December 5, 2011
Posted: 1820 GMT
The anticipation prior to the 1982 World Cup finals tournament in Spain was electric.
Were the rumors true? Did Brazil really have a team to match the great 1970 World Cup-winning side? Could 12 years of hurt be finally over with the "Class of '82" living up to the hype by taking the trophy back to Brazil for a fourth time?
Since transfixing the world in Mexico, Brazil had suffered a relative slump in fortunes - out-played by the Dutch "Total Football" in 1974, and the goal-difference victims of Argentina’s highly-dubious 6-0 success over Peru in 1978.
But this was the team that would change all that, a team playing football from another planet.
I sat transfixed to my TV set during that summer of 1982. Wide-eyed, impressionable, and simply in awe as the Soviet Union, Scotland and New Zealand were brushed aside in the group stage.
I had never seen football played this way, and I never have since.
Every goal they scored was a masterpiece, perfectly created and superbly executed. The team played with a carefree abandon and it didn’t matter that perhaps they were not strong defensively. Who cared? They would just score more goals than their opposition anyway.
The full-backs, Leandro and Junior, bombed forward at the speed of light, with Cerezo a stubborn rock as the holding midfielder.
Irrepressible left-winger Eder, and Falcao on the right, possessed samba skills and quick feet that simply bamboozled defenses, with striker Zico the heir-apparent to Pele at No. 10.
And conducting the orchestra? Socrates. Tall, thin and simply brilliant, gliding across the turf with a poise and style that only the great Zinedine Zidane has matched in modern times.
Socrates was the fulcrum, the playmaker – the ball went through him at all times. He was the man who would follow Carlos Alberto to become the next Brazilian to lift the World Cup.
It was Socrates who skipped past two challenges before letting fly from the edge of the box against the Soviet Union.
It was Socrates whose surging run led to Eder’s beautiful lob against Scotland, and it was Socrates who laid a perfectly-weighted pass into Falcao’s path for the fourth goal in the same match.
In a team jam-packed with special talents, his star shone the brightest.
Next up, the second group phase. Football fate had pitted Brazil, Argentina and Italy together, three of the six world champions in the same section.
Italy had already beaten Argentina and now it was Brazil’s turn to face their South American rivals and exorcise the ghosts of the 1978 tournament.
They did it in style, thumping the world champions 3-1 as a young, bushy-haired Diego Maradona saw red with five minutes to go for a crude kick at a Brazilian defender.
So Brazil against Italy for a semifinal place. Brazil had scored 13 goals in four games, Italy had scored four and had reached the second phase despite not winning a single match.
What followed was one of the greatest games of football the world has ever seen.
After Paolo Rossi had given Italy the lead, Socrates took center stage again. Bursting through from midfield, he raced onto Zico’s pass to slide the ball past Dino Zoff from an acute angle.
The goals kept coming. Rossi again (2-1 Italy), Falcao with a screamer from the edge of the box (2-2).
A draw was all Brazil needed to reach the semifinals, but Rossi - who had been embroiled in a match-fixing scandal along with several of his Italy teammates prior to the tournament -– would not be denied.
More lax Brazilian defending gave the striker his hat-trick with 16 minutes remaining. Italy had won, Brazil were out, unbelievably.
The gods of football couldn’t defend for toffee – they didn’t need to, they would just score more goals than their opposition. But the wily Italians blew that theory out of the water.
However, Brazil’s "Class of '82" had left their mark on the world of football. It didn’t matter about the result, what mattered was they had taken the game to a new level.
The beautiful pictures painted by the most talented group of players I have ever seen will remain with me forever.
Cerezo, Junior, Leandro, Falcao, Eder, Zico and the maestro Socrates. The greatest team never to win the World Cup.
Thanks for the memories Socrates. Your genius will never be forgotten.