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Mario Zagallo, the sculptor of the beautiful game, soul of Brazilian football, has died


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Mario Zagallo, the sculptor of the beautiful game, soul of Brazilian football, has died

Zagallo. His name spans more than fifty years of Brazilian football history. As far back as his memories took him, they invariably stuck to the Seleçao. For matches followed with passion, before animating them with thoughtful runs and subtle dribbles, then masterfully directing them. Mario Zagallo was the sculptor of the ''joga bonito'' (beautiful game). “I owe him a lot. Maybe 50% of what I did was Zagallo’s work,” Pelé once said. “I had a lot of good coaches but Zagallo was really the best,” summed up Ronaldo on the International Federation website. Hospitalized in Rio de Janeiro in mid-August for a urinary infection, Mario Zagallo died this Friday, at the age of 92 in Rio de Janeiro. After a life dedicated to football. And the green and gold jersey worn with faith, like a second skin.

In 1950, Mario Zagallo participated during his military service in the security of the brand new Maracana that he saw being built from his neighborhood of Tijuca. He watched petrified, then upset, in the middle of 173,000 spectators, at Brazil's defeat in the World Cup final against Uruguay. The party which turned into a tragedy, like the tragedy of the Maracana, is inscribed in the collective Brazilian memory. Mario Zagallo (“Little Ant”), will participate in the redemption. In May 1958, he scored two goals during his first selection against Paraguay, his performance opened the door to the World Cup. He participated in all the matches of the Seleçao, winner of its first World Cup, in 1958 (scoring a goal in the final against Sweden), carried by a phenomenon named Pelé. Still crowned in 1962 in Chile (alongside Garrincha, Vava, Amarildo and Didi), Zagallo has, throughout his life, woven a special story with football's flagship event.

Player (from America to Botafogo, via Flamengo), lively left winger, very involved in the withdrawal and defensive tasks, Mario Zagallo (31 caps for the national team, 5 goals) was the periscope of Brazil. Without bragging. Effective. Essential. Serving the game and others. In the shadow of Pelé, Garrincha, Jairzinho, Carlos Alberto, Gilmar, Vava or Didi, without suffering from it. But at 35, his tactical sense will put him at the forefront when the strategist will find an ideal field of expression by embracing a coaching career (at Botafogo) which will make him change dimension because success is immediate .

A few months before the 1970 World Cup, he inherited the Seleçao. Joao Saldanha, who no longer enjoys the favor of the Brazilian military government, is dismissed from his position. Zagallo is sent on a mission. The affable man with the fervor often brought to boiling point returns to the World Cup. In an exposed position, subject to the most virulent criticism (“No alternative to victory for the national coach: 150 million Brazilians keep the pressure on Zagalo”, as summarized by the New York Yimes). Mario Zagallo resisted and built his legend. That of a coach capable of uniting the passion of Brazilians and the quest for the greatest titles. He is going to sign his masterpiece. A symphony without a false note in Mexico during the most beautiful World Cup. The first in color, the first broadcast live. Winner for the third time, Brazil definitively wins the Jules Rimet Cup and ranks as the most beautiful team. A dream team (with four number 10s, Pelé, Tostao, Gerson, Rivelino) twenty-two years before the American “Dream team” electrifying the Barcelona Olympics with the genius basketball players Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. However, a few hours before the competition, Brazil feared a fiasco comparable to the 1966 World Cup (elimination in the first round). The magic will work. Will last through the years. “A trace forever”, headlines the Brazilian daily A Tarde. “I completely transformed the Seleçao. This team will forever be remembered,” said Zagallo, coach of a Brazil that enchanted the football world (6 matches, 6 victories, 19 goals scored during the competition, a dream final, orchestrated by Pelé, won 4- 1 against Italy). “The 1958 team was the strongest I ever played on, and the 1970 team was the strongest I ever coached. I believe they had two things in common: victory and their ability to enchant, to amaze,” summarized Mario Zagallo. The Brazilian technician was invited as the first to have won the World Cup as a player and coach. Franz Beckenbauer (1974 and 1990), then Didier Deschamps (1998 and 2018) would join him.

In 1994, “the professor” was still the sports coordinator of the Brazilian selection during the coronation of Romario and Bebeto in the United States (“You taught us to love yellow, the color of Brazil. You always defended our country, on and off the field. You are an example for all of us,” summed up, moved, Dunga, the captain), before the final lost in 1998 against Aimé Jacquet's Blues.

The final was still hot on July 12, 1998 in the Stade de France when Aimé Jacquet took great care to greet his counterpart: “He is the greatest coach in the world. It would take me two entire lifetimes to hope to match his track record. I admired him as a player, then a coach. I hope he doesn't blame me for beating him. » “I wanted to go home after parading on the Champs-Élysées via the Arc de Triomphe. But the Arc du Triomphe is yours,” responded, touched, the defeated man, fair play who seemed frail in his tracksuit.

He will export his experience. In Kuwait, Saudi Arabia. Before always returning to the starting point. His reason for living, the Selaçao. Like a magnet. Against all odds. Brazil has trained, sung and celebrated many players more talented, more spectacular than Zagallo but has always felt a deep respect for this whole, dedicated being who knew how to carve out a place of choice in the history of the Selaçao by forging himself a unique track record.

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