Brazil were coming up to the 20th anniversary for when they last celebrated holding the Jules Rimet trophy aloft. They had mesmerized a whole globe through their attacking shape in the 1970 tournament, and had capped that World Cup off by smashing four goals past Italy in the final. Whilst the 70s had otherwise not proved successful, there had been a lot of hope for their ’82 generation, which obviously is famous in football folklore for “being the finest team to not have won the World Cup”. In Mexico ’86, France had outwitted the Brazilians in the penalty shoot-out after a thrilling quarter-final encounter.
Sebastião Lazaroni, 38 years old by the start of the qualification, had been appointed earlier in the year as Brazil’s new coach. He had a much more pragmatic outlook on footballing tactics than his recent World Cup predecessors, and perhaps was this the way forward now that the top European nations seemed so strong both tactically and physically? Artistically, Brazil were still right up there.
The Brazilians entered the World Cup qualification on a high, having just arrived from a home soil Copa América triumph, their first continental championship title for 40 (!) long years. They had conceded just a solitary goal right throughout the tournament, and they had a front two with Romário and Bebeto looking ever so dangerous. The latter had finished the tournament as top goalscorer with six goals to his name.
However, a 3-5-2 (or 5-3-2, depending on how you wish to regard it) formation with a libero at the heart of their defence; it was hardly classic Brazilian, was it. Lazaroni, despite the Copa América title, had his critics. “What use is there in winning if you can’t get enormous pleasure from watching the team play?” That seemed to be some of the thinking which was found throughout the nation, and which was a view the manager would have to tackle. Attacking principles had such long traditions in Brazil.
Half of their 20 man strong squad in the Copa had been based at home, half in Europe. Altogether, they were a comparatively young squad with no supposed key player (from that squad) aged older than 27 (Galvão/Alemão, though the latter had only been a bit-part player). Could it even be so that 1990 came too soon for this Brazilian generation?
Two weeks to the day after the Copa América title had been secured, it was time for the first qualifier. They had some further talent to call upon which had not taken part in the continental tournament, and both strong full-back Jorginho and experienced striker Careca, both back from injury, were terrific additions to an already strong-looking squad.
24.05.1989: Peru 1-1 Brazil
Line-up: Zé Carlos – Jorginho (c), Mauro Galvão, André Cruz, Mazinho (Nelsinho) – Bobô (Edu), Bernardo, Bismarck (Nilson), Zinho – Zé Carlos III, Cristóvão
08.06.1989: Brazil 4-0 Portugal
Goals: Bebeto, Sobrinho (own goal), Ricardo Gomes, Charles
Line-up (4-4-2): Acácio – Jorginho (c) (Branco 67), Mozer (Aldair 87), Ricardo Gomes, Mazinho – Silas (Geovani 64), Bernardo, Edu (Cristóvão), Valdo – Bebeto, Charles
Tournament of Denmark
16.06.1989: Sweden 2-1 Brazil
Line-up (4-5-1): Acácio – Paolo Roberto, André Cruz, Ricardo Gomes (c), Branco – Valdo, Silas (Bismarck 73), Bernardo, Edu (Geovani h-t), Careca II (Gérson 69) – Charles (Cristóvão h-t)
Big central defender Mozer was supposed to feature for his country during this three-match European tour, but he was about to strike a deal with Olympique Marseille, moving on from Benfica, and so he didn’t join with the team after all.
Tournament of Denmark
18.06.1989: Denmark 4-0 Brazil
Line-up: Acácio – Paulo Roberto, André Cruz, Ricardo Gomes (c), Branco (Mazinho 64) – Geovani, Bismarck (Edu 74), Bernardo, Valdo (Charles 74), Gérson (Careca II 85) – Cristóvão (Silas 64)
21.06.1989: Switzerland 1-0 Brazil
Line-up (4-3-3): Taffarel – Paolo Roberto (Branco 74), André Cruz, Ricardo Gomes (c), Mazinho – Alemão, Dunga, Valdo – Renato, Gérson (Geovani 74), Tita
Brazil were desperately unlucky to lose this game, and in addition to failing to score, the penalty from which the hosts netted their goal was clearly wrong.
