How the 1970 World Cup in Mexico changed the face of global soccer forever

MEXICO CITY – The 1970 FIFA World Cup in Mexico stands out as a remarkable event, presenting a parade of innovations vital to the development of football. It was the first World Cup to be broadcast globally, the first to be played outside Europe and South America, the first to present basic items such as penalty cards and substitutions, and the first to obtain significant commercial potential.

In short, Mexico & # 39; 70 – which started 50 years ago on May 31 – left a deep mark in the collective memory of the sport.

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The quality of the tournament itself stands the test of time half a century later, in what is considered one of the best World Cups of all time. He presented legends like Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller, Bobby Moore, Gordon Banks and Teofilo Cubillas. It was won by a dominant Brazil side determined to win an unprecedented third title, led by one of the greatest players in the game Skin.

In addition to the field, the first of the two World Cups to date is really the first of its kind. Without their successes, it would be difficult to imagine the tournament returning to Mexico in 1986 and 2026. In many ways, Mexico 1970 was a modern event that is more like the most recent edition of the championship, Russia 2018, than the one that preceded it, England 1966


To accurately assess the impact of 1970 as a watershed moment, it is necessary to compare and contrast how things used to be.

A legend comes alive

Before: the best player in Brazil, injured and mistreated after the 1966 World Cup, almost missed the 1970 list.

Catalyst for Mexico & # 39; 70: FIFA rules change, advances in technology and marketing and its brilliant play introduces you to a wider audience.

Then: Pelé becomes a world icon, cementing his legacy as one of the greatest sporting figures of all time and helping football to thrive in the USA.


As world champion with Brazil in 1958 and 1962, Pelé was without a doubt the most famous player in the world. It is an incredible feat, due to his limited television exposure outside Brazil, where he played most of his club career with Santos. But La SelecaoThe difficult experience in his search for three peatlands in England in 1966 almost cost the sport a lot.


Pele was attacked by rivals, lost one game through injury and left another after a series of hard fouls. Calling it "the worst moment" of his career, Pelé later admitted that he was thinking about retiring from the international game.

"The reason I said I wasn't going to play [with the national team] it was because of my injury at the 1966 World Cup, "said Pelé in an interview with ESPN." That was my third World Cup. I thought that after so many injuries, I wasn't sure I was healthy enough [to keep playing]. "

Pelé finally decided to continue, but the striker took the risk of losing the 1970 tournament, when he hit head on with the Brazilian technician, João Saldanha.

Saldanha, a former player and journalist, is credited with laying the groundwork for the Brazilian title in Mexico, but he would not be present to celebrate it. During a friendly before the tournament against Argentina, the manager punished his biggest star, much to the fans' shock. "Saldanha thought Pelé was not doing defensive work and publicly admitted that he was thinking of leaving him," wrote Jonathan Wilson in his book "Inverting the pyramid".

"That was the farewell and I left as the world champion."

Pele, at the 1970 World Cup

Pelé wrote in his autobiography that he believed that Saldanha told reporters that he tried to remove him from the selection because the star suffered from myopia: "It never affected me over the years, but Saldanha continued as if he had discovered a very serious deficiency. In me. . "

The fight with Pelé proved to be the last straw for Saldanha as head of the national team. The manager criticized reporters for tactical decisions and, according to Wilson's book, broke into a hotel with a loaded pistol in search of Flamengo coach Dorival Knipel, better known as Yustrich, who had despised Saldanha in a radio interview.

When Saldanha was fired, Brazil cited his "emotional instability" as the reason. Mario Zagallo, Pelé's former teammate, took over as coach and made it clear that there will be no scandalous omissions on the list.

Still, the physical game of the 1960s had affected Pelé. From 1961 to & # 39; 65, he averaged almost 54 goals per year in all competitions. But from 1966 to 69, that average was cut in half. At the same time, tiring walks with Santos left him exhausted.

Brazil's search for a third World Cup victory and Zagallo's support seemed to rejuvenate Pelé in 1970. The new yellow card added elements of strategy and nuance never seen before. The introduction of substitutions removed rough play as a competitive advantage, as injured players could be replaced.

The last Pele World Cup provided the final blow to a legendary international career. Throughout Brazil's dominant race in 1970, the team's offensive game passed through Pelé almost exclusively, to the point of 53% of the team's 19 goals in all six games they were scored or watched by the 29-year-old. Only four players in the history of the World Cup – David Villa, Diego Maradona, Romario and Paolo Rossi – had a greater offensive impact.

Better yet, Pelé's last dance with the national team was, for the first time, a real-time affair shared by millions. Facilitated by satellite broadcasts that broadcast the World Cup around the world for the first time, its magical exploits immediately entered the zeitgeist.

The iconic images of Pele jumping in the arms of teammate Jairzinho after scoring Brazil's goal in the final against Italyyour curling runs Uruguay goalkeeper Ladislao Mazurkiewicz before shooting from a distance in the semifinal, and his thrilling attempt behind the midfield line against Czechoslovakia is forever rooted in the player's tradition.

