“Once I saw that Pele could barely walk during the Czechoslovakia game, that’s when I started thinking what it would be like to replace him. There was never any doubt as to who his replacement would be. Every first-team player had a direct substitute and I was Pele’s.”
THE COMPARISONS ARE UNDENIABLE. Brazil faced into the 1962 World Cup as the clear favourites and it was taken as a foregone conclusion that they’d retain their title. The group that had claimed the Jules Rimet trophy for the first time in Sweden four years earlier was still relatively the same with the big names like Pele, Garrincha and Didi providing the nucleus. The squad was confident and relaxed but early on, performances were far from inspiring.
In their first group game against Mexico, their first-half showing was forgettable. They failed to gel and found it difficult to get into their stride. Finally, after the break, Mario Zagalo and Pele scored to calm the nerves. But it was an unimpressive start.
The next assignment against Czechoslovakia was a similar experience. The Eastern Europeans had finished as runners-up in the 1960 Nations’ Cup, beaten only by an extra-time goal from the Soviets. They were tough and uncompromising and featured an imperious midfielder in Josef Masopust, who was crowned European Footballer of the Year in 1962.
After a difficult and frustrating opening for the Brazilians, they began to try their luck from distance and midway through the first-half, Pele smacked a well-struck shot towards the bottom corner. But in the process, he had pulled a muscle in his groin. He could barely walk but because substitutions still weren’t permitted, he drifted to the wing and was reduced to playing simple passes to his team-mates. The game ended scoreless and the initial optimism that shrouded the camp prior to the tournament was a distant memory.
Pele desperately tried to recover. Their next game was against Spain four days later and despite the medical attention and the prayers, he failed a fitness test. Amarildo, a striker in his early twenties from Botafogo, was selected in his place.
For me the responsibility was enormous. Pelé was always a star and I was called in to replace him. It was mata-mata (do or die).”
Though nervous, he had been a key component of his club side for a number of seasons and could count on the support of his team-mates to help him relax and put the pressure to the back of his mind.
“The selection committee were a big help, all they said to me was to ‘play like you do for Botafogo’. That wasn’t too hard because, apart from Vava, the forward line was exactly the same: Didi, Garrincha, [Mario] Zagallo and I.”
In the quarter-finals against England, Garrincha scored a brace in what would be remembered as one of his finest ever performances.
Garrincha was inspired again in the semi-finals against Chile, adding a further two goals while Vava racked up a brace in a 4-2 victory. The diminutive winger suffered through some rough treatment from Chilean centre-back Eladio Rojas and with the game in the last few minutes, Garrincha retaliated and was sent-off. As he walked off the pitch, he was struck in the head by a stone thrown from the stands. The message was simple: Brazil had to fight to win the tournament – it certainly wasn’t going to come easy.
In the final, they faced a similar opposition: the Czechs. And, once again, they went behind, just like in the final four years previous. Masopust made a brilliant run through the middle after 15 minutes and was superbly found with a deft through-ball. From close-range, he stabbed it home and Brazil were trailing.
But it was Amarildo who came to the fore once again. Moments later, he picked up a throw-in and charged through the left channel, using power and pace to reach the by-line. From a tight angle, he drilled the shot towards the near post and it crept in.
Though Brazil had to wait quite a while before grabbing a second, it was Amarildo who provided the spark when it mattered. There were just twenty minutes to go when he pulled into the left channel to pick up a pass. He cut inside one challenge and floated a terrific cross to the far post where Zito applied the desired finish from close range. Ten minutes later and Vava tapped home a third after an awful goalkeeping error. Brazil, even without their best player, were world champions.
Writing about the tournament, the great Brian Glanville said:
“Comes the hour, comes the man. In losing Pele, Brazil had found Amarildo, and their elderly, distinguished team had kept the Cup.”