Defenders: holding fort away from the spotlight in the FIFA World Cup
From Obdulio Varela to Fabio Cannavaro, the men who had watched over the backline have often led teams to the FIFA World Cup title.
Riding high on their flamboyant style and a 200,000 strong home support, Brazil were favourites. But Uruguay captain Obdulio Varela had other ideas.
He marshalled the defence to keep Selecao at bay with surprising comfort before half time. But two minutes into the second half, the hosts took the lead through Friaca to send the overcrowded stadium into frenzy.
Varela knew he had to step up. And so, the No 5 began to push forward. Nineteen minutes after the opening goal, Varela found Alcides Ghiggia, who beat his man on the right before putting in a cross for Juan Alberto Schiaffino to equalise.
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Uruguay would go on to take the lead through Ghiggia in the 79th minute and lift the trophy for a second time.
Varela’s role helped bring to redefine a defender’s role in football. A role that would become more than just thwarting forwards; rather becoming a definitive factor in a team’s success.
OF GOALS AND ACCOLADES
Only a few players can boast of a goal in a World Cup final and even fewer defenders. Carlos Alberto, captain of the famous 1970 Brazil team that won the World Cup in Mexico, is perhaps best known for his goal against Italy in the final.
Alberto rounded off the fourth goal in the 4-1 win for the Selecao, a goal that is considered one of the best team goals in the tournament’s history.
Andreas Brehme, West Germany’s most famous left-back is remembered for scoring the winner in the 1990 World Cup final against Argentina from the spot in the 85th minute. Over three World Cups he scored four, including in the semi-final against France in 1986.
Lothar Matthaeus, 1990 Germany’s Cup-winning captain, played in five editions and is the only defender to be crowned World Player of the Year alongside Italy’s Fabio Cannavaro. Matthaeus also holds the record for most World Cup caps and scored six goals.
But when it comes to defending as a unit, the Italians have mastered the art like no other. While greats like Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini were key figures in establishing the Azzurri’s dominance at the back, World Cup glory evaded them.
And so Italian fans looked up to the likes of Claudio Gentile, Antonio Cabrini and Giuseppe Bergomi, defenders who had helped end Italy’s 48-year World Cup drought. Gentile’s relentless marking of Diego Maradona in 1982 was just one of those great defensive outings.
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It is undeniable that France’s triumph in 1998 was designed from the back and Marcel Desailly, alongside Laurent Blanc, Frank Leboeuf and Lilian Thuram were able to secure their maiden Cup. The French backline would let in just two goals in that edition, one in the semi-final against Croatia and the other in the group against Denmark.
There is no taking away credit from the goal-scorers of course, but without the men who stand in resistance, World Cup history might have had a different story to tell.