For those fortunate enough to watch color TV, another World Cup debut, Pele's transition from gray scale to suddenly bright cane the yellow shirt represented the sports version of Dorothy leaving Kansas and entering the Land of Oz.

Pele's growing global popularity after the 1970s prompted a final act as the first and probably biggest US professional football signing. He joined NASL's New York Cosmos in 1975 after a three-year negotiation, serving as an ambassador for the game's growth in one of the last prominent markets in the world.

"I liked the idea that my presence could favor the development of football," wrote Pelé. "It was a different challenge".

His presence in America produced sold-out crowds, led major media and television networks to cover the sport and led other stars of the day like Beckenbauer, George Best, Johan Cruyff and Eusebio to sign in the USA.

Azteca occupies a place in cultural folklore

Before: A gigantic stadium in Mexico City was completed in 1966 to compete for the Olympics and World Cups.

Catalyst of Mexico & # 39; 70: The site hosts "The Game of the Century" between Italy and the West Germany and sees Pelé lift the third World Cup trophy in Brazil amid ecstatic support.

After: The Azteca Stadium joins the ranks of Wembley and Maracanã as football temples, creating a mystique that would grow when hosting the World Cup for the second time.

A collection of such epic moments that took place in the Azteca field was incorporated into the cultural fabric of the game, recognizable moments such as "The Game of the Century", "The Goal of the Century" and "The Hand of God". Nowhere else have two of the best consensus of all time won the World Cup trophy in Pelé and Diego Maradona.

The 1970 semi-final match between West Germany and Italy launched a series of epic feats within the walls of Azteca. After Karl-Heinz Schnellinger scored the last goal to draw 1-1, the 30-minute overtime led to a chaotic finish thanks to the suffocating conditions and the place in the final on the line.

With five goals, three exchanges of advantage and German captain Beckenbauer, despite having a dislocated shoulder, the match was destined for a favorable position in the history of football. When Italy finally took the win with a 4-3 result, the encounter was enshrined with a sign outside the stadium.

"Azteca pays homage to the teams from Italy (4) and Germany (3), who starred in the 'FIFA Game of the Century' of the 1970 FIFA World Cup", says the text.

A few days later, the World Cup final saw Italy face Brazil. Despite the neutrality of the venue, the Mexican crowd had a clear favorite.

"The stadium was collapsing with the euphoria of 105,000 fans clamoring for Brazil," wrote Pelé. "They were all with us!"

As such, the reward was spectacular: a 4-1 victory in which Pelé starred, marking the opening of the game and pulling the strings offensively en route to his country's third title. Two major events headed by world stars, in less than a week, guaranteed Azteca's place in the speech by listing the symbolic places of worship for football.

Azteca's imposing vertical architecture, its enormous capacity and atmospheric uniqueness, 300 meters above sea level, also bequeathed its most notable tenant, the Mexican national team, with a palpable advantage practically unmatched worldwide. In 54 years, El Tri he lost just two World Cup qualifiers there, winning the 1999 FIFA Confederations Cup and the 2011 FIFA U-17 World Cup.

Built before the 1968 Olympic Games and the 1970 World Cup, Azteca was created to host major events from the beginning. The stadium's original capacity reached 107,494 spectators, subsequently expanding to 114,600 at the 1986 World Cup. For these two competitions, it was regularly sold out.

The concrete colossus has seen many events beyond football in the past half century. He has hosted presidents, popes and Paul McCartney. He has seen fights with championship prizes and regular NFL games. However, the exploits of 1970 linked him intrinsically to the history of a sport for all eternity.

"Azteca represents the glory of football itself. The modern ball game. The sport that moves the sun," wrote Zachary McCune for The Cauldron.

When Maradona and his "Hand of God" dismantled England with two of the most emblematic goals in history, 16 years later, it was not long before comparisons were immediately made in 1970.

Marketing ball starts rolling

First: official products are a rare and fine revenue stream for FIFA.

Catalyst of Mexico & # 39; 70: Adidas and Panini create iconic products consumed globally.

Then: FIFA products are big profits, licensed throughout the World Cup cycle.

As the audience for the World Cup grew, so did the commercial appeal. The expanded reach of the 1970s in Mexico meant that companies had a chance to sell their products worldwide, penetrating territories they could only dream of until that moment.

Without a doubt, the most iconic product associated with the 1970 World Cup is its official ball, the Adidas Telstar. The 32-panel design – 12 black pentagons and 20 white hexagons – remains the ubiquitous visual representation of a soccer ball to this day. The ball has been in use since 1967, in honor of the historic satellite – launched at the beginning of the decade – that made global transmission possible, in part because of its resemblance to the white space sphere dotted with dark solar cells.

Designed to replace the soft brown leather balls provided by different companies since the competition began in the 1930s, Telstar's color scheme was essential in allowing viewers to easily track it on the screen, regardless of whether the audience was watching in color.

Adidas provided only 20 balls from Telstar during the entire tournament, needing alternatives. The quarterfinal match in West Germany and England, for example, used a brown ball. The first half of the semifinal "The game of the century" between Italy and West Germany saw an all-white model.

It didn't matter.

"Nothing can take away the emotion and experience of physically opening the package and touching the sticker or card."

