Brazil won a third World Cup in stunning fashion, defeating Italy 4-1 in the final, powered by Pele, who was at the peak of his career. The win also marked the third time Brazil had won the Jules Rimet trophy, the last time it was handed to a winning team. A new World Cup trophy, used to this day, would be awarded to West Germany for the first time four years later.
Mexico hosted the tournament for the first time, where games were played under a searing midday sun to accommodate European TV audiences. Overall, the tournament was a success with soccer-mad Mexican crowds pushing players to their limits.
Best player: Pele (Brazil)
Pele, playing in his last World Cup, exorcised the demons of the 1966 tournament where the Brazilians had faltered, to help Brazil win a third title. It was also a third title for him as a player, serving as a bookend to a brilliant career that had started with him lifting the trophy in both 1958 and 1962.
Italy’s dramatic 4-3 win against West Germany in the semifinals remains one of the most iconic games in World Cup history. The match, subsequently referred to as the “Game of the Century,” is remembered to this day with a plaque outside the Azteca Stadium where it was played.
Quality of play:
The Brazilians were offensive and adventurous in the final third, a joy to watch as they pummeled teams. The ability to bend opponents to their will under the Mexican heat was a combination of athleticism and jogo bonito. This remains one of the best Brazilian teams, captained at the time by Carlos Alberto, to ever win a World Cup. It’s 4-2-4, with Pele up top alongside Rivelino, Tostao and Jairzinho, were too much for the Italian backline to handle in the final.
The tournament’s two finalists, Brazil’s canary-yellow shirts and Italy’s deep blue kits, were among the best that year. Those who could not give any fashion lessons that summer included Czechoslovakia, El Salvador and Israel, all of whom had bland white shirts in common.
The tournament’s top score that year was West Germany’s Gerd Muller with 10 goals.