World Cup Tales: This Little Bird (1962)


Chile, 1962

As in 1930 and 1950, the first World Cup of the 1960s was held in South America, after pressure from the two American federations persuaded FIFA to take the competition back across the Atlantic following consecutive tournaments in Europe. Argentina were the favourites to be awarded hosting rights, but eventually lost out to Chile, with Carlos Dittborn of the Chilean Football Federation pointing to Article 2 of the FIFA statutes, which stated the tournaments role in supporting football in underdeveloped countries. With Chile as hosts and Brazil as holders, a record five South American teams turned out for the tournament, as a spurned Argentina arrived alongside Uruguay and, for the first time, Colombia. A further ten places were taken up by European teams, including debutants Bulgaria, and Mexico completed the line up as the sole North American qualifiers.

Playing on their home continent, Brazil began the competition as favourites, and lived up to their tag as they eased through a group containing Spain, Mexico and group runners-up Czechoslovakia. The most entertaining group of the first round saw both Colombia and Uruguay eliminated by Eastern European representation – the Soviet Union, with the irrepressible Lev Yashin in goal, coming out on top despite Yugoslavia’s 5-0 mauling of Colombia. The hosts squeezed into the quarter finals ahead of Italy thanks to their 2-0 win in one of the most famous matches in World Cup history. ‘The Battle of Santiago’ saw two players expelled from the pitch, multiple punches thrown by both teams, and the intervention of police to prevent a full scale riot. Back in England, BBC Sports anchor David Coleman introduced the match in unforgettable fashion. “What you’re about to see is the most stupid, appalling, disgusting and disgraceful exhibition of football, possibly in the history of the game.” It was the first known case of ‘Things We Don’t Like To See On The Field Of Play (But Secretly We Love Them)’ and, in hindsight, hilarious. Chile’s group was topped by West Germany, by now the ruthless, well-oiled machine we’ve all come to know and loathe, though their journey wouldn’t last much longer.

England were drawn in the ‘Group of Death’ against Argentina, Bulgaria and Hungary, but despite going down to Florian Albert’s goal in the opening game, Alf Ramsey’s side recovered to wallop Argentina and secure second place. The Hungarians, no longer the team of Puskas, Kocsis, and Hidegkut, were still a dangerous prospect, something Bulgaria came to witness in a 6-1 battering. Three of the four group winners were dumped out in the quarter-finals – Chile dispatched the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia dispatched of Hungary before Petar Radaković’s late goal ensured Yugoslavia edged out the Germans. In the other quarter-final England were hoping to upset the holders, who’d been shorn of their prodigious upstart – the 21 year old Pele taken off injured during the group stage. Unfortunately for Ramsey and his team, they hadn’t reckoned with Brazil’s wing wizard.

Manuel Francisco dos Santos was born in the Rio district of Magé in 1933, and from the moment of his birth, he was fighting an uphill struggle. Diagnosed with a crooked spine, a bent right leg, and an abnormally long left leg, ‘Mane’ was raised in poverty. The son of an alcoholic father, he spent his time playing football in his neighbourhood favela and before long caught the attention of Rio’s biggest clubs thanks to his phenomenal dribbling ability. By this time, his sister Rosa had given him the nickname that would follow him for the rest of his life and beyond. Small, fast and delicate looking, her little brother reminded her of a wren, which is why she named him Little Bird or, in Portuguese, Garrincha.

After four years with Pau Grande, Garrincha was snapped up by Botofogo at the age of 19, by which time he had already married and had a child. He would spend the majority of his career with O Glorioso, scoring 245 goals in 614 appearances and wowing supporters with his incredible skills. Of course it was only a matter of time before the national team came calling and, after making his debut in 1955, Garrincha broke into the nation’s hearts at the 1958 World Cup, combining brilliantly with friend and teammate Pele to win the tournament.

After leaving Botafogo in 1965, Garrincha’s life and career began to spiral. His career lasted just seven more years and comprised of short stints with Corinthians, Carioca, Atletico Junior, Flamengo and Olaria, as his lifestyle and personal demons began to overshadow his ability on a football pitch. By now suffering from serious alcohol abuse, Garrincha fled his family home in 1965 to elope with Brazilian singer Elza Soares, leaving his first wife and eight children in abject poverty. In 1969, while driving with his mother-in-law, Garrincha crashed into a lorry and killed his passenger, in one of many serious road accidents. After flitting from affair to affair, his relationship with Soares finally broke down after a domestic dispute resulted in Garrincha hitting his then wife. With no riches to fall back on from his career – he kept his wages bundled in cash under his children’s mattress, only later to discover the notes had been pulped by chronic bedwetting – Garrincha slowly but surely drank himself to death, succumbing to liver cirrhosis in January 1983. Perhaps the very first example of a talented footballer who found himself engaged in a very public battle with very personal problems, Garrincha is still revered by his fellow countrymen. Though his life took dark and tragic turns, he is remembered for his achievements in the prime of his life, and few stand out more than his performances in Chile in 1962.

Brazil’s hopes of retaining the title faded slightly with the loss of Pele, but with Garrincha and Vava spearheading the attack against England, there was still plenty for a young Bobby Moore and co. to be worrying about, though they perhaps weren’t expecting the bow-legged winger to open the scoring with a header just after the half-hour. England quickly responded through Gerry Hitchens, but two second half goals – the first from Vava after Ron Springett had spilled Garrincha’s free-kick and the second a delightful curler into the top corner from Garrincha himself – was enough to see Ramsey’s side on the next plane home. Not content with seeing off England, Garrincha was at his best again in the semi-final, with Chile on the receiving end of another masterclass from the Little Bird. Two first half goals were followed by a double from Vava, and the Selecao were in with a chance of becoming the first team to successfully defend the World Cup.

To do so they’d have to beat a resilient Czechoslovakia side, who’d bested Yugoslavia in the other semi-final thanks to two late goals from Adolf Scherer. Pele was named among the substitutes for the final, but despite falling behind in the opening quarter of an hour to Josef Masopust’s goal, Brazil recovered and ran out 3-1 winners thanks to goals from Amarildo, Zito and Vava and another match-winning performance from The Angel with Bent Legs. Garrincha finished the tournament as top-scorer alongside five other players, and the 1962 tournament will forever be remembered as the peak of his career. A very troubled, but very special talent.


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