December 5th, 2011
06:20 PM ET

Socrates – The day a football dream died

Socrates was the captain and lynchpin of Brazil's 1982 World Cup side -- the greatest team never to win the World Cup.
Socrates was the captain and lynchpin of Brazil's 1982 World Cup side -- the greatest team never to win the World Cup.

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.

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Filed under:  Football
soundoff (44 Responses)
  1. Norwind

    "Italy had scored four and had reached the second phase despite not winning a single match"

    Typical of Italy, they play mediocre football until they reach the finals.

    Socrates will live forever !

    December 5, 2011 at 7:07 pm | Reply
  2. damilare victor

    indeed he was a great player in the brazilian team.i love him because of the little history i read concerning the legend

    December 5, 2011 at 7:42 pm | Reply
  3. José Henrique

    Socrates was a doctor, politician and soccer player. He was against the dictatorship, and created the "team democracy" to endorse the movement inside the brazilian soccer and politics.

    December 5, 2011 at 7:55 pm | Reply
  4. Gustavo

    Unfortunately all Brazilian citizens woke up saddest Sunday, we all lost an incredible person that didn't only showed his talent around the world with that amazing Brazilian team in 1982, but a person that fight in favor of our democracy

    He'll always be recognized as one of the greatest talent inside football

    RIP Doctor Socrates.

    December 5, 2011 at 8:11 pm | Reply
  5. Thiago

    O doutor Sócrates foi um grande jogador e um homem extremamente inteligente e apaixonado pelo football, que mesmo formado médico preferiu seguir o sonho de milhões de brasileiros, chegando à seleção. Mas acima de tudo, hoje, Sócrates é um exemplo de que o álcool vicia e pode destruir a vida de um ser humano.

    December 5, 2011 at 8:24 pm | Reply
  6. Harris Eluwah

    Here lies the man who thought me that a well educated person (PHD) can play the round leather game and make more money from it while entertaining the entire world. You're not only a Brazilian hero but my own hero. Rest in the bosom of the Lord. May God give the family fortitude to bear this irreparable loss.

    December 5, 2011 at 8:26 pm | Reply
  7. Fabio

    Thanks, Greg.

    December 5, 2011 at 8:33 pm | Reply
  8. Abo


    December 5, 2011 at 8:38 pm | Reply
  9. Davalfher

    Oh wow... these are very sad news.

    Being 10 years old at the time, I prepared myself with routes to run and ways to celebrate in my house every goal Brazil would score in the final of that 1982 Worldcup, and was cut dry by the usual lucky opportunistic Italian cons.

    So long Socratinho.
    For the fondest child memories watching the best football ever played that I would never forget,
    muito obrigado, para sempre

    December 5, 2011 at 8:39 pm | Reply
  10. Rod

    the most elegant mid-fielder to ever play the game. rest in piece Doctor.

    December 5, 2011 at 9:27 pm | Reply
  11. Omolo

    I was 19 years old in 1982 world cup, and every kenyan was fond the Brazilian team that was so good but never won the cup. Doctor RIP.

    December 5, 2011 at 10:57 pm | Reply
  12. Edmilson Alves - cebion

    I must say that he was one of the best soccer player i have ever seen playing the "game", however we know he had problem with alcohol, drugs and something else. I feel sorry in a way, but i think he took his chances, and unfortenately he died.
    Let be more responsible!!!

    December 5, 2011 at 11:19 pm | Reply
  13. adam gudsell

    I was a young boy of 9 in 82 when my Dad got me up at 5am to watch the all whites run out to a packed house at the Bernabeu to play Brasil. The opposition were football gods from another world. Back then the football world was a smaller more isolated place where different styles and world class players were only exposed to a world stage once every 4 years. I remember being mesmerised that day with the magic that went on. It started a life long love affair for me with the Brasilian team. of all the players the one that stood out for me was Socrates. The name, the look, the charism and style, he had it all. Farewell Doctor, thank you for teaching me what sport in its purest form can mean.

    My wife (also a medical doctor) is expecting our first child next month and we are a bit stuck for names, Maybe it would be fitting if it is a boy that I could squeeze "Socrates" on to the birth certificate somewhere... I will have to talk nicely to her.

    Sadly with money and greed ruling the world game we will never see the likes of that 82 team again. Predominantly all playing in Brasil, one can assume they were able to train and intergrate properly as a team and developed into a unit, the sum of which exceed the vastly talented individual parts.

    The world cup has become a sad parody of what it was. The world melting pot that is European football has removed national styles from the game and it is squeezed around the club season, the result being boring, poor quality football and teams with great players making very bad teams ie England, Argentina, France, Italy in 2010

    December 5, 2011 at 11:23 pm | Reply
  14. Franco Bolevin

    Brilliant article!

