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A tournament that kept giving

The death of Brazilian football legend Socrates

Socrates wasn't the first of the dazzling Brazilian ensemble of 1982 to leave us -- the less feted Diercu died tragically in a car accident in 1995 -- but the loss of the bearded midfield general invariably revived memories of a tournament apart, one that produced almost sinful measures of vintage play and entertainment and spoilt us forever after.

At 57, his death was tragically premature, yet he lived life, like he played football, on his own terms.

On finishing his playing career, Socrates worked as a doctor, became a human rights activist, smoked and drank liberally, and at one point made a baffling reappearance as a player-coach for a lowly English non-league side.

The Socrates the world adored, however, will always be the one who graced the sun-baked stage in Spain 29 years ago.

It was the tournament that kept on giving and left those of us of a certain teenage impressionability hopelessly lovestruck: Northern Ireland's heroics, the dismal showing of the hosts, Hungary's ten goals, Maradona's red card, Rossi's regeneration, Tardelli's celebration, Kuwait's pitch invasion, Cameroon's memorable first appearance, and Brazil, the team that offered so much and went home empty-handed.

But their legacy is everlasting: the symphony of movement, the lightness of touch, the wonderful invention, the goals they scored, 15 in all, most of those works of beauty and flair and ingenuity.

In a gifted midfield, Socrates gave frequent demonstrations of Brazilian elegance, with his back-heels, sudden injections of pace, incisive passing, venomous shooting -- his first goal in '82 came from a viciously dipping strike against the USSR (a commentator swooning, 'and it's Socrates . . . Socrates still . . . trying to get the opening . . . ooooh Socrates!'); the last was a near post plant against the Italians, their cold-blooded assassins.

For a few months that summer, Brazil had us in the palm of their hand. They lost the World Cup they seemed destined to win and now they have lost their cherished captain.

Dermot Crowe

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