As Brazil enter the 2018 World Cup as favourites to win the tournament for the sixth time, TEAMtalk names the country’s greatest XI of all time.
How do you pick a greatest-ever Brazil XI…? We’ve had a go….
Goalkeeper – Claudio Taffarel
Brazil seem to have the best goalkeepers in the world these days but it wasn’t always so; their great 1970 team had the massively erratic Felix in nets. Claudio Taffarel in 1994 was the first time I recall seeing a competent Brazil ‘keeper – one who actually looked as if he wanted to go in goal rather than being forced to and he was good too. I don’t remember much about Marcos in 2002 as Brazil’s attackers stole the show but, in 1994, Taffarel was a key element in a more defensive unit and he also saved two penalties in the semi-final shootout against Holland in 1998.
Right-back – Carlos Alberto
Strong competition here with the amazing Cafu seemingly possessing bionic lungs to get up and down the right flank about a millions times per game. The leggy Josimar banged in a couple of great goals in 1986 but the vote has to go to ‘El Capitano’ Carlos Alberto. Classy and poised, the sight of him holding aloft the Jules Rimet trophy in 1970 is one of the iconic images of any World Cup. Not only did he skipper the best team ever, he put the exclamation mark on their 4-1 final win over Italy by thumping in a brilliant fourth, the ball kindly sitting up for him as he raced onto Pele’s caressed pass.
Left-back – Junior
Many will say Roberto Carlos and move on but I have a rival for old thunder thighs. Junior was Brazil’s left-back at the 1982 World Cup and an integral part of perhaps the greatest side not to lift the trophy. Right-footed, but good with both, his peak moment came in the crunch clash with Argentina. He drifts into midfield, exchanges passes with Zico who takes out five men with a return pass and Junior completes the one-two by caressing the ball past the goalkeeper before celebrating with a soft-shoe shuffle. Pure gold.
Central defender – Thiago Silva
Not many jump off the page to be honest. I fondly remember Oscar, who scored against Scotland in 1982 and I quite liked Roque Junior but can’t shake off the fact that the 2002 World Cup winner later signed for Leeds and was dreadful. They shipped 24 goals in his seven games before he was swiftly moved on. So my first CB is Thiago Silva. Definitely in the classy, ball-player mould rather than big stopper, you have to be a bit special to captain your country and the modern-day PSG. Best not mention Barcelona 6-1 PSG and Brazil 1-7 Germany however.
Central defender – Lucio
Down the years, Brazil have had a habit of throwing an incongruous, clumsy player (think Serginho in 1982 or Fred in 2014) into the team. Is it an attempt to confuse the opposition? In my eyes, Lucio was that man in 2002. I’d seen him display donkey tendencies in Bayer Leverkusen’s games against Liverpool and it was no surprise when the ball bounced off his leg, allowing Michael Owen in to score England’s opener in the 2002 quarter-final. But later he seemed to cut out the mistakes, was strong in the air, a beast on the deck, bagged over 100 caps and won everything including the 2002 World Cup. He looked scary too.
Centre-midfield – Gerson
I’ve watched a lot of the 1970 games in full rather than just the sexy highlights and Gerson would be a great addition to the team. He was the brains of the operation, organising, probing, finding space and running the show with his wide range of passing. He was losing his barnet a bit by 1970 so perhaps that adds to his professorial air. Had a cracking left-foot too as shown by the thumping shot which put Brazil 2-1 up in the final.
Centre-midfield – Clodoaldo
Dunga was probably Brazil’s best example of an archetypal defensive midfielder but I associate that 1994 side with dullness and he was the chief bore. Gilberto Silva filled the holding role well in 2002 but this is Brazil and I want the other shield to my back four to have a fantasy element too. Step forward Clodoaldo. He did the required dirty work but, not wanting to miss out on the party, scored a superb goal against Uruguay in the semis before starting the move for Brazil’s last goal in the 1970 final with the best step-over ever and one I spent 20 years trying to replicate in five-a-sides.
Forward – Rivelino
Skilful, wonderful dribbler, excellent moustache and a hammer of a left foot. Plus, he played in that magical 1970 team. I particularly liked his arm-pumping goal celebration after banging in Brazil’s third in the semi against Uruguay. Perhaps a more rounded player four years later but Brazil were wearing blue for lots of the 1974 World Cup and that just isn’t right. Others to consider for the wide/outside left role – Eder (lothario from 1982 who scored brilliant goals against Russia and Scotland) and Rivaldo. The latter is disqualified for his pathetic play-acting near the corner flag against Turkey though.
Forward – Zico
One of the few Brazilians in my team without a World Cup winner’s medal. Famously denied a late winner in a group game against Sweden in 1978 when Welsh referee Clive Thomas blew up for full-time a second before he headed home, Zico really came alive in 1982. Immensely skilful with amazing vision, he was Brazil’s best No. 10 since Pele. A free-kick master too – just ask Scotland – while having a name beginning with ‘Z’ somehow added to his exotic appeal.
Forward – Pele
Pele scored in the 1958 final as a 17-year-old and again in the 1970 final after leaping like a salmon to nod in Brazil’s opener. Amazingly, for a player who netted over 1000 career goals, we remember him just as much for the ones that got away – the downward header saved by Gordon Banks, the shot from inside his own half against Czechoslovakia, the bamboozling dummy on the Uruguayan goalkeeper which he collects and then fires wide. Pele’s legendary status has increased via his brilliant overhead kick in Escape To Victory, his adverts for erectile dysfunction and the bizarre anti-ageing cream he must use given how, at 77, he still looks just like he did in his 20s.
Centre-forward – Ronaldo
It bugged me for a long time and still does that Cristiano hijacked the name and reduced the original to being called ‘fat Ronaldo’ by some when trying to make a distinction. To be fair, CR7 has gone on to be pretty good but let’s not forget what a sensational player R9 was. Capable of dribbling through entire defences with his speed and skill, he came back from injury and a convulsive fit ahead of the 1998 final to win the Golden Boot in 2002 with eight goals – the most since Gerd Muller in 1970. And, let’s not underestimate this, unlike the Portuguese version, everyone loved this Ronaldo. Remember the applause at Old Trafford for his hat-trick for Real Madrid there in 2008? A beautiful man playing the beautiful game in a beautiful way. The very essence of Brazilian football.
Tactics and formation
I could have been silly and picked three defenders, one midfield holder and seven forwards but I’ll put my XI in a 4-2-3-1 formation. This Brazil team is one that has an abundance of flair along with the necessary steel. Even the stoppers are capable of wizardry so this lot would be winning games 4-0 all the way to the final where they’d step it up and blast in six without reply.
For the last 20 minutes, I might give some other lads a run out, bringing Garrincha, Jairzinho, Ronaldinho, Neymar, Romario, Kaka and Socrates off the bench to ice the cake further.
By David Tindall