1970 World Cup: Pele takes his final bow

Mexico staged the 1970 World Cup, the first to be held outside Europe and South America.

Brazil defeated Italy in Mexico to become the 1st team to win three World Cups

Mexico staged the 1970 World Cup, the first to be held outside Europe and South America.

The choice of host nation was not a popular one, as Mexico's oppressive heat (often rising well over 35 C), combined with its high altitudes, made it impossible for players to perform at their peak. Furthermore, FIFA bent to the whims of the television networks and staged a portion of the games - including the final - at noon, forcing players to compete while the blazing hot Mexican sun was in full effect.

Once again, the 16 teams were divided into four groups with the top two in each advancing to the quarter-finals.



  • Number of participating teams: 16
  • Top scorer: West Germany's Gerd Muller (10 goals)
  • Number of games: 32
  • Total goals scored: 95
  • Average goals per game: 2.97
  • Highest scoring game: West Germany's 5-2 victory over Bulgaria on June 7
  • Total attendance: 1,673,975
  • Average attendance: 52,312

Television had previously brought the World Cup into the homes of hundreds of millions of people around the globe, but this was the first to be televised in colour.

It seemed only fitting as Brazil, once again led by the incomparable Pele, played a colourful brand of soccer en route to winning the World Cup for a third time. Having proclaimed four years earlier that he would never play in a World Cup again, Pele fronted a Brazilian side in Mexico that many say is the greatest soccer team of all time.

Thanks in part to the efforts of Brazil, England and West Germany, the 1970 World Cup is largely remembered for its brilliant attacking play. Scoring was up from 1966 and most teams - with the notable exception of the defensive-minded Italians - entertained fans worldwide with enterprising and imaginative soccer.

The 1970 World Cup also marked a new era in the game, as substitutions were allowed for the first time (previously, teams could not replace injured or tired players) and the use of yellow and red cards was introduced.

Mexico and the Soviet Union played to a goalless draw in the tournament opener on May 31 in the baking heat before a boisterous crowd at Mexico City's Azteca stadium. Both teams would emerge from Group 1 ahead of Belgium and World Cup newcomers El Salvador.

MATCH OF THE TOURNAMENT: Italy's 4-3 victory over West Germany in the semifinals. A true classic and considered by many as the greatest game ever at the World Cup. Down 1-0, the Germans scored in injury time before falling to the Italians in a dramatic extra-time thriller.

MAN OF THE TOURNAMENT: Gerd Muller. Nicknamed "Der Bomber," Muller was the tournament's top scorer with 10 goals - including a pair of hat tricks in the first round - as he guided the Germans to the semifinals.

SPOTLIGHT: Brazil's 1970 World Cup-winning side is regarded by the majority of historians and critics as the greatest soccer team of all time.

The Brazilian squad that competed in Mexico boasted a slew of world-class players - Pele, Jairzinho, Tostao, Rivelino and Carlos Alberto - and won all six of its games en route to capturing its third World Cup, the first country to do so.

It's fitting that the 1970 World Cup was the first to be broadcasted on TV in colour - while every other team employed a predictable black and white approach to the game, Brazil thrilled the Mexican crowds with its brilliant Technicolor style.

AND ANOTHER THING: The Jules Rimet Trophy, awarded to the winner of the World Cup, became the permanent possession of Brazil following the 1970 tournament - FIFA guidelines stipulated that a country kept the trophy in perpetuity once it won a third World Cup.

The trophy, officially renamed in 1946 to honour FIFA president Jules Rimet, stood 35 centimetres in height and weighed 3.8 kilograms. The trophy's design of an octagonal cup, held by a winged figure representing Nike - the ancient Greek goddess of victory - was designed by French sculptor Abel Lafleur.

The 1974 tournament in West Germany marked a new era in World Cup history as a new trophy, simply called the FIFA World Cup Trophy, was introduced. Designed by Italian sculptor Silvio Gazzaniga, the current trophy, unlike its predecessor, cannot be won outright: the winners of the tournament receive it on loan for four years and must return it before the next World Cup. The winners receive a replica to keep.

Italy, clinging desperately to catenaccio, defeated Sweden 1-0 and then held out for a pair of 0-0 draws with Uruguay and Israel, another World Cup first-timer, but still managed to finish atop Group 2 ahead of the South Americans.

England and Brazil won their opening games before meeting in a memorable match on June 7 in Guadalajara. In one of the better contests of the competition, Brazil posted a 1-0 victory over the world champions on the strength of Jairzinho's goal in the 59th minute. The outstanding moment of the game, however, came in the 10th minute when English goalkeeper Gordon Banks made a brilliant diving save off a Pele header, robbing the Brazilian of a sure goal.

Brazil won its final game 3-2 over Romania and England downed Czechoslovakia as both teams moved on to the quarter-finals.

Gerd Muller scored seven goals in the first round - including hat tricks in consecutive games against Peru and Bulgaria - to pace West Germany to first place in Group 4. Peru joined the Germans in the next round.

In the quarter-finals, England look set to send the Germans packing as they sat on a 2-0 lead in the balmy heat of Leon. The champions let their lead slip away, however, conceding two goals in the final 20 minutes before Muller's goal deep into extra time sealed the win for the Germans, thus gaining a small measure of revenge over the Wembley final four years earlier.

In Toluca, Mexico opened the scoring against the Azzurri, forcing Italy to come out of its defensive shell for the first time in the tournament. The Italians responded by hammering the hosts 4-1, the sparkling duo of Gigi Riva and Gianni Rivera combining for three goals.

