October 31st 2016
‘O Capitão’: Carlos Alberto and the beautiful goal

2016 has been a year of disturbance and sadness with deaths and tragedies aplenty to remind us of our frail humanity: David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Caroline Aherne, Prince, Muhammad Ali, Victoria Wood, Ronnie Corbett, Terry Wogan, even Lemmy wasn’t immortal for goodness sake……and now we can add Carlos Alberto, ‘The Captain’, to that list.

Comparing eras is fascinating but ultimately pointless, a way of passing time in the pub but not something which can ever reach a solution. I remember telling a young Australian about the greatest try ever scored in rugby, Gareth Edwards diving in at the corner for the Barbarians after a move from their own line back in 1973. He shrugged, disappointed that it wasn’t as fast or physical as he expected, the picture somehow blurred by the lack of sharpness to the film. It was impossible for him to grasp the impact at the time, the significance of the moment, the underlying anxiety and drama of the occasion.

In a similar way, it is impossible for younger fans today to grasp the impact Bowie’s ‘Aladdin Sane’ or ‘Ziggy Stardust’ had on a generation of music fans or the significance of Muhammad Ali’s career, both inside and outside the ring. Songs like ‘Heroes’ or ‘Changes’ or a fight as extraordinary as ‘The Rumble in the Jungle’ shape what follows so that they lose so much of what made them extraordinary and iconic moments.

Carlos Alberto led what is often called ‘The greatest team of all time’, the glorious Brazilian side which defined the beautiful game in winning the World Cup in Mexico in 1970. They did have a weak link in the goalkeeper, Felix, but that was all accepted as part of the drama in their play; which Brazilian would ever want to be a goalkeeper? But the rest of the team was filled with wonders, a team from another planet: Jairzinho (the only player to score in every match at a World Cup), Gérson, Tostão, Rivelino and, of course, Pele. They were an unstoppable attacking force of beauty, speed and power – and their captain, their leader, was Carlos Alberto.

In the final, they should really have met England, who they had scraped past in the group stage thanks to a Jairzinho goal. The game is famous for the wonderful photo of Bobby Moore exchanging shirts with Pele but it contained two iconic moments in English football: Gordon Banks’ save from Pele’s header and Bobby Moore’s tackle with ‘the wrong foot’ on Jairzinho. England messed up in the final twenty minutes of the quarter final against West Germany when, following the substitution of Bobby Charlton to be replaced by Colin Bell, a 2-0 lead turned into a 3-2 defeat…the trauma of the occasion scarred many people.

The final actually saw Brazil face Italy, the ultimate defensive team in the world at that time, who had seen off West Germany in ‘the game of the century’, a 4-3 win which saw five goals scored in extra time. In the heat of a Mexican summer, Brazil cruised to victory with goals by Pele, Gérson and Jairzinho putting them in control despite Roberto Bonisenga’s equaliser after a traditional mess in the Brazilian defence. But the defining goal of the game, the tournament and that Brazilian side came in the 86th minute, the game already won, the heat having sapped everything from the teams.

The most beautiful goal has been screened millions of times on YouTube but its glory does not fade for those who saw it live. Eight players, several with their socks around their ankles and with no shin pads, touched the ball after it was won back with a slightly dodgy diving tackle. The ball leaves the floor only once and only slightly during the move as the best defenders in the world cannot touch them, a move which has echoes of the modern Spain at their best. The highlight comes with Pele, holding…waiting…the slightest glance to his right…and the perfectly weighted pass to a player who was not in the screen at the time. Carlos Alberto, the right back, sprints forward in the stifling heat, and does not break his stride as the ball just bobbles up slightly and Dino Zoff is beaten once again. Magnificent effort, skill, teamwork – and a beauty that made time stand still.

That goal was the perfect end to the perfect performance from the greatest team we ever saw. It sealed Brazil’s third victory in the World Cup, their third triumph in four tournaments, in fact. When Carlos Alberto held the Jules Rimet trophy aloft in front of 107 000 fans, it was fitting that it was to be Brazil’s for all time.


People may dispute the greatness of the goal and the greatness of the team but no one can ever argue about Carlos Alberto, the scorer, the leader, the man who held that trophy and the dreams of his nation so high on that day. He will be for ever their leader, ‘The Captain, ‘O Capitão’.

Andrew Ison

Back to Blog