Zico’s last World Cup appearance was in Mexico 1986. Rivellino’s in Argentina 1978 along with Mario Kempes. And Roberto Pruzzo’s in Spain 1982, correct? Not exactly. And there is a good reason about this. Once upon a time there was the World Cup and the World Cup of Masters!
The idea to organize a World Cup inviting legendary international players above the age of 30 started in Brazil in 1987. Julio Mazzei, the president of the International Master Football Association played a key role in the launch of the new competition striking a deal with Brazilian TV station Bandeirantes over the broadcast rights. And after consultation with FIFA’s general secretary Sepp Blatter, the International Master Football Association organized the first Copa Pelé in 1987, an event that was renamed to World Cup of Masters in 1991.
Prior to the 1991 edition several international stars had featured in the previous tournaments. Pelé, Mario Kempes, Zico, Francesco Graziani, Pablo Forlan, Roberto Dinamite, Grzegorz Lato, René van de Kerkhof, Miguel Angel Brindisi, Claudio Adao, Johnny Rep and others. All the editions had been hosted by Brazil which won the last two (1989, 1990) with Argentina winning the first trophy in 1987. And it was an Argentina versus Brazil World Cup final!
From Brazil to Miami
In 1991, the absolutely successful competition came to the United States, revamped with a more prestigious name: The World Cup of Masters. Miami hosted the tournament (18 – 27 January) with the 6 teams playing at the 75.000-capacity Joe Robbie Stadium. The 1991 edition was another success culminating with a Brazil-Argentina final, in a country that had already doing baby steps in the world of soccer. The ’94 World Cup was on its way and the 1991 tournament was a great warm-up introducing high-profile soccer to a country that was not so excited about the sport.
The names that visited the United States for the World Cup were staggering! Mario Kempes, Hugo Gatti from Argentina, Zico, Rivellino, Roberto Dinamite from Brazil, Bobby Moore, Ray Clemence from England, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Paul Breitner from Germany, Paolo Rossi, Claudio Gentile, Alessandro Altobelli from Italy and Pablo Forlan, Fernando Morena from Uruguay. Pelé was initially included in the Brazil squad but he did not play in the tournament due to a movie commitment. But he gave the opening kick-off on 18 January.
The national teams invited were all previous World Cup winners, the most decorated national teams in the history of soccer. The concentration of World Cups won by them altogether was vast: 14 World Cup titles! Two won by Argentina (1978, 1986), three by Brazil (1958, 1962, 1970), one by England (1966), three by West Germany (1954, 1974, 1990), three by Italy (1934, 1938, 1982) and two by Uruguay (1930, 1950). And the squads included several World Cup winners. Just a bit more aged. Or just more experienced if you prefer.
The organizers called the tournament as “the most prestigious soccer championship ever held in the United States”. The six teams were divided into two into groups of three. Then it would be the semifinals. Brazil, Italy and Germany in the A Group. Argentina, England, Uruguay in the B Group.
The opening match took place on 18 January 1991, at the Joe Robbie Stadium. Italy overcame Germany with a goal from 35-year-old Roberto Pruzzo in the beginning of the second half. Brazil’s 1-1 draw with the Germans in the next game meant that the Brazilians needed only a win to qualify to the semifinals. And they achieved it after they beat Italy by 2-1 in their last crucial game.
In the second group Uruguay and Argentina, had the large support of the Hispanic population of Miami. Nevertheless, England almost threw them out of the semifinals. The three teams finished all equal with 2 points, however the South Americans qualified due to a superior goal average. 36-year-old Mario Kempes and former Fort Lauderdale striker Pedro Magallanes helped the Argentinians make it in their last group game with an emphatic 5-2 victory over the English.
Three Latin american teams in the competition’s semifinals in a large Hispanic market seemed ideal for the organizers from financial point of view. Brazil against Uruguay and Argentina against Italy with the prospect of a ”super classico” final. And it happened again!
Brazil smashed Uruguay with 4-0 on 24 January 1991, having Zico and Roberto Dinamite in a great form. And bear in mind that 37-year-old Zico, the ”White Pele” was pretty much an active player, at the time. He signed for Japanese Kashima Antlers after the tournament and kept playing until 1994.
The other semifinal was a copy of the 1990 World Cup semifinal between Argentina and Italy. The Italians took the lead with 35-year-old Altobelli on the 12th minute, but Enzo Bulleri equalized in the second half. The winner of the semifinal was decided in the penalty shoot-out. Once again, the Argentinians had the last laugh beating Italy with 5-4 to advance to the final against their great rivals.
Superclasico in the Final
On 27 January 1991, in front of a crowd of 13,544 spectators, Brazil won their third World Cup of Masters thanks to Zico’s late winner. That victory was a little revenge for their 1987 loss against Argentina. The latter opened the score with Enzo Bulleri, but Edu leveled the match one minute before half-time. The momentum changed completely in the second half and substitute Zico managed to beat goalkeeper Hugo Gatti on the 87th minute to lift the trophy for the (then) 3-time World Cup winners. Zico also won the MPV award and he was the top scorer of the tournament alongside Enzo Bulleri. Former journalist, Brazil’s coach Luciano do Valle proved more of a tactician in the battle of coaches against Argentina’s Carmelo Faraone.
The competition continued for two more editions in 1993 and 1995. This time it was Europe’s turn to host the World Cup of Masters and Italy’s to win it for the first time in 1993. But, Brazil won the ultimate 1995 trophy in another final against their arch-rivals, Argentina.
Who knows maybe the World Cup of Masters will return one day. Of course the odds are against it, but who would not enjoy a final between Messi and Ronaldo in 2-3 years time?