Uruguay needed an extra-time goal to defeat the Soviet Union in Mexico City, thus setting up a semifinal clash with old rivals Brazil, 4-2 winners over Peru in Guadalajara.

Luis Cubilla's early strike gave Uruguay a shock 1-0 lead, but Clodoaldo's remarkable goal just before halftime levelled the score. Brazil, the overwhelming fan favourites at the competition, then booked their spot in the final with goals from Jairzinho and Rivelino late in the game.

In the other semifinal, Italy met West Germany at Azteca in what is considered one of the most thrilling and memorable World Cup contests of all time.

Italy scored in the seventh minute through Roberto Boninsegna and the Azzurri quickly fell back into its loathsome defensive posture and tried to protect the lead. Italy soaked up the German pressure but finally caved in the 90th minute when Karl-Heinz Schnellinger, a star with AC Milan at the time, scored to send the game into extra time.

Germany ran into trouble just before the end of regulation time when Franz Beckenbauer was violently fouled and suffered a broken clavicle. Germany had already used all of its substitutions and could not bring on another player as a replacement. Beckenbauer, to his credit, refused to come out of the game and leave his team short-handed, and instead kept playing with his arm in a sling during extra time.

What followed was 30 glorious minutes that earned a special place in the soccer pantheon: a heart-stopping battle between two brilliant teams that produced an explosion of drama, tension and goals.

Muller pounced on a rare defensive error by the Italians and scored in the 95th minute. Defender Tarcisio Burgnich equalized for Italy just three minutes later and Riva gave the Italians a 3-2 lead in the 103rd minute on a marvellous shot from outside the box.

The game turned again when Muller found the back of the net, this time in the 110th minute, but Rivera completed the mesmerizing scoring sequence when he scored just two minutes later to seal the win for Italy. The exhausted crowd filed out of the Azteca having witnessed an enthralling and entertaining contest.


After West Germany defeated Uruguay in the third-place game, Italy and Brazil took centre stage at Azteca stadium for the final on June 21.

Brazilian captain Carlos Alberto smiles as he holds aloft the Jules Rimet Cup after the final. ((AFP/Getty Images))

This was to be an epic finale between two nations with vastly different styles and philosophies: Brazil, with Pele leading the way, playing an attacking, samba-style brand of soccer that entertained spectators and dismantled opponents in equal parts; and Italy, the tried and tested Azzurri, who could score goals with the best of them, but who refused to shake off its defensive shackles and remained true to catenaccio.

It was clear from the opening kickoff that the Italians, having used a great deal of energy to get to the final after dispatching the Germans, were mentally and physically exhausted and had nothing more to give.

Italy ably kept Brazil at bay early on before Pele scored on a fantastic header off a Rivelino cross in the 19th minute. Italy delivered a sucker-punch eight minutes before halftime when Roberto Boninsegna capitalized on a horrendous defensive error by Clodoaldo and beat goalkeeper Felix to tie the score.

Any thoughts Italy harboured about shutting down Brazil were quickly erased, as Pele and his compatriots ran the Italians ragged and completely dominated the second half.

Midfielder Gerson scored a fantastic goal from just outside the penalty area in the 65th minute to give Brazil a 2-1 lead. From that point, the floodgates opened, as Brazil poured on the pressure and ripped the Italian defence to shreds.

Five minutes after scoring, Gerson turned playmaker and booted a long ball forward to Pele who headed it down for Jairzinho to score. The second-half annihilation was completed in the waning minutes with a marvellous goal - the product of a sparkling team effort - that brilliantly capped off the victory for Brazil.

Clodoaldo breezed past a couple of Italian players before passing to Pele. The Brazilian wizard moved down the left side and drifted towards the middle. Pele found some open space and sensing Carlos Alberto was coming down the right side, he played a perfect square pass 25 yards from goal that Alberto lashed onto without breaking stride and hammered past static Italian goalkeeper Enrico Albertosi.

It was an emphatic goal in an emphatic victory that saw the Brazilians, purveyors of the "beautiful game," put the dour, defensive-mind Italians in their rightful place.

All of Azteca stood as Alberto collected the Jules Rimet trophy for the last time while a tearful Pele was hoisted on the shoulders of his teammates. Pele had won his third - and final - World Cup, and sadly was never to be seen on soccer's ultimate stage ever again.


  • Brazil's Mario Zagallo became the first man to win a World Cup as a player (1958 and 1962) and a manager (1970). Germany's Franz Beckenbauer (1974 and 1990) is the only other person to accomplish that feat.
  • Anatoli Pusatch of the Soviet Union holds the distinction of being the first player to enter a game as a substitute in the World Cup (he replaced teammate Viktor Serebryanikov in a 0-0 draw with Mexico in the tournament opener).
  • Juan Basaguren of Mexico is the first substitute to score a goal in the World Cup (during Mexico's 4-0 win over El Salvador).
  • Mexico's victory over El Salvador saw Egyptian referee Hussain Kandail commit a horrible error. Just before halftime, Kandail awarded a free kick to El Salvador, but it was taken quickly by Mexico who scored off the play. El Salvador protested but the goal stood.
  • Half of the teams that advanced to the quarter-finals of the 1966 World Cup (Portugal, Hungary, North Korea and Argentina) didn't even qualify for the 1970 tournament.
  • Morocco was just the second nation from Africa ever to play at the World Cup, and the first to qualify via an all-African qualifying competition (Egypt went to the 1934 World Cup without having to play a single qualifying match).
  • Not a single player was sent off or red-carded during the entire 1970 tournament. The only other time that happened was at the 1950 World Cup in Brazil.