First group stage
01.07.1989: Brazil 3-1 Venezuela (Estádio Fonte Nova, Salvador)
Goals: Bebeto, Geovani (pen.), Baltazar
Line-up (3-5-2): Taffarel – Mauro Galvão, Ricardo Gomes (c), André Cruz – Mazinho, Tita (Silas 12), Geovani, Valdo, Branco – Bebeto (Baltazar h-t), Romário
Notice the various positions, with Galvão as the right-sided centre-half, captain Ricardo Gomes as the libero, and with young André Cruz in the left-sided centre-back slot. With two left-footers among their defensive trio, Lazaroni clearly had opted to balance it out with Galvão, shortly to turn the manager’s go-to man for the libero job, to the right among them. Equally, in a midfield with no Dunga, it was interesting to see how Geovani had been given the deep role of the three, with Tita (soon to be replaced by Silas due to injury) and Valdo in the inside right and left positions respectively. Despite rarely breaking sweat, the hosts were two goals up at h-t courtesy of Bebeto’s early goal and then Geovani’s confidently struck penalty after Baena had upended Bebeto. The latter was rested for the second half, with Atlético Madrid goal ace Baltazar given the chance. He did tuck away 3-0 after a terrific run by Gomes, although he would later spurn two massive opportunities to add to his tally, to a chorus of boos from those present. Lowly Venezuela pulled a goal back through Maldonado after Gomes had failed to cut out a throughball, and the goalscorer could have netted a second on 76 mins when he lifted wide with just Taffarel left to beat. Plenty of goalscoring opportunities for the Brazilians in the second half, but they were too inaccurate in their finishing.
03.07.1989: Brazil 0-0 Peru (Estádio Fonte Nova, Salvador)
Line-up (3-5-2): Taffarel – Aldair, Mauro Galvão, Ricardo Gomes (c) – Alemão, Geovani, Dunga, Valdo, Branco (Renato Gaúcho 59) – Bebeto, Romário (Baltazar 68). Unused subs: Acácio, Mazinho, Silas
A stalemate was hardly what the crowd had come to see, considering how Peru had been thrashed by Paraguay two days earlier. On a difficult afternoon for the hosts, made distinctly trickier by a simply dreadful pitch, there was an all-round lack of precision, tempo and fluidity by the hosts, who were, on paper at least, looking somewhat stronger than they had done in their opening fixture. Alemão was positioned to the right in their midfield five, but could not make much of a difference. Dunga was also back in, and probably was the pick of the bunch. The front two could not be bothered. At the back, Galvão was now the libero, with Aldair taking over as the right-sided centre-half, and captain Ricardo Gomes moving out to the left where André Cruz had been in their opening tie. Their best opportunity probably came from a Branco shot from an angle early in the second half. He was soon replaced by Renato, who was lively enough, appearing soon to the right, soon to the left. The invisible Romário was replaced by Baltazar, who endured another below-par cameo following his miserable fortune in front of goal against Venezuela, despite actually scoring. So Brazil saw the game out with three up front, but despite Peru goalkeeper Purizaga being sent off with a few minutes remaining after kicking Renato to the ground, a no-score draw was what the home team got.
07.07.1989: Brazil 0-0 Colombia (Estádio Fonte Nova, Salvador)
Line-up: Taffarel – Aldair, Mauro Galvão, Ricardo Gomes (c) – Alemão (Mazinho 65), Geovani, Dunga, Valdo, Branco – Renato Gaúcho, Baltazar (Bebeto 58). Unused subs: Acácio, Silas, Romário
Up against a Colombian team which needed a result in order to have a chance to progress, Brazil came out with the same defence and midfield which had provided the no-score draw against Peru four days earlier. Lazaroni had opted to go with a more physically imposing strike force, though, with the alert Renato and the powerful Baltazar looking to make inroads against a relatively defensive opposition. It was another start along the right hand side for Alemão, with Geovani and Valdo supposed to be the creative outlets in the centre. The first half was another tedious study of how not to perform when looking to entertain the crowd, as the awful surface again effectively saw to that free-flowing football was more or less an impossibility. A couple of efforts from distance, off target, as well as a surge by Renato into the area from the right, with a low shot comfortably dealt with by the ‘keeper, was all Brazil mustered. While a draw would suit them more than the Colombians, their demanding surroundings would have expected much more than they had got so far. After the break, the game continued to follow the same languid pattern for the first 25 minutes, but once Colombia stepped up a notch, going in search of what was a necessary goal, and with Mazinho replacing Alemão as a more wide outlet along the right, the crowd finally got to see some more open football. Taffarel made some routine saves, though the Brazilians themselves, having taken off the disappointing Baltazar for Bebeto, could not ask any questions of Higuita. There had been some atrocious weather for a brief spell, with gales and driving rain, which hardly improved matters, although it was in the wake of that which the game had opened up. Ultimately, the 0-0 scoreline now ‘just’ meant that Brazil would need to beat Paraguay on the final day of first phase action, and they would progress through.
