SI Vault
John Mulliken
July 07, 1958
Brazil led the others a not-so-merry dance in the World Soccer Cup—against a lurid background of venturesome young blondes, political wrangles and superartistic football
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July 07, 1958

The Samba No One Could Match

Brazil led the others a not-so-merry dance in the World Soccer Cup—against a lurid background of venturesome young blondes, political wrangles and superartistic football

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Otherwise the qualifying rounds went off fairly well. There was, of course, the tragedy of Italy, which, having twice won the cup, considers herself the traditional favorite. So much so, in fact, that in 1957 the Milan newspaper, Il Giorno, published in full color, over its entire front page, a picture of 11 footballers and the loud caption, "This is the team which goes to Sweden."

Italy had overlooked Northern Ireland, its next opponent. The Italians and Irish played one tied game, which was recorded as "a friendly" (because the Hungarian referee was fogbound and failed to show) but which was one of the roughest international soccer games ever seen. Then Northern Ireland won the replay; Italy was struck with deep sadness and II Giorno with amazement.

When the last 16 teams got to Sweden for the end rounds (14 of which had battled their way through, plus West Germany and Sweden, automatically seeded as cup holder and host nation, respectively), incidents of another nature developed.

It was freely predicted that the fiery Latin Americans might have trouble getting enough rest for the three-week grind to the finals, and on this score the experts were right. The Argentines were mobbed on arrival by dozens of blonde Swedish teenagers, who seem to have clung to their heroes for almost every moment when they were not on the field. The Argentines, champions of South America, won one game, lost two and finished last in their group. And when they got back to Argentina, thousands greeted them with an assortment of stones, boos and rotten vegetables.

The dark villains of Argentina were not alone in getting behind with their sleep. The Mexican manager moved his entire squad from the first to the fifth floor of his hotel, explaining that this made it more difficult for the girls to climb through the windows. Mexico finished at the bottom of Group Three.

One reporter coming home at 2 a.m. in a small town in the south of Sweden where the North Irish were playing amused himself for half an hour by counting the girls climbing out of the windows in the hotel where the boys from Belfast were staying; he counted four before he got bored.

Then some of the fans got into hot water. Wildly enthusiastic West Germans poured into Sweden to cheer "our World Champions." German tourists outside their own country are pretty hard to stomach anyway, but here they have outdone themselves. Continuously drunk, singing arrogantly, flashing money and breaking all speed laws in their Mercedeses, they earned this rebuke in their own Süddeutsche Zeitung: "We too desire one more, even two more, German victories, but we are scared of you, ladies and gentlemen. Even more in victory than in defeat." The editorialist's fears were set at rest when Germany lost to Sweden 3-1 in the semifinals.

Swedish fans were better behaved but wonderfully enthusiastic. The home team always has a definite edge in soccer, and the Swedes are the only ones who have perfected organized cheering. Their deafening "Heja Sverige friskt humoer, det aer det som susen goer, heja, heja, heja [Come on, Sweden, healthy spirits, that is what will do the trick, come on, come on, come on]!" played a major part in taking the team all the way to the final. Needless to say, the Swedes' organized cheering was brought home by a tourist who saw some college football in the U.S.

But the Brazilian fan yielded to nobody in sheer enthusiasm. No one stands for long between him and his team, and that goes for the Brazilians among the 1,800 reporters who covered the games. After the 5-2 win over France in the semifinal, journalists and fans, many wrapped in the Brazilian flag, swarmed down to the dressing room. Access was supposed to be barred immediately after a game, and two guards were put at the door to enforce the rule.

The guards were matched way over their heads. They were knocked down and trampled on. The secretary of the press committee came in to impose discipline and was locked in a closet.

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