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Wednesday, 10 April, 2002, 17:25 GMT 18:25 UK

Dream team's Spanish nightmare

Four-times World Cup winners and twice runners-up, Brazil have come to represent all that is best about the tournament.

But, for many Brazilians, the best side the country ever produced did not actually make it to the World Cup final, or even the semi-final.

The 'dream team' of 1982 arrived in Spain with the whole of Brazil expecting them to return with the trophy.

They were feted as possibly even better than the world champions of 1970 and went into the finals in spectacular form.

Tele Santana's side swept through qualifying and then several friendlies, beating West Germany, host nation Spain, and thrashing the Republic of Ireland 7-0.

The team was loaded with attacking possibilities throughout, with an outrageously talent midfield of skipper Socrates alongside Cerezo and Falcao.

Ahead of them were strikers Serginho and Eder, with the natural heir to Pele, Flamego star Zico, given licence to roam wherever he wished.

At the back, the unmistakeable figure of Junior went through the defensive motions but was far happier joining up with the midfield.

Fellow defenders Leandro, Oscar and Luisinho had as much flair as most other sides could field in attack, while keeper Valdir Perez was not so much a weak link as untested.

Brazil were drawn with the Soviet Union, Scotland and New Zealand in the opening phase.

On a hot June evening in Seville, Brazil started at their favoured leisurely pace and quickly got a glimpse of what would ultimately prove their downfall.

After half an hour, Perez fumbled a weak shot from Andrej Baja and Russia went ahead.

But Brazil replied magnificently, first through skipper Socrates and then an unbelievable volley from Eder.

Another poor start followed four days later against Scotland. A stunning strike from David Narey after 18 minutes put the Scots ahead, but when Zico levelled soon after with a free-kick the result was never in doubt.

A header from Oscar, a lob from Eder and a long-range effort from Falcao ensured Brazil progressed to the second phase in style.

Zico took the opportunity to show his full range of skills in the final group game against New Zealand.

He opened the scoring with an overhead kick after half an hour and fired in a second two minutes later, before Falcao and Serginho completed the scoring in the second half.

The second phase saw Brazil drawn in a fearsome group alongside fellow heavyweights Argentina and Italy in Barcelona.

They began against old rivals and defending champions Argentina and showed their best form of the tournament.

Zico got the opener in the 12th minute when he reacted first after Eder's fierce free-kick came back off the bar.

Falacao and Scorates dominated midfield, and Brazil made the game safe in the second half through goals from Seginho and Junior.

Diaz managed a last-minute consolation for Argentina, but their frustration was evident when Diego Maradona was sent off for kicking substitute Batista.

A draw against Italy would be enough to send Brazil into the semi-finals on goal difference, but this was not a side capable of playing for anything other than a win.

Played in the midday heat, the clash with Italy was one of the best in World Cup history.

Paolo Rossi ensured that Brazil made their customary poor start, heading Italy into the lead in the fifth minute.

Socrates came to the rescue just seven minutes later, latching on to a Zico pass and slipping the ball between Dino Zoff and the near post.

But the defensive frailties would not go away, and in the 25th minute Cerezo gave the ball straight to Rossi, who finished clinically.

Brazil dominated possession but did not get back on level terms until the 68th minute, when Falcao crashed in a shot from 20 yards.

His exuberant celebration was one of relief. Surely this time they would hold on?

Yet again a simple defensive error cost them, as Junior played Rossi onside following a corner, allowing the Italian to complete his hat-trick.

There was still time for Zoff to make a breathtaking save from Oscar in the final minute, but the final whistle was greeted with disbelief by the team and the vast Brazilian support.

Socrates, Falcao, Zico, Junior and Oscar all went to Mexico in 1986, but although the team made it to the last eight they failed to match up to the team of four years earlier.

There was only one 'dream team' and its chance had gone.

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