09.07.1989: Brazil 2-0 Paraguay (Estádio do Arruda, Recife)
Goals: Bebeto 2
Line-up: Taffarel – Aldair, Mauro Galvão, Ricardo Gomes (c) – Mazinho, Silas, Dunga, Valdo, Branco – Bebeto, Romário (Renato Gaúcho 78). Unused subs: Acácio, André Cruz, Alemão, Geovani
After successive blanks, it was showdown for the Brazilians. With the entourage having moved from Bahia to Pernambuco, they could no longer blame the surface for their lack of tempo and urgency, although they had looked more hungry in spells of a goalless first half. Lazaroni had made four changes in his starting eleven, bringing back Mazinho for the wide right position, Silas for Geovani, as well as reinstalling his favoured front two of Bebeto and Romário. Against what was effectively a Paraguay second string they knew they could win the group should they rack up a three goals margin win, while a loss would carry unthinkable repercussions and indeed see them exit the tournament on Colombia’s behalf. Their lack of creativity was again their main attacking concern during a tepid first half, leaving them without a goal for more than 250 minutes. A draw would suffice to take them through, but the fans would surely not tolerate another goalless performance. Brazil got their goal almost immediately after the restart, as Bebeto scored on the far post following a left wing corner and a flick-on. They could relax a bit after that, knowing that they were on course for qualification, though they always came asking for more. Romário failed to capitalize on a major opportunity one on one with Ruiz Díaz, and so far it hadn’t been his tournament. Bebeto also failed to convert when played through, seeing his shot over, but he’d get his second as he turned it in from Mazinho’s cross. It was a more measured second half performance, although it was far from spotless. Romário had been substituted for Renato by the time the second goal arrived. The 2-0 win was just insufficient to take them top. Argentina now next in three days’ time!
Second group stage
12.07.1989: Brazil 2-0 Argentina (Estádio do Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro)
Goals: Bebeto, Romário
Line-up (3-5-2): Taffarel – Aldair, Mauro Galvão, Ricardo Gomes (c) – Mazinho, Silas (Alemão 75), Dunga, Valdo, Branco – Bebeto, Romário (Renato Gaúcho 75). Unused subs: Acácio, André Cruz, Geovani
After an initial group stage where Brazil had hardly impressed, they were facing a tricky opponent in a defensive Argentina, which had so far not conceded a single goal. Lazaroni had opted to start with the same eleven which tad taken to the field in their previous outing against Paraguay, clearly looking to build on various relations between players out on the pitch. For this their first tournament appearance in Rio, Brazil went about to boss the game, just like had been expected beforehand, and though they did find the Argentinians expectedly reluctant to come out from their own half, there were goalscoring opportunities before the break. Dunga had tested Pumpido’s mettle from distance, while Bebeto had drawn a fine tip over his crossbar from the goalkeeper following a 25 yard free-kick. Bebeto, in fact, had been the more lively of the two forwards, and he’d twice entered dangerous territory, only to be thwarted by Pumpido and Sensini respectively. Captain Gomes had seen yellow for a big foul on Troglio in an opening half which had been uplifting from the Brazilians’ point of view. ‘Uplifting’ didn’t half cover the hosts’ feelings nine minutes into the second half: They were two goals to the good following strikes from their effervescent front two: Bebeto first following Romário’s lay-off, and then Romário earned his first of the tournament after a failed clearance by Brown. He was at it again later, but got tackled in the last moment before pulling the trigger after he’d lifted the ball past two defenders in a terrific show of crowd-pleasing. Alemão and Renato were rewarded with 15 minutes of game-time at the end, and Brazil were finally coming good. This was easier than they would have anticipated.
