Skip to main contentAccess keys helpA-Z index

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
watch listen BBC Sport BBC Sport
Low graphics|Help
Last Updated: Monday, 26 March 2007, 08:30 GMT 09:30 UK
Tim Vickery column
By Tim Vickery
South American football reporter

Brazil's list of all-time great strikers goes on and on, but Ademir has to come somewhere near the top.

Leading scorer of the 1950 World Cup, he was lightning quick, had a cannonball shot in both feet and was good in the air.

Brazil right-back Daniel Alves
Seville's Daniel Alves stars for Brazil at right-back

If not the greatest, he was certainly one of the most influential. In domestic football, Brazilian coaches had to find a way to counter him on a weekly basis.

The old WM system, where the game was basically a collection of one against one duels, was not up to the task.

He was too good. The best way to do it, then, was to withdraw another player to the heart of defence to provide cover. And so Brazilian football gave birth to the back four.

The addition of a second centre-back pushed the full-backs out wider. They found there was space in front of them, and started pushing forward.

Nilton Santos made his name doing it in the 1950s, Carlos Alberto and Junior carried the practice on, and it became more and more systematic, with Jorginho and Branco, Cafu and Roberto Carlos.

On Saturday Brazil beat Chile 4-0. The only goal which came from open play was a classic example of how Brazilian full-backs are expected to get forward early, keep the pitch wide, and get the ball into the box.

A quick pass found right-back Daniel Alves rampaging down the touchline, and he rolled square for the advancing Kaka to fire into the net with his customary efficiency.

It was not unlike the goals that could have carried England into the semi-finals of the 1970 World Cup.

In the quarter-final against West Germany, England went two goals up, both created by Keith Newton surging forward from right-back, and then sliding into the box for first Mullery and then Peters to shoot home.

English football has occasionally produced full-backs with attacking ability. But never again have they been given the importance that Brazil confers upon its full-backs

The goals had a Brazilian stamp. England manager Alf Ramsey had been a constructive full-back who, in his playing days, had toured Brazil with Southampton and England.

He was struck by the attacking contribution the Brazilian full-backs were making, and with a tweak of his own incorporated it into his own thinking.

Brazil had already discovered that adopting the back four solved one problem but created another.

It left the remaining two midfielders with acres of space to cover. Mario Zagallo saw this from his position on the left wing.

He funnelled back to help out in midfield, and 4-3-3 was born. Ramsey went further. In 1966 he got rid of both wingers, and called into existence 4-4-2, arguably the most successful and durable system in the history of football.

It gave him extra men in midfield - Martin Peters scored one in the 1966 World Cup final and came close to a few more - and required the full-backs to make an attacking contribution.

By 1970 the idea had been taken further. The full-backs were no longer required just to hit balls into the channels or cross from deep.

They were now expected to burst beyond the midfielders and get crosses in behind the opposing defence.

With Keith Newton so successful down the right and the highly talented Terry Cooper on the left, it was working to perfection in that quarter-final against the West Germans. But then it all went wrong.

Ramsey made a mess of his substitutions, the Germans brought on winger Grabowski to torture the tired England full-backs and reserve keeper Peter Bonetti had an off day. England lost 3-2, and the attacking full-back project was laid to rest.

The night England failed to qualify for the 1974 World Cup the right footed Emlyn Hughes was at left-back.

Since then, English football has occasionally produced full-backs with attacking ability. But never again have they been given the importance that Brazil confers upon its full-backs.

And so on Saturday, Brazil played Daniel Alves of Sevilla at right-back and Gilberto of Hertha Berlin at left.

While England, in a game they wanted to win, against a team which fielded just one out and out striker, chose Phil Neville and Jamie Carragher.


With regards to the two Brazilian full-back twins Man Utd have apparently signed have you seen them play? If so are they good players and is the deal definitely done?
Paul Hughes

An interesting question which ties in with the article above.

I've been watching them in the South American Under-17 Championships, which Brazil won on Sunday. Rafael plays at right-back, Fabio, the captain, is left-back, though he's right footed.

They're both very impressive, especially Fabio, who was the second top scorer in the competition. They remind me of the Argentine Juan Pablo Sorin in terms of the variety of their attacking game - they can hit the bye-line, they have poise on the ball, can cut inside and exchange passes and they are both terrific attacking headers of the ball.

As I understand it, United have to wait until they're 18. Usually in this situation I'm sceptical about the players moving so early. With this one I can see the logic. Neither of them are fantastic defensively, and if they stay in Brazil, given the attacking importance of full-backs, they might be allowed to stay that way.

Perhaps United feel that if they get them over early they can develop this side of their game. The downside of course is that it's a gamble, and if it doesn't come off then the twins have far more to lose than United.

I'm a fan of Colombian football. Why is it that the Under-17 and Under-20s perform so well but they can't seem to take this form into the senior side?
Ben Pelling

Columbia came a long way in a short time in the 80s and 90s, and have since struggled to find the next step.

Frightened by the example of Peru - who had that sudden, spontaneous generation in the late 60s and early 70s and little since - they've put emphasis on developing their under-17 and under-20 sides.

But I think there are two problems. Firstly, Colombian football is much poorer than it was 15 years ago. The clubs are unable to hold on to their promising youngsters, who move abroad too early, don't get enough playing time and lose momentum as a result.

Secondly I think they've moved too far away from the happy-go-lucky passing style that used to serve them so well. Some of their play now can be painfully cautious - they've been producing more quality centre backs than creative midfielders and strikers, and lack of goals played a big part in their missing out on the last two World Cups.

If they can get back on the right track, though, I think they have a lot going for them - big, football crazy population, lots of urban centres - outside Brazil and Argentina, I see them as the other South American nation capable of one day winning a World Cup.

Got a question about South American football for Tim Vickery? Email him at



The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Daily and weekly e-mails | Mobiles | Desktop Tools | News Feeds | Interactive Television | Downloads
Sport Homepage | Football | Cricket | Rugby Union | Rugby League | Tennis | Golf | Motorsport | Boxing | Athletics | Snooker | Horse Racing | Cycling | Disability sport | Olympics 2012 | Sport Relief | Other sport...

Help | Privacy & Cookies Policy | News sources | About the BBC | Contact us