Mark Warsop, CEO of Panini America

Telstar was so well received that Adidas sold 600,000 balls after the tournament, according to FIFA. To this day, Adidas remains the official World Cup ball. The original design of the 1970 tournament proved so popular that its color scheme became the norm, with all the World Cup balls until 1998 featuring black and white. The Telstar 18 was introduced for the most recent event in Russia, returning to the original representation, but including an unmistakably modern touch: the pixelated details of the ball and the embedded chip mark the satellite's perfect progression into the digital age.

Adidas' star role in the field was reflected by Panini's collectible sticker album. In the run-up to Mexico, the Italian company partnered with FIFA in an effort to liven up the tournament with its album – the first of its kind at the World Cup. Fans from around the world immediately took him, making comparisons to the tradition of collecting baseball cards in the United States previous decades.

"In 1970, all the photos of the players we acquired were in black and white," said Mark Warsop, CEO of Panini America. "We [painted] all photos so the stickers can be colored ".

Although Panini has adapted to today's trends with the development of a virtual album distributed through its official application, the company has managed to increase sales of its original creation at each World Cup. "Nothing can take away the emotion and experience of physically opening the package and touching the sticker or card," said Warsop. "It's a piece of memorabilia and you can't replicate 100% of it in digital form."

The collectible craze generated by the albums encouraged other companies to create merchandise for the following tournaments. Over the years, the official product market has expanded to include toys, video games, posters, clothing, mascot figures, replica trophies and even less conventional items, such as a branded foosball table.

The licensing agreements for these products contributed to FIFA's growing revenue after 1970. In 2018, the organization generated more than $ 4.6 billion in revenue, thanks in large part to the Russian World Cup. The FIFA video game series alone has sold more than 282 million copies since its debut in 1993, making it one of the most popular franchises in the world.

From 1975 to 78, FIFA earned just $ 12 million in marketing, according to SportBusiness.

When former FIFA President João Havelange died at 100 in 2016, obituaries from around the world were quick to quote one of his most notable jokes about his 1974-1998 term: "When I took over, there was $ 20 in the safe. When I left, there was more than $ 4 billion."

The world game finally goes global

Before: The first eight World Cups are played exclusively in Europe or South America.

Catalyst from Mexico & # 39; 70: Guillermo Cañedo from Mexico has been lobbying FIFA for years in an attempt to win a hosting offer.

After: Four of the next 12 World Cups are played in North America, Asia or Africa.

The 2026 World Cup will mark Mexico's third unprecedented time as host, as the country will share duties with the United States and Canada. It is difficult, however, to imagine the country's status as one of FIFA's favorite hosts without the tireless lobby that led to Mexico's selection for the 1970 World Cup.

During its first eight iterations, the World Cup hit ping-pong between Europe and South America, the two most developed markets in football up to that time, while registering slow but steady growth elsewhere.

That changed in 1963, when Mexico City won the 1968 Summer Olympics, the first to be held in Latin America. The infrastructure promised to the IOC in the form of construction of Azteca (and later, in the Cuauhtémoc and Nou Camp stadiums) benefited the offer of the World Cup in the country a year later. However, what is now remembered as the next logical step in FIFA's desire for global growth has actually been somewhat contentious negotiation in recent years.

Following his election to the post of FIFA vice president in 1962, Guillermo Cañedo served as Mexico's chief mediator between Sir Stanley Rous, the entity's world president, and the Mexican Football Federation, which Cañedo has run since 1960.

While the FIFA congress met in Tokyo for the final vote to determine the host country of 1970, Mexico and Argentina competed as the only options. By that time, Cañedo had been lobbying for years. In "Historia Oral del Mundial", 1978, by Matias Bauso, an account of the tournament's history, Cañedo is quoted as saying that he visited 77 countries in three years, in some cases returning to the same place six times, in his attempt to guarantee the thing.

Still not convinced that voters would choose Mexico, Cañedo made a final effort in Tokyo to impress voters by displaying a model of the huge Azteca, under construction at the time. The bet worked and the biggest showcase of the sport finally separated from the duopoly of Europe and South America.

Unexpectedly, Mexico would also host the next World Cup outside Europe and South America 16 years later. When Colombia citing economic concerns about giving up hosting the 1986 tournament three years before the World Cup, Mexico has intensified. Cañedo's experience and connections with important FIFA figures ensured that the country would be the first to organize two World Cups, despite a competing offer from the United States.

"Football policy makes me nostalgic for Middle Eastern politics," said former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who helped the American delegation. when losing the offer.

Cañedo, who died in 1997, was sought after his successful organization of the 1970 World Cup. After Argentina succeeded in its effort to host in 1978, he was invited to tour the media in the country, but criticized the country's lack of progress on this point.

"He became a celebrity. His words had enormous repercussions," wrote Bauso in his book.

The World Cup would not increase its list of host continents until the turn of the century. Japan and South Korea responsibilities shared in 2002, and South AfricaThe offer won in 2010, leaving Oceania as the only confederation that never hosted the tournament. Today, FIFA's claim that football is a global game partly retains its willingness to expand beyond its comfort zone in the 1960s.

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