    Would love to see the Italy vs Brazil match

    December 5, 2011 at 11:44 pm | Reply
  15. Shanti

    Thanks Socrates ! Corinthians 05th National Championship yesterday was in some parts to " pay cumpliments " for you have done for our team ...go in Peace Doctor !

    December 6, 2011 at 12:35 am | Reply
  16. Alberto Caceres

    Back in 1982, living in a non-futebol country, I could only listen the games on short wave radio. But it was Socrates who invaded the ether. I loved your passioned article Greg.

    December 6, 2011 at 1:47 am | Reply
  17. John Ziba

    OMG!the doctor was so good at 'doctoring'the ball that agter losing to the Italian scandal-driven team,I decided not to watchj any further games of the '82 finals! Such was the team's greatness that I believed that there possibly couldn't be a better team in those finals! And I was right judging from the accolades since and more so now the the maestro Socrates is no more. May His Soul Rest In Eternal Bliss.John Ziba,Lusaka,Zambia.

    December 6, 2011 at 2:14 am | Reply
  18. Jaakoz

    Dr Socrates
    Football lovers in Africa respect and will miss you.

    RIP Doctor.

    December 6, 2011 at 2:18 am | Reply
  19. nonpro

    I have seen the greatest matched in Pattaya,Thailand 1982
    Brasil VS Italy

    thank for spirit – live in peace, The magic in owned styled
    " Socrates "

    December 6, 2011 at 4:33 am | Reply
  20. Biruke Hailemariam Natea

    I didn't forget Socrates .

    December 6, 2011 at 5:11 am | Reply
  21. ELF-IS

    Addiction is a powerful thing. R.I.P. Socrates.

    December 6, 2011 at 6:58 am | Reply
  22. Uzoemezie.

    Thanks Greg for this masterpiece. For long I had wondered, if anyone was going to awaken the spirit of that team that kept the entire world on its feet in 1982, but the of Socrates and your piece did just that. Keep it up Mr. Duke.

    December 6, 2011 at 7:26 am | Reply
  23. john mcintyre

    a legend indeed

    December 6, 2011 at 7:40 am | Reply
  24. Hamoud.SS.Minji

    Brazil world cup national team of 1982 was and will remain to be the greatest team Brazil has ever produced. I don't think we will be able to see one of its kind in the very near future. Socrates was not only brilliant but was also team organizer. Whether we like it or not Socrates name will remain in many peoples heart and can only compared to that of the revolutionalist icon 'Che Guevara"! Rest In Peace pal

    December 6, 2011 at 10:16 am | Reply

    Viva Brazil viva Socrates and thanks for all.

    December 6, 2011 at 10:23 am | Reply
  26. Dr. Cajetan Coelho

    RIP. Long live the memory of Socrates. Wishing strength and courage to all his loved ones. Nice tribute by Greg Duke. Thanks.

    December 6, 2011 at 11:14 am | Reply
  27. anillusion

    No team since then has ever played such beautiful football. The level of individual skill and the quality of some of the goals were outstanding and lightyears ahead of anything you see today. Socrates was the cool head directing the battle. It's a shame that football has deteriorated so much. Most good brazilian players these days are poached by european teams and their skill suffers as they are obliged to play the fast, brutal european way.

    December 6, 2011 at 8:19 pm | Reply
  28. Malyk10

    I received the sad news with rude shock. Memories of his years all started coming back. Soctrates is arguably the finest, most charismatic and highly talented captain Brazil has ever had. Never before has a medical practitioner achieved such an enviable feat in the round leather game. I can still recall his full name till this day. We'll miss him. Adios Dottore Socrates Brasiliero Sampao de Souza Viera de Olivera

    December 7, 2011 at 9:49 am | Reply
  29. Moses

    Dr. Socrates was simply a gazelle on the pitch in 1982. Elegant skillful and unperturbed even when Italy was trying to derail the dream. In fact it took some extraordinay saves from Dino Zoff that day to keep Italy in the match.

    His moves and runs where a beauty to watch, and his command of the field breathtaking. As a young undergraduate that time I lost my appetite and could't eat when Italy won that game. In fact I wept. That was how passionate I was about the Brazilian team and I am still passionate about them today.

    Adieu Dr. Socrates. We don't know whether the likes of you will ever come around for a long time to play the beatifuul game.

    December 7, 2011 at 11:48 am | Reply
  30. messup

    Many factors caused Brazil's soccer to change. The "selecao" would traditionally be offensive, a 5-3-2 type of formation.Secondly, most players were "old school" ball artists, raised early on, to contribute their talents for one club.

    Now, players are bought and sold like so much merchandise. They're expected to be physical and run a full 90 minutes. Gone is artistry, for "futebol forca" (power soccer) like what's played in European leagues.

