Why did Brazil's most talented team lost the 1982 World Cup? This tactical analysis might give you an idea of both their strength and weaknesses.

Last summer, I noticed that many people from my generation did not know much about Brazil 1982, so I decided to write an in depth description of that wonderful side. Today I explore the tactical aspects of that side and maybe at the end of my analysis we'll understand why they never actually won anything.

For many analysts, Brazil 1982, the golden generation, set a benchmark for offensive football. Football had rarely seen a dream team assembled for the World Cup. Several sides had been amazing and had wonderful players in their rosters before. Cruyff, Neeskens and Michels re-invented the game in 1974. Pele, Gerson, Rivelino and Gerzinho dominated the 1970 WC. Even in the 50s, Hungary then Brazil gave people an idea of what a superteam could look like. But no other sides had the glamour nor the individual offensive quality of Brazil 1982.

Zico, Socrates, Falcao and Cerezo are all all-time greats. Eder, a more than decent player, often looked like an all-time great in that tournament. Junior is still considered by many as the best left back that ever played the game (even though Roberto Carlos and Paulo Maldini have a lot to say in that debate). Leandro was superb and even Serginho whom many considered as the weak link of this team got favorable retrospect reviews.

      Figure 1: The "Original" 4-2-2-2 Telle intended to play.

Besides each individual talent, this team produced fluid football, wonderful passing and absurd offensive dominance. However one (tactical) aspect about this team is striking: Tele Santana gave absolute (offensive) freedom to his midfielders. Falcao, who was supposed to be playing as the second holding midfielder, had 3 goals in the tournament. This was in no ways due to luck; he was probably the Brazilian player who attempted the most (on target) shot in the tournament. Cerezo the main defensive midfielder played unusually high up the field. Junior  looked more like a left winger than an actual full back. Tele did not want to give his stars any offensive restriction. Creativity had to be at its best and tactical restriction affected/decreased creativity.

Originally, this side was supposed to play the famous Brazilian variation of the 4-4-2, the 4-2-2-2. With  the regular four-man back line. Falcao and Cerezo playing as defensive midfielders, Zico and Socrates as the midfield maestros and Serginho and Eder as the two strikers. At least, that's how Telle described his formation. However, I don't think this team ever actually played a 4-2-2-2 (see figure 1).

Eder, although a good forward and a superb offensive presence, was in reality a left winger and tended to drop to the left (see arrows in figure 1). Most of his runs (and goals) came from the left wing. Zico had the tendency to drop to the right wing. At first, this may sound weird. Why would Zico, one the best classic number 10 to ever play the game drift to the right? In reality, the explanation was quite simple. Socrates, who was the second midfield maestro, occupied too much space in the center. Socrates was the guy who controlled Brazil's pace and his game required space. When Socrates had the ball in the center, Zico had two options left, either drift forward next to Serginho or play out wide where he could combine with the likes of Leandro and Falcao. Finally Falcao played way too high. He was all over the place, making runs. Shooting from distance and even assisting players instead of participating in defensive work.
The team looked much more like a 4-3-3 (see figure 2) with Zico and Eder on the wings, Socrates as the central man of the midfield and Cerezo and Falcao (supposedly) defending. Zico and Socrates alternated their positions a lot and actually linked very well together (as Socrates' goal against italy can prove).

A special attention must be given to Brazil's full back Junior and Leandro. Both were splendid players. Watching Junior play in those old tapes made me think of Real Madrid's Marcelo. Those two players had a very similar style. Leandro was also very elegant and had multiple crosses in that World Cup. However, the defensive indiscipline of these two full back kind of offseted their offensive qualities.  On certain occasions, Brazil looked as if they were playing a 2-7-1 in this tournament. Junior and Leandro were terrible tracking down defenders.

 Every time Brazil faced a strong/organized opponent, their defense was exposed (this explains why they only had one clean sheet in the tournament). Maradona's show, on Argentina's right wing in the first game of the second group stage, hinted Junior's weaknesses and Brazil's lack of defensive structure. Paulo Rossi scored his first two goals because of a very poor defense. The back line didn't track him down and left him wide open for the header on the first goal. On the second goal, Rossi intercepted a terrible Cerezo pass that was intended for either Falcao or Junior in the midfield. Even the third goal was due to a poor corner clearance. Offensively Brazil was amazing but defensively the team lacked  constance, regularity and focus.

This video (highlight of the game against Argentina) is an interesting illustration of my points:

Between minute 1:30 and 2, we can see two opportunities from Falcao and how high up the pitch he played. We can also see in this video how Maradona caused Brazil's defense a lot of trouble, finding Diaz several times during the game and even causing a clear penalty denied by the officials.
 Brazil's second goal in that game is a classic illustration of what that team did offensively: Serginho getting the ball back, Socrates, Eder, Zico and Facao combining together to get Serginho's header. Brazil's third goal was also a classic offensive display from that team. Junior bursting on the left and combining with Zico... Simple yet wonderful.

When Brazil lost to Italy. Zico declared that "Football had died that day." In fact most football purists, such as Johan Cruyff (and nowadays some FC Barcelona fans), insist that you have to combine style and beauty to championships. This mentality is utterly wrong. The game of football has two phases: an offensive one when a team has the ball and a defensive one when a team is going after the ball. One should not be overlooked for the other. Teams have been and are still winning playing defensive football (Greece 04, Inter 10, Chlesea 12). This tactic/method should also not be overlooked.

Brazil 1982 set new offensive standards for future Brazilian sides. Up to date no other Brazilian sides have been able to display such artistic offense. Their midfield was amazing and their team was formidable. However their tactical organization lacked consistency. Their defense was arguably horrible. In the very informative football tactics book Inverting the Pyramids, Jonathan Wilson writes that Zico's statement was true in some sense... "it was the day that a certain naivety in football died; it was the day after which it was no longer possible simply to pick the best players and allow them to get on with it; it was the day that system won." Real Madrid's galacticos (sadly) epitomized Wilson's affirmation in the mid 2000s.

Tactics play a much more important role in the game than football fans may think. Very often in the course of history, the more talented team did not win... it was rather the better organized team. Hungary 1954, Netherlands 1974 and mostly Brazil 1982 will be forever remembered for their style but their inability to win championship will always be a stain on their legacy.

Hope you enjoyed! Please give me your example in history of teams playing sublime football that didn't win. Let's Spread the love :)