World Cup Countdown: 15 Weeks to Go – Mário Zagallo, Four Times a Winner But Never a Fans’ Favourite


World Cup Countdown: 15 Weeks to Go – Mário Zagallo, Four Times a Winner But Never a Fans’ Favourite:

Here’s your starter for ten: who scored Brazil’s five goals in the 1958 World Cup final? Most football fans should be able to tell you that Pelé got two of them, and a few more learned supporters would know that Vavá also chipped in with a brace. But a lot of people would be stumped as they tried to name the other one.

The forgotten man is Mário Zagallo, whose 68th minute goal gave Brazil a 4-1 lead and settled any remaining nerves. The 25-year-old had only made his debut for Brazil the previous month, but now, on the occasion of his ninth cap, he was a world champion.

A FIFA World Cup final is often the culmination of a career – the reward for years of hard toil. But the 1958 final was different. This was the beginning of Samba football, the beginning of Pelé’s ascent to greatness, and it was also the beginning of Zagallo’s World Cup odyssey.

(You may also be interested in ​’World Cup Countdown: 15 Weeks to Go – The Welsh ‘Gentle Giant’ John Charles’ 1958 Appearance’)

Nowadays, Zagallo is remembered mostly for a statistic. With four World Cup winners’ medals – two as a player, one as manager, one as a coach – the man they called the Little Ant is the most successful man in World Cup history. And yet, when it comes to remembering legends of Brazilian football, his name is usually found far down the list, if at all.

In an article last year, ​Daily Mail reporters were asked to name their favourite Brazilian footballer of all time. Ronaldo, Zico and Garrincha all showed up, as did Juninho, Mirandinha and even Lucas Leiva. Zagallo was nowhere to be found.

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He was one of those players more fondly treasured by his team-mates than by the Brazilian fans or press, who valued flair above all else. Pelé and Vavá may have drawn all the plaudits for their prodigious goalscoring, but Zagallo’s versatility was arguably just as important to the Seleção’s success.

(You may also be interested in ‘​World Cup Countdown: 15 Weeks to Go – The Rise of Pele, the Starlet Who Became the Greatest Ever’) 

“Zagallo was the one who showed the world 4-3-3, who made it clear to all of us that a footballer must have two shirts – a defender’s and an attacker’s,” said one of his compatriots. This was exemplified in the 1958 final, when Zagallo cleared the ball off the goal line at one end just minutes before he scored at the other.

It was only due to an immense stroke of fortune that Zagallo was playing at all. Santos legend Pepe, who famously described himself as “the greatest human striker in the history of Santos – because Pelé is from Saturn”, was Brazil’s first choice to start up front alongside his club mate. A pre-tournament injury meant that his dream ended, and Zagallo’s was born.

Moving from a left wing position to that of a more conventional forward in 1962, Zagallo scored Brazil’s first goal in their opening game against Mexico and remained an ever-present throughout the tournament, which Brazil retained with a 3-1 win over Czechoslovakia in the final.

The Brazilian soccer team poses for a picture, 17

(You may also be interested in ​‘World Cup Countdown: 15 Weeks to Go – How the Munich Air Disaster Ended England’s Chances in 1958’)


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