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Tuesday, November 10, 2009
ESPNsoccernet: February 25, 3:14 PM UK
World Cup 1958

John Brewin and Martin Williamson

Winners: Brazil
Teams: 16
Teams in qualifiers: 45
Notable absentees: Italy, Uruguay
Surprises: Wales, Northern Ireland
Golden Boot: Just Fontaine (France) -- 13
Stats: A total of 126 goals were scored (3.60 per match); France (23) scored the most
Format: Four groups of four, with the top two progressing to the quarterfinals
Number of matches 35

• If teams tied for second and third in the group stages, there would be a replay
• A record 12 cities hosted matches

• Israel qualified because teams refused to play them, but FIFA intervened and insisted they play at least once in order to progress to the finals. Wales, non-qualified runners-up in their UEFA group, were chosen and won 2-0 home and away to qualify instead
• Turkey withdrew from qualifying after refusing to be included in the Asian group
• Only 2,823 spectators watched the playoff game between Hungary and Wales. People boycotted the match to show sympathy with Imre Nagy, the Prime Minister of Hungary at the time of the Russian invasion in 1956, who had been executed the previous day. The official attendance, which FIFA still endorses, was 20,000
• The semifinal between Sweden and West Germany was almost abandoned because the president of the German football association threatened to withdraw his team unless the Swedes stopped refusing to seat some of the German fans. The organisers relented

• Brazil's Pele was 17 when he played in the final, becoming the youngest person to do so
• Just Fontaine, who scored 13 goals for France, remains the record holder for one tournament
• The Northern Irish FA told its squad that it was against Irish law to play two of their first-round matches on a Sunday. After player protests, the FA relented
• Hungary only retained three players from their 1954 final squad, with many of the others choosing to flee the country after the Russian invasion of 1956
• This was the only occasion all four UK home nations qualified together
• Argentina, who finished bottom of their group, were pelted with rubbish on their return home to Buenos Aires

If 1954 saw the final hurrah of Hungary, one of football's greatest ever teams, 1958 was the beginning of another team's dominance of the World Cup. Brazil and the World Cup are inextricably linked and it was in Sweden that the bond was formed.

The presence of international television cameras for the first time made this tournament a watershed and, in a 17-year-old Brazilian, the game had its first and probably greatest star. Pele was not in the Brazilian side at the beginning of the tournament but, by its conclusion, football had its first international pin-up.

Another facet of this tournament was the appearance of all four home nations as England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all qualified and, of the four, it was the two smaller nations who most impressed. The Irish were managed by Peter Doherty, who had a superb lieutenant on the field in Danny Blanchflower. Together, Doherty and Blanchflower gave the world the free kick wall as their team reached the quarterfinal stage before falling to the French. The Welsh, led by the talents of John Charles, reached the same stage only to lose out to Brazil and, more pertinently, Pele.

Scotland's campaign was as disastrous as that four years previously while England, considerably weakened by the loss of Duncan Edwards, Tommy Taylor and Roger Byrne in the Munich air disaster and with the still-traumatised Bobby Charlton a non-playing member of the squad, lost out in a playoff to the Soviet Union.

An English presence in the tournament was retained by George Raynor, the Yorkshire-born coach of Sweden. He led a team featuring Nils Liedholm and Gunnar Gren, both veterans of their country's victory in the 1948 Olympics but now stars of the lucrative Italian league, as well as the maverick Lennart Skoglund.

Brazil, playing a revolutionary 4-2-4 system, already had a mercurial midfield talent in Didi; a line-leading, goalscoring centre-forward in Vava; and two legendary half-backs in Djalma and Nilton Santos. But with the addition in later games of Pele and Garrincha, an amazing winger with dribbling skills comparable to Stanley Matthews, they were undoubtedly the team to beat.

In the group stage, they were prolific in front of goal and, although England held them to a goalless draw, they were heavily fancied to thrash Wales in the last eight. But the Welsh, sadly lacking the injured John Charles, made them fight all the way. Pele, starting only his second game, and, at 17 years old, the youngest player to grace the finals tournament, scored a deflected goal past superb keeper Jack Kelsey. Pele himself would describe it as the most important goal he would ever score.

The semifinals saw them face France, who for once had put up a performance befitting their status as tournament founders. Just Fontaine was their record-breaking striker, eventually scoring 13 goals in the tournament, even if four of the goals came in the third-place game.

His bullets were supplied by Raymond Kopa, an inside-forward who plied his trade for Real Madrid and who, until Michel Platini, was regarded as France's greatest-ever player. But with Pele now into his stride, the French had no answer as the young star scored a hat trick in an easy 5-2 win.

So the final would be a battle of South American style and the best that the far more athletic European game had to offer. Before the game, George Raynor predicted that if the Brazilians were to go a goal behind then they would panic all over the show.

His prediction was to be tested, and it failed. Liedholm put the Swedes a goal up after four minutes but, five minutes later, Vava headed in a Garrincha cross. The trick was repeated on the half-hour. And, after half-time, Pele grabbed the match by the scruff of the neck. The goal that truly created the Pele legend came on 55 minutes. A lofted ball was chested down, hooked over a defender and projected into the bottom left corner by an unerring volley. The trophy's destination was confirmed after right-winger Zagallo followed up his own corner to make it four after 68 minutes. Simonsson grabbed a consolation before Pele headed in a Zagallo cross.

The Jules Rimet Trophy was Brazil's. Records had been smashed in the tournament -- Fontaine's goal haul, Peles youth and a team from the Americas winning on foreign soil. And in Pele, who shed tears of joy as the Brazilians carried the trophy and national flag around the pitch, world football had found its biggest star.

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