and create the Red Army Faction which exists until 1998
  • Thor Heyerdahl sails in papyrus boat Ra II from Morocco, crossing the Atlantic and reaching Barbados two months later
  • Rock stars Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin both die of drug overdoses
  • Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is awarded the Noble prize for literature.

Back to the World Cup – Tournament Facts and Records

FIFA kept the sensible format of 4 groups of 4, with the top 2 from each group going through to the quarter-finals.

  • Gerd Muller top scored with 10, including 2 group stage hatricks
  • Bobby Charlton played the last of his 106 matches for England in the quarter-final against West Germnay
  • Franz Beckenbauer played extra time against Italy in the semi-final with a dislocated shoulder
  • Mario Zagallo became the first World Cup winner as player and coach


Israel, Morocco and El Salvador qualified for the first time. Israel qualified partly by default when North Korea refused to play them, and performed quite well, holding Italy and Sweden to draws in the group. Morocco drew with Bulgaria and led West Germany 1-0 at half time before going down 2-1. But El Salvador finished pointless and goalless in their group and looked throughout like the minnows they were, making their qualification at the expenses of Honduras, which sparked a military conflict, the "football war", seem especially futile.

Heroes and Villains

Hero: Mario Zagallo

It is easy to forget, so technically superior was this Brazil team to all its rivals, that even the great teams need to have an effective coach. Mario Zagallo was appointed team manager as late as March 1970, after the previous incumbent, Joao Saldanha, was sacked following increasingly erratic selections. Zagallo immediately made certain small but vital changes, the most important being to move Rivelino from inside-forward to left-wing, thereby creating space in midfield for Gerson. He also had good fortune in that Tostao recovered from eye operations in time for the World Cup to play in the number 9 shirt alongside Pele.

Whatever his good fortune, Zagallo was the right man for the job and thus became the first man to win the World Cup both as a player (1958 and 1962) and as a coach.

Villain: Alf Ramsey

If Mexico was going to be a difficult venue for a World Cup, then for England the competition was compounded by the xenophobic tendencies of manager, Alf Ramsey. England's 1969 tour to Mexico was supposed to pave the way for a smooth World Cup campaign. But Ramsey embarked on the opposite of a charm offensive, complaining about a band playing outside their hotel in the night, about the non-arrival of a motor-cycle escort, and a jeering crowd at the match. This was not forgotten a year later and the Mexicans laid on even more late night noise to disrupt England's sleep before the match with Brazil.

Furthermore, Ramsey's poor use of substitutes, especially in the quarter-final against West Germany, ceded the advantage in that game. He decimated his midfield, taking off Charlton and Peters and bringing on Bell and Hunter, whilst leaving the struggling Cooper to cope with a fresh German substitute in Grabowski.

All in all, this was an amateur performance from Ramsey when professionalism was needed.

Who should have won but didn't?

Brazil won, beating Italy 4-1 in the final, and really no other team was in the frame. Brazil had a 100% record in this tournament and none of the knoclout matches needed to go to extra time. England gave Brazil their toughest match in the group, when only a Jairzinho goal separated the sides, after England's Jeff Astle and Francis Lee missed a great chances to put England ahead and Gordon Banks had made his exceptional save from Pele.

Brazil continued to play attacking football in the knockout phase, even against the cynics of Uruguay and Italy, which was just as well, with the unsure Felix in goal and a somewhat shaky defence.

Watch highlights of this game, and Brazil's wins over Uruguay in the semi-final and over Italy in the final here.

Quick facts

  • Teams: 16
  • When: 31 May 1970 to 21 June 1970
  • Final: 21 June 1970
  • Matches: 32
  • Goals Scored: 95 (average 3.0 per match)
  • Attendance: 1,603,975 (average 50,124)

Verdict: Good, Bad or Ugly?

A terrific World Cup; it is always gratifying to see the right team win and win well. There were other good moments too, notably the 4-3 semi-final between Italy and West Germany. A minor gripe would be the impact the heat had on the players, but it was the same for everybody and the football quality certainly did not appear to suffer too much.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *