Jonathan Wilson, perhaps for lack of any major pressing football matters these days, pays homage to the epic, final second round match between Brazil and Italy in the 1982 World Cup, held in Spain. Wilson looks at the claim the game formed a kind of historical ‘fault-line’ between the messy-but-wildly creative Brazil of 1958-70 and the encroaching ‘systems’ approach exemplified by Italy’s il gioco all’Italiana:
It was a game, moreover, that lay on a fault-line of history. It may not have been the day that football died, but it was the day that a certain naivety in football died; it was the day after which it was no longer possible simply to pick the best players and allow them to get on with it; it was the day that system won. There was still a place for great individual attacking talents, but they had to be incorporated into something knowing, had to be protected and covered for.
Incidentally, this remains my favourite football match of all time. It’s rare to see such a clear opposition of style and approach play out in such an aesthetically pleasing way. The 1982 incarnation of Italy should be as much regarded for the prowess of Paolo Rossi as the brutal efficiency of Bruno Conti. Beyond the rise of the ‘system’ in football, the game also sparked a national debate in Brazil over futebol arte versus futebol resultados—art versus results—that would extend to Brazil’s 1994 World Cup win.
In some ways, the sustained success of both Spain and Barcelona perhaps represents a marriage between system and art. If 1982 saw system defeat creativity, Spain’s Euro 2012 triumph saw their reconciliation.