The 2018 FIFA World Cup begins this week, with Russia’s opening match against Saudi Arabia starting the festivities on Thursday in Group A. Brazil are one of the favourites to win the title this summer, aiming for their sixth trophy in the competition (they currently hold the all-time record at five).

The Selecão boast tremendous talent, and manager Tite will be able to call upon some of the best footballers on the planet this summer. Neymar, Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Gabriel Jesus are just some of the attackers that will be giving opposing defenders nightmares during the coming days.

However, it is fascinating to think how today’s group would match up against Brazil’s 1970 team, a squad many believe was the greatest in the history of the tournament. Manager Mário Zagallo led an unstoppable attack to Mexico that year and captured their third World Cup in four tries (1958, 1962, 1970).

Pelé and Rivelino were a force up front, while goalkeeper Félix was a steady presence behind a strong back-line. The tournament in 1970 produced a dominant showing, eventually ending with a 4-1 victory over Italy in the final.

How exactly would Brazil’s 2018 World Cup team fare against these legends of the sport? The fitness and athleticism of today’s footballers certainly make this a complicated scenario to analyse, just as any comparison across decades will be. Ultimately, players are faster and stronger now than they were 40 to 50 years ago.

The players involved such as Pelé and Neymar bring a skill that could open up space and create dangerous chances, and breaking down which attacker would beat the other is a fruitless prospect. Looking at the accomplishments is a good place to start, as well as overall team chemistry.

1970 was Brazil at the peak of their powers, lifting the country’s third World Cup title. The 2014 side looked destined to achieve glory as well, until their disastrous semi-final loss to Germany.

It is more than just the quality of the players and the glittering trophy cabinet that separate the two eras of Brazilian football, and the key is found in how they approached the game.

Flexibility to any situation

As one of the best all-time players, Pelé certainly helped to push the 1970 Brazil squad into legendary status. But it was the flexibility of the line-up that made them so successful, and it is what puts them on another level when compared to the 2018 edition.

Zagallo knew his players well, both their strengths and weaknesses (even when it felt like they didn’t have many). He understood that specific opponents required specific tactics, and Brazil could line up in a multitude of different formations.

Clodoaldo, Gérson and Paulo Cézar could all rotate in the midfield, in a 4-3-3 or 5-2-3 alignment. Along with Brito and Piazza, Carlos Alberto led a back-line that would have no problem adjusting to the use of five defenders.

Adding the exceptional abilities of Jairzinho and Tostão in the attack, scoring goals never really seemed to be an issue for them.

Brazil won all six of their World Cup games in 1970, as well as all six of their qualifying matches to get there. Thanks to their incredible flexibility and overall superior quality, they would be too much for the 2018 squad to handle.

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