    The last coach, Dunga, was determined Brazil's "selecao" would be equal physically to Germany or European squads. He had a defensive formation: 4-4-2. Since then Brazil has tinkered with defensive formations to no avail. Running a full 90 minutes, trying to hold on to the ball, and lobbing it forward are throwbacks to England's formation and game of the 50's and 60's.

    Socrates, Zico, Falcao, Cerezo, Pele, Garrincha, Junior, Leandro, Eder were one of a kind...artists.

    December 7, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Reply
  31. Daouameur

    All moroccan poeple loves Socrates style en rithme,he is an inteligent
    person and a verry good player, we called him a firewall because he organise a strong attacke.
    God bless Mr Socrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira,

    December 8, 2011 at 11:22 am | Reply
  32. Yomi Idowu

    This is a most befitting tribute to an elegant soccer star.I was just 25 years old when this lean looking medic mesmerized the world. Brazilian footballers of that age made football look like a drumbeat with elegant cadence thanks to the hub of the team Dr Socrates of blessed memory. Rest in piece.

    December 8, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Reply
  33. Rahzi Iz

    I was 17 during the most entertaining World Cup ever in Spain '82...We Malaysians had to contribute some money to help the national TV, so it can afford to telecast most matches live on tv...and a great many of us did...
    That was the first time we got to see the great Brazilian team of 82 playing exquisite, free-flowing samba football and scoring many beautiful goals..
    Although Zico was the superstar of the team,it was Socrates who stood out the most, with his lanky physique,wily hair and bearded face...He was the captain, and the maestro who controlled the flow of the game, and he did it brilliantly with the help of the other greats like Eder,Falcao,Junior,Cerezo and the rest...
    I was pretty sure that they would win the World Cup...unfortunately, it didn't happen...they lost to the Italians in a great game..
    I could still remember the great sadness of Brazil exiting that World Cup, but at the same time, i still cheerish watching the great display of skills, and the great goals scored by the Brazilian will remain in my heart and mind forever...
    God bless you Socrates and rest in peace...

    December 9, 2011 at 7:33 pm | Reply
  34. Donald

    May his soul rest in the bossom of the lord

    December 9, 2011 at 10:24 pm | Reply
  35. limomanmark

    Thanks for the memories, RIP!!!

    December 18, 2011 at 5:27 am | Reply
  36. john

    What an ARTIST Dr Socrates was ! Like many before and after, he drank too much. Brazil has players that can make up 4 or more world cup teams. Problem with Brazil, many players are given contracts in Europe and other parts of the world; trained from birth as soccer players in Brazilian style, then, after playing for these international teams,having adopted their styles are later called to duty for the Brazilian team.It cannot work.Rubinho is struggling with AC Milan; Ronaldinho did not last. Create a farm and prepare a young team for the world cup.Let the seasoned players make their money overseas. After getting a contract overseas they should not be on the WC team. I need to see the samba skillls again.

    December 19, 2011 at 3:08 am | Reply
  37. khalifa

    1982 was the best team brazil has ever had, not even the days of great Pele. I loved socrates for the penalty kicks. He used to go back just two meter and it's goal. But just to remind you as you have said that you have never seen a team like that. May be you haven't seen Barcelona. This is a team from another planet. Take all brazilian world cup teams, still baca is another level.

    December 19, 2011 at 8:03 pm | Reply
  38. walsmek da silva

    Socrates show the soul of brazilian football, he was a genius.
    Unfortunately the brazilians coach has copied the european style since this defeat. I hope that the brazilian football go back to your origin.
    Socrates will live forever in our hearts!!!!!

    December 24, 2011 at 10:52 am | Reply
  39. dj

    Genius on the field. Burned out drunk off it

    December 28, 2011 at 2:53 am | Reply
  40. Adilson

    Genius!! Undoubtedly genius. The soccer player ahead of his time. God bless you beloved doctor. Your graceful art i'll live forever.

    January 4, 2012 at 12:46 am | Reply
  41. Joaquin

    Khalifa, I am sorry to tell you how wrong you are. Barcelona plays so mechanically that there is no magic there. Magic is what this Brazil team had.

    January 6, 2012 at 4:21 am | Reply
  42. Leonardo

    Watching that Brasil side play in 82 sent my whole country into raptures. Trinidad will miss you, Socrates. R.I.P.

    January 8, 2012 at 5:15 am | Reply
  43. DubTurboi

    Love your website!

    January 9, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Reply
  44. A B THAKUR

    I was in high school in1982, when I first witnessed the 1982 World cup on television. The matches were telecast live well past 12.00 am in India. But , what kept us glued to the TV set was the mesmerising display of football by Socrates and team ( shall we say poetry on display). To this day, the memories are etched forever ,especially of Socrates, whose gliding movement through the field , and of those defence breaking passes, which were a treat to watch. Nothing has been on display of that level of brilliance, aesthetics, and poetry in motion,in world football, till date.

    June 10, 2014 at 6:48 pm | Reply

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