It was a fitting finale to what many believe was the quintessential World Cup as Brazil demonstrated their utter domination with a classy win over Italy at the Azteca Stadium on June 21, 1970; a side who are to this day regarded as one of the greatest that ever played the game.
In fairness, the final was closer than the 4-1 score line suggested as Pele, Jairzinho and Carlos Alberto overcame their Italian opponents in a match which, for over an hour, was very much in the balance as the two former champions looked to make it a hat-trick of World Cup successes.
And there was more than simply being crowned the best team in the world at stake as, before the tournament, FIFA had decided that the first country to win the tournament three times would be given permanent possession of the Jules Rimet trophy.
With both sides involved in the final being double past-winners – Italy in 1934 and 1938; Brazil in 1958 and 1962 – essentially both were playing for keeps.
The Italians had struggled somewhat on their way to the final in Mexico City’s new, purpose-built Azteca Stadium, managing just one victory and two draws in their three group matches and scoring one goal in the process.
But they made up for their shortcomings against West Germany in the semi-final in Mexico City as Facchetti, Rivera, Riva and company eventually advanced after a thrilling 4-3 win which saw five goals scored in extra time – an encounter later dubbed; “The game of the century.”
As for Brazil, they bounced-back following their miserable showing at the 1966 World Cup by winning all three of their group games, including a 1-0 defeat of holders England, and breezed through the quarter-finals with a victory over Chile before booking their place at the Azteca by overcoming Uruguay.
Unsurprisingly, the final, the first ever to be broadcast in colour around the world to an audience of millions, was a cagey affair to begin with as the 100,000 in attendance were made to wait for the game to burst into life.
The first real opportunity fell to Italy’s Luigi Riva, who found himself with a yard of space courtesy of a quick turn, before unleashing a stinging shot from 25 yards out which Brazilian ‘keeper Felix did well to divert over the bar.
The Italian forward again went close on the quarter-hour mark, connecting with a header from an Alessandro Mazzola free-kick but failed to hit the target as Italy looked the stronger and more dangerous of the two sides in the early exchanges.
It was somewhat against the run of play then when Brazil took the lead in the 18th minute when a seemingly routine throw-in from Tostao was hooked across the area by Rivelino for Pele to outjump Tarcisio Burgnich and hang in the air before heading the ball past Enrico Albertosi and into the top corner.
Italy were not to be denied, however, and were back on level terms before the break as Roberto Boninsegna, who was only in the squad because of an injury to Juventus forward Pietro Anastasi, pounced on a defensive error and slotted the ball into the empty net from just outside the box.
After a stint of pressure early in the second half Brazil found themselves in front once more when Jairzinho, whose path was blocked by Fachetti on the edge of the area, managed to turn and lay the ball off to Gerson, who gave Albertosi no chance with a perfectly-placed left-footed strike from 20 yards out.
Five minutes later and it was 3-1 after a foul on Pele gave Brazil a free-kick on the half-way line and Gerson floated a perfect pass towards the back post for Pele to head the ball back across goal where Jairzinho, who had scored a goal in every round so far, was able to virtually walk the ball into the net.
If Brazil’s football up to this point had been breath-taking it was nothing compared to what was to follow as they sealed their third World Cup success in quite possibly the most emphatic fashion ever witnessed in the history of the tournament.
Starting just five yards from their own penalty area and after a total of eight Brazil players touched the ball, Pele provided the final pass for Carlos Alberto to charge forward and strike the ball into the corner of the Italian net in one of the most iconic pieces of football footage ever broadcast.
“We only realised how beautiful the goal was after the game,” Carlos Alberto later told the BBC. “The emotion, of course, when I scored that goal was incredible, but after the game, and still today, I realise how beautiful and how important that goal was because everybody is still talking about it.”
The victory meant that the Jules Rimet trophy would belong to Brazil as manager Mario Zagallo became the first man to win the World Cup as player and coach while Pele, one of the finest ever to grace a football pitch, was carried off the field shoulder high, bare-chested and emotional, still clutching the trophy which he and his side would forever more be able to call their own.