None of this, however, should make us forget the often colorful and occasionally magnificent soccer we witnessed. The 16 nations were divided into four groups of four which played each other once. From them eventually emerged four for straight semifinals and finals, with the two defeated semifinalists meeting for third ranking.
Somewhat sad was the downfall of England, the spiritual home of soccer. But the English did have the satisfaction of holding Brazil to a 0-0 tie and were the only ones who managed to stop the wondermen from South America. Nevertheless, Brazil was the victor in this group, beating Austria, Soviet Russia and Wales. Germany's biggest triumph was the 3-1 win over Argentina. Sweden was the third semifinalist and France the fourth.
The French turned out to be the most underrated players in the tournament. They developed a brilliant attack, sparked by Center Forward Raymond Kopa and their slim, black-haired inside forward, Juste Fontaine, who set a personal scoring record (13 goals) for world cup games. France lost 5-2 to Brazil in the semifinal but easily beat Germany in the playoff for third ranking.
Over 800,000 paid to watch the games in 12 Swedish towns—somewhat less than expected, because several of the best games were televised over the Eurovision network which covers all Europe. But it was a sellout crowd of 50,000 which poured into Stockholm's Rasunda Stadium for the Sweden-Brazil final last Sunday. Powder-blue-uniformed police lined the route; the deafening roar which greeted the two elevens when they took the field was indicative of the anticipation with which the soccer world was looking forward to this clash between two teams of sharply divergent styles. The artistic, dazzling Brazilians, who do not like the hard-tackling type of defense which characterizes European soccer, were expected to be troubled by the vigor of the straight-shooting Swedes.
The trouble, as it emerged, was minor. The Brazilians delivered one of the greatest soccer exhibitions ever seen. They were magical, and they were presenting to the world a new type of football—the best of the South American type which is also the ultimate in modern soccer; soft, yet marked by pin-point precision, fantastic dribbling, lateral and forward, climaxed by booming, goal-jarring shots into the net.
The Swedes fought all the way but were outclassed by a team in which every man was a star. They started dramatically with a goal by their inside left, Nils Liedholm, in the fourth minute. The stadium rocked. Such an opening to a tense game would have put any team inferior to Brazil off its stride. But the South Americans equalized three minutes later through their center forward Vava (Evaldo Netto is his real name, but Brazilian players go by nicknames and are so listed in the official program). Vava scored again the first half, and in the second half more goals came from Pelé, Zagalo and Pelé again. Sweden's second goal, by Agne Simonsson 10 minutes from the end, hardly seemed to count.
If there was a star among stars, it was Pelé (Evaldo Alves Santarosa). Of this 17-year-old soccer genius, Johnny Best (the only American who is a fully qualified international soccer referee) said: "The great player of the last few years was England's Stanley Matthews, but this boy may be even greater. He is the great potential player in football today."
Another giant was Garrincha (Manoel dos Santos). His biggest game was against France in the semifinal. I watched him when the whole stadium was doing likewise, strangely hushed. Garrincha stood off to the right of the French goal, waiting, bending forward over the ball which seemed tied to his boot, the large black 11 on his orange jersey turned upward. Now a blue-shirted French fullback began edging slowly toward Garrincha. Garrincha still waited, his black hair hanging forward, but as the Frenchman came closer his short, wide body began to twitch and jerk, like a good base runner taking a lead and trying to confuse the pitcher.
The Frenchman lunged and then Garrincha went. He moved toward the Frenchman and the goal behind him and suddenly swerved to his left. The defender swerved to follow the orange jersey, but the white ball was tapped in the other direction. Then Garrincha was around the spinning Frenchman and back with the ball. In effect, he had passed to himself. Now he burst toward goal, and the motionless twitching had become a blur of speed. As he was checked by two more blue shirts he side-booted the ball to another orange jersey 10 feet to his left, but kept going. Five paces later the ball reappeared at his feet, perfectly passed back by a teammate. In one tremendous, fluid movement he shot at the goal while still on the dead run. The French goalkeeper dived despairingly, and the crowd let out a hiss of tension that sounded like air escaping from a giant balloon.
This was only one of the fabulous individual and team efforts to which the Brazilians treated us. When the postfinal hubbub had died down and the lights were on in the stands, I had a word with Danny Blanchflower, Northern Ireland's captain and Britain's footballer of the year. His quiet, almost sad verdict: "Well, it's amazing...they are all great players. I hope they never come to England. One at a time, maybe, but never together."