Paolo Rossi was Fifa’s official player of the 1982 World Cup in Spain. Few would question his stunning impact. The Golden Ball for best player sat next to the Golden Boot for his six goals; a hat-trick against Brazil, two against Poland in the semi-final, and the opening goal of the final.
You could make a case for fellow World Cup winners Dino Zoff, Marco Tardelli and the gifted Giancarlo Antognoni, who is often overlooked after an injury against Poland robbed him of a place in the final. Brazil’s Socrates and Falcao were in with a shout.
But one man stood out. The man the Brazilians called the “White Pele” – Zico.
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It is not often a player from a team that does not reach even the semi-final can make a genuine claim for being the best player. It is testament to his genius that after 1982, Zico is considered one of the greatest players not to get his hands on the World Cup. Along with Johann Cruyff.
In Spain, he was uniformly brilliant. There was the dummy that led to Eder’s wonderful volley past the Soviet goalkeeper Rinat Dasayev, and the stunning free kick against Scotland.
In the third match, against a modest New Zealand, Zico got even better. First, a wonderful scissor kick from Leandro’s cross to open the scoring on 28 minutes. Then, three minutes later, starting and finishing another mesmerising move for the second. He also set up goals for Falcao and Serginho.
Brazil’s class of ’82 would reach the pinnacle of their brilliance in the 3-1 second-round win over Argentina. It was men against training cones, and Zico was unstoppable. He scored the first and set up Junior’s third.
Zico was leading Brazil to glory, and there seemed nothing anyone could do about it. Then came Italy. His control, turn and pass to set up Socrates’s equaliser was one of the greatest pieces of skill.
Yet, his efforts were in vain. The sheer ineptitude of Brazil’s defending in the 3-2 defeat is still hard to fathom 32 years later.
Mexico ’86 would bring even more heartbreak when Brazil lost the quarter-final on penalties to France.
“Throughout the years, the one player that came closest to me was Zico,” Pele went on to acknowledge later.
He was not exaggerating.
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