14.07.1989: Brazil 3-0 Paraguay (Estádio do Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro)
Goals: Bebeto 2, Romário
Line-up: Taffarel – Aldair, Mauro Galvão, Ricardo Gomes (c) – Mazinho, Silas, Dunga, Valdo (Alemão 72), Branco – Bebeto, Romário (Renato Gaúcho 73). Unused subs: Zé Carlos, André Cruz, Geovani
As Uruguay had just beaten Argentina by an identical scoreline to Brazil’s two days earlier, 2-0, the Brazilians themselves would’ve wanted to at least mirror Uruguay’s winning margin against Paraguay from two days ago in order to be on equal terms ahead of the final game. Winning first and foremost was obviously the primary target. The gruelling schedule with matches every other day hadn’t seemed to affect teams too much so far, as some of the games had been breathtaking. Lazaroni kept with the same starting eleven which had turned on the style against the Argentinians. They took some time to get going, but after going ahead in typical fashion by 16 minutes, there was no looking back. Under Lazaroni, a lot of their play was modelled on players doubling up along the flanks, and the Silas/Mazinho combination along the right proved golden, as the latter’s cross found a completely unmarked Bebeto, who headed home his fifth of the tournament. This encounter didn’t quite have the intensity of previous final series games, though any complacency would see the hosts struggle. They almost let Palacios equalize when he accepted a fine pass by Neffa into the area and hit a low shot on the turn which Taffarel did very well to keep out. The longer the half progressed, though, Brazil became increasingly dominant. How they didn’t score again before the break remains a mystery, with Silas having too much time to think as he’s played into the area, eventually chipping over. Romário looked set to copy Bebeto’s goal from another Mazinho cross, but Fernández pulled off a tremendous stop. Romário was getting in the mood again, and the way he took on a pass into the area with his right foot, dummying Delgado and Zabala, and then poking it just wide with his left, was eye-catching stuff. In the second half, Brazil soon increased their lead to a margin of three, with Bebeto ferociously striking home the second into the angle of the post and the bar, before Romário side-footed home yet another Mazinho cross from the right. The latter had been relentless along that flank, and had assisted for all three goals. Brazil rarely looked interested in adding to their tally in order to create an even better position for themselves ahead of the decisive match, but they were worried about conceding. However, substitute Renato headed via Fernández and off the bar with 15 minutes left on the clock. That was it. On to Uruguay!
16.07.1989: Brazil 1-0 Uruguay (Estádio do Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro)
Line-up: Taffarel – Aldair, Mauro Galvão, Ricardo Gomes (c) – Mazinho, Silas (Alemão 87), Dunga, Valdo (Josimar 88), Branco – Bebeto, Romário
It was time for the big one – the two best teams of the competition met in a game where the winner would take all. Both were at full strength, though it is fair to say that they were beginning to feel the strain from having played so many matches within a short period of time, and there were times during the first half when the pace of the game was not soaring through the roof. Still, as expected, Brazil were dominating in terms of possession, and they were looking cute in midfield, where Dunga and Valdo were pulling the strings. Still, their front two found it difficult to wrestle free from Uruguay’s sturdy central defensive pairing, so the few times when Zeoli’s goal was threatened had come from deadball situations. The nearest Brazil came during a relatively tentative opening half, was when Bebeto hit a free-kick just to the left of the post 27 minutes in. Defensively, Brazil were on top of their opposition, which had not managed to worry Taffarel at all. Even set-pieces were effectively dealt with by the canary defence. After the break, Brazil moved ahead thanks to another goal worked from their right hand side, where Silas set Mazinho up for yet another cross from an attacking position. It found Romário on the near post, where the nippy forward arrived just before Zeoli to head home. Having got that all-important goal, Brazil gradually regrouped and went about defending their lead, although they never really needed to repel any Uruguayan onslaught. There were plenty of tired players out on the pitch, something which saw to that the ‘final’ was never a classic, and ultimately the hosts won it deservedly, as they had managed to put the Uruguayan goal under threat on a few occasions, while keeping it tight at the back. Ghosts from the past were buried; Brazil were again continental champions 40 years on from their last triumph.
23.07.1989: Brazil 1-0 Japan
Line-up (3-4-3): Taffarel (Zé Carlos h-t) – Aldair, Mauro Galvão, André Cruz – Mazinho (Josimar h-t), Dunga (Alemão h-t), Valdo (Silas h-t), Branco (Edivaldo h-t) – Bebeto (Renato Gaúcho h-t), Careca (c) (Tita h-t) (Cristóvão 72), Romário (Bismarck 63)
For the very first time, Lazaroni unleashed all three of Romário, Careca and Bebeto together. They switched to 3-4-3 to accommodate them. It didn’t work out as they would have hoped. Brazil only really got going after the break, with just Romário of the three left on the pitch.