The playful approach, the spontaneity and flamboyance and those glorious yellow shirts. Brazil’s exploits on the global stage have set an unattainable benchmark for the rest fo the world.
In the long and storied history of the World Cup there has never been an edition without Brazil, almost as if the competition isn’t worth having without the Seleção.
In the nine decades since the tournament’s inception no team has won more games, scored more goals and, crucially, claimed more titles than Brazil.
Yet, while images of audacious flicks and tricks in airports or Pele toying with an opponent are some of the first which spring to mind when Brazil’s pedigree crops up, the nation’s five triumphs don’t sit on the same glorious pedestal of success.
After Brazil’s captain Dunga has just fulfilled a childhood dream of lifting aloft the World Cup trophy, ending his nation’s 24-year drought, the joy coursing through his body swiftly turns to indignation and rage.
With the golden trophy still firmly in his grasp, Dunga turned to the sea of photographers, screaming: “This is for you, you treacherous b*******! What do you say now? C’mon, take the pictures, you bunch of treacherous motherf******! It’s for you!”
This outburst came in response to the widespread public disapproval of Brazil’s supposed physical and robust approach.
In the searing heat of an American summer Brazil laboured through the knock-out rounds before playing out the first (and so far only) goalless World Cup final over 120 minutes against Italy. Eventually winning on penalties thanks to Roberto Baggio’s miss.
Despite the backlash, Brazil’s coach Carlos Alberto Parreira was steadfast in his resolve. “Although most of the Brazilian and international press were always criticising my philosophy, I stuck by my ideas and my principles. It feels great because, like Frank Sinatra in that song, I did it my way.”
Few players in the history of the World Cup have defined a tournament to the same extent as Garrincha in 1962. The unplayable winger finished as top scorer and was retroactively voted player of the tournament – one of only three men to nab both accolades and lift the cup.
This particular year’s triumph can often get swept up in the run of three tournament victories in 12 years (oh, what problems to have) but Garrincha and his bamboozling, unpredictable dribbling drove Brazil – without an injured Pele – to the title.
However, the victory may be tinged by a sense of injustice as some shadowy, behind-the-scenes machinations ensured that the suspended Garrincha (who was red-carded in the semi-final) was allowed to play in the showpiece.
For the first time since 1958, Brazil were deemed outsiders going into the World Cup. With Luiz Felipe Scolari and his famed negativity at the helm, some thought this would be a less successful repeat of 1994.
Things paned out a little different. Brazil were attacking and care-free as they won all seven games. The side boasted an unrivalled three-pronged attack of Ronaldinho sitting behind Rivaldo and Ronaldo at the sharp end of a 3-4-1-2.
The most high profile member of the ‘three Rs’ was Ronaldo. The tournament’s top scorer had suffered two career-threatening knee injuries in the years leading up to that summer and wasn’t fully fit going into Brazil’s opening games.
Nevertheless, he enjoyed a sensational individual campaign, netting eight goals (including two in the final) as completed a remarkable, personal comeback. The Brazilian publication O Globo poetically summed up his return: “He is the first mortal who has been able to go back in time to rectify his own biography.”
The importance of the 1958 triumph is drastically heightened by the pain Brazil still felt after squandering the chance to claim the 1950 World Cup on home soil.
So as to avoid another humiliation, Brazil prepared meticulously for the tournament, taking a backroom staff which included a doctor, a dentist, a treasurer and psychologist.
Officials visited 25 different locations in Sweden before selecting a training base and then had all 25 female staff at that hotel replaced with men to avoid potential distractions.
Tears were shed across the nation following the 1950 failure and, supposedly, at the sight of his father crying, a nine-year-old Pele promised to win him the trophy which had slipped their grasp.
Eight years later the 17-year-old wonderkid announced himself on the global stage by fulfilling that promise.
The crunchy, fuzzy images of Brazil’s yellow-shirted icons knocking the ball around the pitch, effortlessly tormenting the panting and disheartened Italians, has descended into footballing folklore as the pinnacle of the beautiful game.
Under the beating summer sun and with the Mexican altitude, this was perhaps the last time there was real space to be exploited at the highest level, before medical advances saw co-ordinated pressing become feasible.
That Brazil team, whose first-choice XI reads like the roll call of the footballing hall of fame, sit alone in the pantheon of greats and may never encounter a deserved equal.